How does a bar run by monks sound? Crazy? Welcome to Vowz Bar!
Let’s Start with What You Want to Know: Yes, They're Real Monks
Vowz has made a name for itself as being one of the only bars owned and run by Buddhist monks. You will find it in Yotsuya, Tokyo at the very heart of a nightlife district usually mainly occupied by local businessmen after work. Vowz might be hard to find if you don’t know where it is, don’t hesitate to check pictures or online maps to give you a hint on where to look. When you catch the sign, climb the stairs to access this very atypical bar on the first floor of a narrow buislding.
The raison d’être of Vowz bar is to open up the dialogue between monks and the public. Yoshinobu Fujioka opened in 2000 this really peculiar place as a monk from a liberal branch of Buddhism: Jodo-Shinshu. At the time, it was a way to do some marketing for this philosophy and help it to get more publicity out there. It sure worked as the bar has been striving for the last 2 decades and is often packed!
You wouldn’t guess when visiting, but Japan is seeing a decline in interest in local beliefs: Shintoism and Buddhism. Opening Vowz was also a way to reconnect with the Youngs, trying to adapt to their new way of life and find a common ground. If you ask the waiters, it seems to work as they will confine that most of the clients are asking for advice and will gladly hear what the monks have to say back to them. Monk-waiters from the Vowz bar are coming from various branches of Buddhism and some will drink alcohol, some others not, marry, eat vegan or not; but still, they are all cohabitating in a respectful manner.
Eat, Pray, Love
At Vowz, you can get a drink, food, and some advice too, directly from the monks. Just as your good old favorite bar would do for you, the monks will discuss with you anything you want, with little hints of philosophy along the way. The bar itself looks like every other cozy and dimly lighted bar you would know, except for the Buddha statues or altar dispatched in the décor. Buddhism is not only décor though: at 9 pm, the bell rings, and the praying start. Don’t be afraid! This is no proselytism, and nobody forces you to participate. You’re welcome to follow the crowd, and you’re even equipped with a sheet of instructions to follow. All you’re asked for is to respect this little ceremony that will last around 15 minutes. We would encourage you to participate, as it is an impressive moment of gathering that you can share with everyone present on this precise night. A unique experience as it is.
The following moment of silence and humility will stall a little until everyone resumes their activities, a little calmer and more centered than before.
The activities of the bar don’t stop at providing food, drinks, and a moment to share. The monks also, organize workshops and meditation sessions to transmit even the Buddhist way of life, and peaceful mindset to everyone that might be interested. Vowz bar might seem like a gimmick when you first hear about it, but it is as honest and straightforward as it looks: it’s a temple, in the shape of a bar.
It seems like the challenge Yoshinobu Fujioka wanted to achieve is in a good way, a visit to Vowz bar will make you want to learn more about Buddhism and how one can live in peace with the world. Not to mention the homemade cocktails are all to die for, and the food is vegan – and delicious!
What we thought would be a fun and original activity became a real journey, into ourselves, into Japan, and into Buddhism. Curious, practitioners, or looking for something new, Vowz bar is your way to go. Learn more about Vowz Bar activities directly on their website (only in Japanese), and don’t miss their music band!
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