During a sheltered upbringing in a Buddhist temple in Tokyo, gay Japanese monk Kodo Nishimura kept his sexuality a closely guarded secret, and also concealed his burgeoning love of make-up. Nowadays, Nishimura blends religious duties with work as a make-up artist, making him an unusual figure in socially conservative Japan, where same-sex marriage remains illegal and being openly gay is largely taboo.
The thirty-one-year-old said his eventual decision to come out had been the “best weapon” to challenge homophobia, and he now hopes his autobiography will inspire more LGBT+ people in his country to openly embrace their sexual identity.
“If you’re ashamed to show your difference, you can become vulnerable, but if you switch your attitude, your difference is your best weapon,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
When not in Buddhist robes, Nishimura often appears wearing full make-up, high heels and fake eyelashes on his Instagram account. Thousands of copies of his Japanese-language autobiography have been sold since it was published in late July, and discussions are underway to translate it into other languages. He has given speeches in universities and at the United Nations office, and last year appeared on an episode of Netflix reality TV series ‘Queer Eye’.
Nishimura said there was no contradiction between his different roles, instead, he sees them as complementary.
“Being a monk people pay more attention to what I say,” he said.
He has not received any backlash from within his Buddhist community, although he said he sometimes receives comments and messages mocking him on social media.