Pantechnicon is thrilled to announce that Kodo Nishimura – internationally celebrated LGBTQ+ activist, make-up artist and Buddhist monk – is presenting a series of exclusive talks and workshops at Pantechnicon between the 14th and 20th of March, which will include the launch of the English language edition of his book, This Monk Wears Heels.
Kodo Nishimura is a Buddhist monk, Makeup Artist, LGBTQ+ Activist, and Model. He was born in Tokyo in 1989. He graduated from the Parsons School of Design in New York. After graduating, he started to thrive as a makeup artist, working behind the scenes of Miss Universe and NY Fashion Week. In 2015, Kodo trained to be a monk and was certified by the Pure Land school. He rose to fame following his appearance in Queer Eye: We’re in Japan. He spoke at the United Nations Population Fund, Yale University, and Stanford University as an LGBTQ+ activist, which attracted wide coverage on the likes of CNN and the BBC. He was selected by TIME magazine as a Next Generation Leader. His book This Monk Wears Heels is available in February 2022. His mission is to empower all people sharing Buddhist wisdom with a touch of makeup.
Recently named a TIME Magazine Next Generation Leader, Kodo has shared his journey to self- acceptance and love globally, speaking at the United Nations Population Fund Headquarters in NYC, Microsoft, Facebook, L’Oreal Paris, P&G, and numerous universities, as well as appearing in the Queer Eye: We’re in Japan! special that aired to massive viewership on Netflix. Now he is bringing his inspiring journey to self-love and self-definition to Pantechnicon in a series of four exclusive events:
Wednesday, 16 March: Show Your Colours Make-Up Talk; 18:00-19:30. The ultimate tutorial to gender- neutral make-up, a guide to non-traditional beauty looks that are inclusive, body positive and gender fluid.
Thursday, 17 March: This Monk Wears Heels Book Launch; 18:00-19:30. Filled with practical tips for positive thinking, insights into the philosophical approach to life Kodo has crafted as a Buddhist monk and detailing his journey to self-love, the book provides a gentle, loving, and encouraging voice for all those who dare to be different.
Saturday, 19 March: Changing the LGBTQIA+ Conversation in the East; 14:00 – 15:30. While there has been a proliferation of positive LGBTQIA+ representations in western media in recent years, eastern media has been slow to follow suit. During this intimate chat and reunion with Queer Eye: We’re in Japan! hero Kan (@kanyonce), Kodo and Kan will share how they are working to convince the older generations and LGBTQIA+ youth in Japan, as well as people around the world, to accept that it’s okay to be YOU–whomever you are!
Sunday, 20 March: Be Who You Are: A Talk About Sexuality & Buddhism; 15:30 – 17:00 followed by a private dinner for up to 20 guests (18:00 – 20:30). A chat on Buddhism’s take on sexuality, inclusivity and self-identity, and how Kodo is working to use his platform to add his unique voice and perspective to conversations surrounding spirituality and LGBTQIA+ rights within the modern era.
Before the events at Pantechnicon, Kodo stopped by YASS and here is all you need to know.
So how difficult was it to understand your sexuality while being raised in a Tempe?
It was difficult because people expected me to follow the traditional image of a Buddhist monk. And when I was young, I didn’t know enough about Buddhism. I thought that Buddhism is about being minimal, about eradicating all the desires and no makeup. And I felt that I had to live a boring life. But, what I discovered in the monk training is that Buddhism actually supports LGBTQ+ rights. They say anybody can be liberated equally, regardless of gender, sexuality, sex. So, it was actually the opposite. Buddhist teaches to help people and give hope that we can all be liberated. So my master told me that if I am myself and help more people, then there is no problem.
How easy or how difficult is it to be a makeup artist and a monk at the same time?
Well, it’s actually for me easy because both of these things are something that I like. Makeup is something that I used to love since I was young. I loved dressing up as Disney princesses and I was teaching other girls to dress up like Cinderella too. So, it’s something that came naturally. Buddhism is something that is very personal to me. I grew up in a temple and I struggled with my sexuality, and Buddhist teachings were something that helped me to be myself, because it says it’s okay.
However, people find it very contrasting. And people say “Oh, you’re not a real monk. You are different from the monk. You’re doing different Buddhism than I know”. So, they think that I’m not a real monk. But the fact is, the Buddhist monk’s job is to help people and not to eradicate all the desires. That’s not the goal. I would like to inspire people to rethink what’s the purpose of religion and evolve from what we know.
I have a question. What made you decide you want to become a monk?
I wanted to grow as a person. I felt that when I was in New York, everybody comes from different backgrounds and everybody has different strengths. In order for me to shine, I needed to study what’s special and unique about me, which was being a son of monk. When I was young, I didn’t like Buddhism because I thought it’s very strict. And I thought that they would not accept me. But I didn’t know enough about Buddhism and I decided to go through the training to solve all the mysteries and grow as a person. And what I found out was that Buddhism is supportive, and that’s the message that I would like to share with the people in the world.
How did your family react when they learned about your identity?
They supported me, however, my father was worried how I would be treated by the Buddhist community and by the society because as well, as it we live in a rather a conservative community. And people can lose jobs, they can be discriminated or be targeted for violence if they say that they are homosexual. So he was worried. But I was surprisingly taken very well by the Buddhist community. We actually made the Buddhist sticker that supports LGBTQ+ rights and they funded me to print the stickers I designed and helped me speak at different temples and publish a book. Now my book is going to be in Italian, French German, Estonian and English, of course. So my father now is very surprised, because I’m going beyond what he imagined. No, I’m not a victim, but I can be a hero or a saviour for many people in the world. And my my father is really proud of me.
Do people look surprised when they see a man with a with makeup? On?
Of course, but that’s my strategy. If I didn’t wear makeup and heels, I wouldn’t be able to reach me, people. I wouldn’t have been able to release a book or be in fashion shows or magazines. So, it’s a way for me to approach people using what people today are interested in,
Have you faced any obstacles in this in your journey?
Yes. When people criticised me for not being a traditional monk, I was afraid. I was afraid because of the misunderstanding people have. And I’m not a person who will follow what previous monks would would do. I’m a person who can learn from the book and follow what it says. And I can make my own way. So, I think I’m courageous enough to listen to my heart and follow what where it directs me to.
What can we expect to find say to find your book?
My book is not only for people who want to learn about Buddhism or who belong to the LGBTQ+ community, but for everyone. People can expect to find teachings from Buddhism that help them to be themselves. So you learn to follow your heart and to avoid suffering. Suffering is coming from ignorance. Buddhism tells us to be wise. Take a step back up, observe the situation, and you will find inner peace and self empowerment when listening to your heart.
What has been the biggest reaction people from someone who looks up to you?
I think the most pleasant feedback I received was from a mother who has a son who likes to dress up as Cinderella. I was just like this boy. The mother said that she used to worry about him, but knowing that somebody like her son is succeeding in life and is celebrated, she realised that there is nothing wrong with her son. And that made me really happy.
What message would you like to send to the LGBTQ+ community? And what are your future plans?
I would like to tell the LGBTQ+ community in the world that people are not alone. We struggled together, but if we work together, we can listen to our worries and concerns and we can help each other. For example, I have religious backgrounds from Buddhism. And I think the more information and more experience an LGBTQ+ person has, the better they feel and the foundation of security becomes stronger.
In the future, I would like to do makeup to people who belong to different groups, different religions, different countries and are of different economic status. I would like to do a documentary so that I can help people see that regardless of the differences we have, we all think similarly. Japan needs to hear stories from other LGBTQ+ people because although we have internet, people don’t have so much hope. It’s a big problem. 80% of the LGBTQ+ people are unable to come out to a colleague at work. So, we need more influences. I think one of one of the big problems is that they don’t speak English that much and they are not exposed to the culture outside their country. I’m the one who is bringing the culture and influences from New York and Europe and I’m the one who is exporting the Japanese teachings and Buddhist teachings to the world. So I think I’m the bridge and I try to do my best.
Pantechnicon was created as a way of sharing a passion for travel, design, and great food and drink. Like many who have visited the Nordics & Japan, founder Barry Hirst noticed the undeniable similarities between the two cultures and their values, and wanted to create a place where this could be explored and enjoyed by all. The Pantechnicon name comes from the building, a Grade-II listed landmark on Motcomb Street, SW1, which was London’s original international arts, crafts and interiors bazaar. The word was created for the building’s
opening in 1830 by joining the Greek words pan ‘all’ and technikon ‘of the arts.’ With a focus on creativity and craftsmanship, six floors are divided into eight spaces inspired by the Nordics &
Japan: Roof Garden, Eldr Dining Rooms, Café Kitsuné, Kiosk takeout spot, Sachi Japanese restaurant, Sakaya bottle shop, Edit gift shop and Studio fashion and homeware shop.