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Japan monk and makeup artist empowering sexual minorities, celebrating diversity's beauty

Kodo Nishimura is seen without makeup and in their monk's robe in this photo provided by the author.
The cover of the book "Fair and open: I can live as the person I wish to be" (Sunmark Publishing Inc.) written by monk and makeup artist Kodo Nishimura, is shown in this image provided by the author.

TOKYO -- A monk who also works as a makeup artist is celebrating their own sexual diversity and spreading the message in Japan that different is beautiful.

    Kodo Nishimura, left, is seen applying makeup to the Spanish representative of international beauty pageant Miss Universe in this photo provided by the author.

    Kodo Nishimura, a 31-year-old Jodo sect Buddhist monk from Tokyo, has written an autobiography as a member of sexual minorities including the LGBTQ community, in their recently published book whose title roughly translates to, "Fair and open: I can live as the person I wish to be."

    In the book, Nishimura writes, "Being different from others isn't a bad thing," and "I won't hand over the steering wheel to my life to the values of a faceless society." However, it was only in the last five years that the monk has become able to talk assuredly about their own identity, and they described holding on to feelings of inferiority until then.

    Between 2012 and 2019, Nishimura worked as a makeup artist in the United States, and was responsible for makeup in pageants such as Miss Universe and on magazine photoshoots. Nishimura is additionally seen wearing makeup and high heeled boots on Instagram and other social media. Also serving as a monk at a temple in Tokyo, Nishimura has come out publicly as a person who is a sexual minority, and has given lectures at the United Nations Population Fund headquarters as well as at universities in and outside Japan.

    Nishimura's journey to reach their current state of mind was not an easy one, and there were many detours along the way. From childhood, Nishimura has loved Disney princesses, and was teased in grade school as "girlish," which may have been caused by the gender-neutral atmosphere they exuded. In high school, boys and girls began to spend recess in completely separate groups, and Nishimura was isolated in class. Reflecting on those times as "dark ages," Nishimura was already acknowledging a homosexual identity in high school, but spent days alone not talking to anyone for fear of others finding out.

    A turning point for Nishimura was the experience of studying in the United States after graduating high school. Attracted by its image as a free and open country, Nishimura set off thinking, "America may accept even a person like me who is different from others." Nishimura studied art in a university in New York after attending language school. Witnessing sexual minorities coming out confidently, Nishimura began to feel strongly that "there's no problem whatsoever in living life without hiding that I'm homosexual."

    As the monk profession is a family business, Nishimura underwent training at age 24. Nishimura was initially told that monks were not allowed to wear accessories, and brooded over whether it was alright to become a monk while often putting on makeup and accessories. Additionally, Nishimura was also worried about differences in ritual codes depending on gender, such as men putting out their left foot first and women their right when stepping over incense burners. A senior monk told Nishimura at the time that "appearances and ritual manners are not the essence of teachings," and Nishimura felt saved by those words.

    Nishimura has also come to realize that while identifying as gay until their early 20s, they now feel that they do not fit this category if it refers to those who identify as male and are attracted to men. Nishimura feels neither male nor female, and does not feel the concepts belong to a category that suits them precisely. They have come to realize that "People's sexual identifications must all be that diverse."

    The following verse from the Amida Sutra is one Nishimura holds dear:

    "The blue flowers give off a blue light; the yellow flowers give off a yellow light; the red flowers give off a red light; and the white flowers give off a white light."

    In Nirvana, flowers of different colors emit light in their colors. The meaning behind the verse is that they're all special as they each shine in their colors. Nishimura said, "I would like to convey this message to those who live while hiding their true selves, and to those who compare themselves to others."

    Nishimura also recently started appearing on television shows, and received responses like "I'm proud of you," from relatives and worshippers at the temple. Nishimura commented, "There are many people who are struggling as they're unable to talk about it, so I can't force everyone to come out. But, I'd like to encourage those who are not sure about what to do."

    This photo provided by Kodo Nishimura shows them with makeup on.

    Nishimura added, "Everyone has an existence of value, and each person is beautiful because we're all different," and expressed their wish that those values become entrenched in our society.

    (Japanese original by Miyuki Fujisawa, Integrated Digital News Center)

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