Thai Buddhism Agency Protests Over 'Blasphemous' Japanese Rock Band

Photos of the lead singer of Japanese punk-rock band  wearing a monk's robe on stage sparked a controversy among Thai Buddhists, Nov 2014.

BANGKOK — Thailand's National Office of Buddhism has written a formal letter of protest to the Japanese Embassy concerning a rock band whose lead singer recently wore a Buddhist monk robe onstage at a concert in Japan.

The punk-rock band Wat Wayhem Orchestra stirred a controversy among Thais earlier this week after one of its lead singers was seen posing as a Buddhist monk in saffron robes during a live performance in Japan.

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A vast majority of Thais practice the Theravada branch of Buddhism in which saffron robes are reserved for monks, who are considered holy agents of Lord Buddha. 

Somchai Surachatri, a spokesperson of the National Office of Buddhism (ONAB), said yesterday that the agency sent a letter of protest to the Embassy of Japan in Bangkok regarding the incident. 

"We want them to be careful about the performance of celebrities, singers, and actors, so that they will not hurt the feelings of Thai Buddhists," Somchai told Prachachat. "If they perform in Thailand in such manner, they may face criminal charges for their blasphemous action against Buddhism."

Under Section 206 of Thailand’s Criminal Code, any act of "blasphemy" against the "the religion of any people" is punishable by up to seven years in prison. 

Somchai's remark came shortly after the singer of Wat Wayhem Orchestra, Yamauchi Takaya, apologised for his wardrobe choice on Twitter. 

"I did not have any intention to insult Buddhism," Takaya wrote in Thai on his Twitter account on 13 November. "I admit that I don't know Thai customs so well. I ask all Thai people to forgive me."

The appropriation of Buddhist objects and decorations are a frequent source of controversy among Thai Buddhists.

In July 2013, a group of Buddhist activists protested in front of the German Embassy in Bangkok to voice their opposition to an art installation in Munich, Germany that involved laying a large Buddhist statue on the ground.

The effort to stop foreigners’ "blasphemous" treatment of Buddhist statues is coordinated through a group called “Knowing Buddha.” The group has sponsored several large billboards over Bangkok's main thoroughfares advising foreign visitors to be respectful of the religion. 

According to an announcement on the group’s Facebook page, titled “Do and Don’t on Buddha,” the group recently succeeded in pressuring Thai authorities to halt all sales of Buddhist art and furniture pieces at Bangkok’s Chatuchak Weekend Market

 

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