Hello, My name is Takatsugu Mihara.（@henmority）Japan’s Top footbagger monk and a blogger.
Driving in a monk’s robe is a traffic violation, according to a police officer in Fukui prefecture, Japan. This went viral on Twitter with the handle #僧衣でできるもん（Soui de dekirumon)”I can do it in robes” and it’s become something of a movement.
As happens with stories like this, the wider it gets disseminated, the more misinformation there is, and some people have misinterpreted what we are trying to do.
Since Twitter has such a strict word limit, we have recapped the story so far, including various reactions to it.
It started out when a monk in Fukui prefecture got a traffic violation ticket for driving in his monk’s robe.
Then when an article about it appeared in the Yomiuri newspaper the monk found his world turned upside down.
The only information I have about this incident comes from what I read in the article, so I can’t confirm exactly what he was wearing at the time he was pulled over.
But given that he was penalized for wearing what we, as monks, wear everyday, this could cause a lot of problems for monks and other people who wear similar clothing (such as kimonos) in their daily life.
▼ This is what we’re talking about. On the left and right are monks in their robes, and in the middle is a traditional story-teller wearing a kimono.
The question is not whether we should or should not comply with traffic regulations – obviously we should.
Being penalized for doing something which against the law is absolutely right.
But the reality is that most monks are actually driving in their robes on a day-to-day basis, so it’s surprising that this particular monk was targeted in this way at the discretion of an individual police officer.
Please keep that in mind as you read the following. As well as the fact that I myself am a monk.
What does the law actually say?
The laws relating to the driving of vehicles to be observed by drivers are stated in the Road Traffic as below.
Article 70 The driver of a vehicle or streetcar must operate the steering wheel, brakes, and other equipment in a consistent manner, and must drive at a speed and in a way that poses no hazard to others in consideration of road conditions, traffic conditions, and the condition of the vehicle or streetcar.
(Applicable Penal Provisions: Article 119, paragraph (1), item (ix) and paragraph (2))
(Rules to Be Observed by Drivers)
Road traffic act
The Road Traffic Act states that the driver of a vehicle must drive safely, operating the steering wheel and brakes in such a way as to not present any danger to others, but it makes no specific mention of clothing.
The general outlines are set out in the National Road Traffic Act, and specifics are detailed in the traffic regulations for each prefecture.
Road Traffic Act ：Detailed Enforcement Regulations
For example, in Kagawa prefecture, where our temple is located, the regulations are as follows.
Article 20 (6)
(６)The driver of a motor vehicle or a motorized bicycle must not drive while wearing geta, Japanese wooden footgear, or sandals that may cause hazards while driving.
Kagawa Road Traffic Act :Detailed Enforcement Regulations
In the regulations for Kagawa prefecture, footwear is mentioned, but there is nothing specifically about clothes.
Only Geta and Sandals are clearly prohibited, but there is no mention of other footwear.
So it would appear to be up to the discretion of local officers.
Osaka prefecture uses a different interpretation.
(4) You must not drive your vehicle while wearing geta, or any slippers that could cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
Osaka Road Traffic Act :Detailed Enforcement Regulations
2.Rules to Be Observed by Drivers (Article 13)
(1) In point 4, The wearing of footwear which may impair driving ability, such as geta or slippers and the like, is prohibited while driving motorized vehicles.
Here it is recognized that “slippers” don’t have anything to stop your heel sliding back, meaning there’s a risk of the slipper accidentally coming off. But in practice, if we’re talking about shoes that have the potential to impede driving, we should actually be including shoes other than slippers here – like sandals (apart from traditional tie-on ones) and various other slip-on shoes, none of which really attach the foot to the shoe, and which can certainly be considered as posing a risk of coming off while driving.
But to determine what kind of footwear this rule covers, it’s the vehicle and footwear in each individual case that needs to be assessed.
As for the traditional Japanese footwear known as zōri and the like, there is a central strap going between the toes, the sole is relatively thin and flat, and the overall form is very plain, so if it’s assessed as being unlikely to come off or impede driving in any other way, it needn’t be included in this category.
〜Now translating. coming soon〜
Regarding the application of the Road Traffic Act: Detailed Enforcement Regulations
I thought that Monk’s setta (zori with a leather sole) would be categorized as sandals that could make you lose control of your vehicle. But it doesn’t seem to be considered an issue, judging from the Osaka prefectural traffic officers’ interpretation.
I assume that under Osaka regulations setta are considered acceptable due to their unique shape.
▼The regulations for Miyazaki prefecture included some pictures.
（Source:Miyazaki Road Traffic Act Detailed Enforcement Regulations ）
Judging from the images shown here, the everyday footwear of monks (the setta) should present no problem.
I guess there could be some regional differences in interpretation, but the “sandal” as described in the Detailed Enforcement Regulations, shown in image 2, does not refer to those with a thong attachment.
Geta do have a thong attachment, but the shape of their sole seems to suggest that they aren’t allowed.
— へんも@ブロガー&足技で日本一の住職 (@henmority) 2018年12月31日
This monk’s infringement would have made sense to me if it had been about his wearing of setta.
I just can’t help feeling it’s somewhat unfair to give this person a ticket based on such nebulous criteria as “the hems and sleeves of the monk’s robe” – particularly when other people are driving in kimonos or long skirts.
It’s not that I’m being obstinate or trying to stir trouble.
I had been thinking about this kind of stuff myself, so this was a great chance to think and learn about it again.
To me, it’s totally logical to change out of setta and into regular shoes in order to drive more safely.
What I am trying to do here is to quote the law to the extent that I can, and to understand it. Of course, I’m not a legal specialist, so some errors in interpretation are possible.
If any of you are lawyers or specialists in this area, please let me know what you think and whether I have misinterpreted anything.
Prefectures with mention of clothes in Road Traffic Act Detailed Enforcement Regulations
In Fukui, where this incident actually happened, the law states the following:
3 You must not drive any vehicle (with the exception of bicycles) while wearing footwear or clothing which may impede safe driving, such as geta or slippers.
From the Fukui Prefecture Traffic Detailed Traffic Regulations
So there is indeed mention of clothing here, not only footwear.
Only 15 prefectures have detailed regulations regarding clothing.
- Aichi Prefecture
- Aomori Prefecture
- Akita Prefecture
- Iwate Prefecture
- Ibaraki Prefecture
- Okayama Prefecture
- Gunma Prefecture
- Shiga Prefecture
- Shizuoka Prefecture
- Tochigi Prefecture
- Fukui Prefecture
- Fukushima Prefecture
- Mie Prefecture
- Miyagi Prefecture
- Yamagata Prefecture
In some prefectures, such as Iwate, it is stated that you can drive if the sleeves of your kimono are rolled up.
I could not find any detailed regulations regarding the bottom hem of a kimono or robe. Furthermore, in no prefecture is it stated that a monk’s robe is considered an impediment to driving.
The article says “the criteria is unclear”. So in the prefectures listed above there is a possibility of being issued a ticket for wearing what monks wear in their daily lives.
A lot of people on Twitter made comments about footwear, but I’d like to point out that the footwear was not the issue in this particular case.
#僧衣でできるもん soui de dekirumon “I can do it in robes” makes its Twitter debut
Putting this specific incident and the regulations to one side, some have come forward to say they feel there’s no way a monk’s could be considered an impediment to driving.
I think that for most people, Japanese kimonos and monk’s clothing are thought of as more or less the same, but from a driving point of view they’re actually quite different.
As somebody who wear a monk’s robes everyday, and just cannot see how this clothing could impede driving in any way,
it was wanting to get that across to people that got me started on this.
Probably the first comment was from Mr Kojun Asada.
A video has been uploaded showing a person in monk’s robes riding a skateboard to show it wouldn’t affect driving.
僧衣を着ててもこんくらい出来るので、車の運転で僧衣が邪魔になることはないのです。#僧衣 #法衣 #僧侶 #お坊さん #リップスティック #安心安全の僧衣 #パジャマより気楽に着れちゃう pic.twitter.com/bFnjmVgxYV
— 麻田弘潤 (@gokurakusan) 2018年12月30日
Doing this kind of thing is totally fine in monk’s robes, so there’s no way it’s going to impact driving ability.
Then when Zuiho Yokoyama saw that, he made the hashtag #僧衣でできるもん and uploaded a video showing that it’s possible to do a “double under” rope skip while wearing the robes.
— 横山瑞法(Zuiho Yokoyama) (@zuiho_yokoyama) 2018年12月30日
So this happened.
Not exactly a whole bunch of times, but there are some “double unders” here. #僧衣でできるもん
So this was where the hashtag #僧衣でできるもん came into the world.
Then my younger brother Tosshan (who works as a vice priest) saw the hashtag and quickly made this video.
— とっしゃん@お坊さん大道芸人 (@tossyan753) 2018年12月31日
The question is whether or not it’s an impediment to driving, but you can move your legs totally freely in monk’s clothing.
At the same time I myself also made and uploaded a video.
— へんも@ブロガー&足技で日本一の住職 (@henmority) 2018年12月31日
If you can do this, driving’s gotta be a piece of cake. #僧衣でできるもん
A lot of people misunderstand, so let me make a brief explanation here.
I myself do appear on stage as a performer, but my performances are not usually in my monk’s robes.
But this incident really has the potential to negatively affect monks and the Buddhist Federation nationwide.
So to really get this fact out there, using the power of Twitter seemed like the best choice and the timing was perfect.
After that, somebody shared a video of a backflip, but was inundated with comments, some which were quite hurtful, so the video was deleted.
Naomichi Yoshii was the one who uploaded a video to actually verify whether there was actually any impediment to driving.
— 吉井直道 住職【苫小牧 正光寺】🐟BARで話せるお坊さん (@jikido_yoshii) 2018年12月31日
Is it dangerous to drive in robes?
What everybody is wondering about: how about the sleeves?
This is what they’re like.
※ The photos were taken with the engine turned off
The sleeves are probably way less in the way of the wrists or the forearms than you might imagine
I think other people’s uploads have already gotten the point across about how easy it is to move your legs, so I’ll leave that to them.
※ But of course I wear shoes when I drive.
He posted photos of himself actually driving.
Obviously the police, and even the general population, don’t really have any idea what it’s like to wear monk’s robes.
To be told that something is hazardous based on somebody’s intuition, when the law doesn’t make a clear distinction, leaves us in a tricky position.
All we are trying to do is to demonstrate, in a fun or entertaining way, that the people who are actually wearing this clothing don’t feel hampered in any way.
Even with a devil stick!
話題なので・・！ 衣でも十分動けますし、運転になんの支障もありゃしませんw ついでにジャグリング納めです・・！#僧衣でできるもん pic.twitter.com/F1b8qemYeO
— てつっていう (@detteiu1109) 2018年12月31日
Since this is such a hot topic… I can move totally freely in my robes, and they are in no way any impediment to my driving. Here’s a bit of juggling while I’m here!
After that, a lot of monks posted videos, and a lot of people were kind enough to show their interest so the number of retweets was unbelievable.
The web media site NETOLABO did an article on the movement, and it featured on Yahoo! News too.
As a lot of this stuff was posted in the New Year holiday period, people have started to enjoy it as a bit of entertainment rather than something overtly satirical.
And they’re right to do so.
— たくる (@sinotaku) 2019年1月2日
The #僧衣でできるもん hashtag was originally about using humor to say how wrong it seemed that the law was interpreted in such an arbitrary way when that guy got a ticket for driving in his monk’s robes. But with the number of tricks people are performing showing off all the stuff they “can do” in their monk’s robes, it has turned into a bit of a circus for monks.
— おるたな＠日本無理め女の週末弾丸旅と音楽。38/50記事 (@aratakid7) 2019年1月2日
It’s not about all the stuff they can do in their monk’s robes, it’s really about sending a message to the people who got the wrong of the stick when this guy was given a ticket for doing nothing more than driving in, what is, after all, just a work suit, like a uniform.
But I really think it’s great that these monks showed their talent and versatility rather getting all self-righteous.
It made me feel really happy and proud to get a tweet of support from a Christian pastor.
あ、あの、私キリスト教の牧師ですけど、この服装で火葬場まで運転することありますよ。僧侶の皆さまが例の件で立ち上がるならば私も連帯させていただきます‼️ #僧衣でできるもん pic.twitter.com/QP61o5gpNs
— 金子敏明＠牛久教会牧師 (@pastorkanegon) 2019年1月2日
Um, I’m actually a Christian pastor, but this is the clothing I wear when I drive to the crematorium. If you Buddhist monks feel the need to make a stand, I’m with you all the way. #僧衣でできるもん
As of today, January 7th, 2019, the posts are still coming. If you take a look at the hashtag #僧衣でできるもん I think you’ll get the general idea.
Just to be clear, the #僧衣でできるもん hashtag is not about singling out and attacking the individual policeman who made that call.
The policeman in Fukui made a judgement call about the regulations of his prefecture, so this is not about criticizing him.
If the judgement call made by this particular policeman is seen as valid, but the criteria is unclear, allowing individual police officers to make these calls completely at their own discretion, that’s a problem, right? This is what we’re trying to get across, in a fun way.
It feels like a pretty good result, reaching so many people.
Of course, we’re totally about following the rules, to the extent that we can.
Of course, we’re totally about following the rules, to the extent that we can.
If it can be demonstrably and empirically proven that driving ability is hampered by the wearing of monk’s robes, and driving in this type of clothing is declared illegal, monks will have to abide by that.
If that happens I guess the robes will have to be altered in some way.
So if some criteria needs to be drawn up in regard to this clothing, then it should be drawn up. But we would submit that it doesn’t work for somebody to just make that arbitrary call that they feel it’s dangerous.
In this particular case, at least as far as we see in the article, what was said was “Not all monk’s robes are out”. This just makes it all the more problematic.
If all monk’s robes were declared to be unsuitable for driving, at least we would have a starting point. We, as a sect, and the National Buddhist Federation could make an official request for the ruling to be reviewed.
But, without any guidelines, it’s pretty ridiculous if certain people get pulled over for violations while others in the same Buddhist sect, wearing the same clothing, don’t get touched.
— へんも@ブロガー&足技で日本一の住職 (@henmority) 2018年12月31日
The problem here is that the police officer interpreted the law his own way, and with the complete lack of clarity in the system it’s a bit of a coin toss.
Basically, enforcing the law in this arbitrary way is going to cause problems, isn’t it?
But satire really does need a dose of fun to be effective, doesn’t it? #僧衣でできるもん
If this goes ahead unchallenged, police officers will have quite considerable powers of discretion in deciding who to penalize, using the pretext of clothing.
And that would be an issue for everybody – not only monks.
Even regular clothing (like a long skirt or something with loose sleeves) could trigger a policeman who decided it was dangerous to give you a ticket.
So is it actually dangerous to drive in monk’s robes?
What was the clothing in this specific case like? No information on this has been made available so it’s impossible to determine whether it would have been a safety issue.
If, for example, this monk was wearing the actual robes that are used Buddhist memorial services when he was driving, probably even another monk would agree that it would be a problem.
▼Like, for a funeral or a big memorial service, this kind of thing is worn.
Monks wouldn’t normally be driving in this kind of clothing and I think most monks would agree that driving would be out while wearing it.
The fabric is quite stiff which means you don’t have much freedom of movement. It’s also pretty voluminous, meaning parts of it tend to get caught on things.
But to monks it’s obvious that this outfit is not something you wear to move from A to B.
And it’s fundamentally a formal piece of attire used for Buddhist services so it’s handled carefully.
Plus, it’s an expensive item, so sitting in a car and getting it creased or pulling a thread is out of the question.
▼This is what we wear when we are out and about.
As the video shows, the legs can move freely and the sleeves don’t give you the feeling that they inhibit your ability to use the steering wheel or any other equipment.
Monks driving in their robes is by no means a new or rare thing.
According to statistics from the Department of Cultural Affairs, the total number of monks nationwide in 2016 was around 340,000.
We don’t have figures for how many of these people are drivers, but if we were to assume 60 or 70% of them were, that would mean we have around 200,000 monks who drive.
For monks in regional areas, it’s difficult to carry out their duties, with all the visits they have to make, if they don’t have a car or a moped.
I’d like somebody to provide hard data showing how many of these people driving in monk’s robes have actually had accidents.
For example, I’m not basing this on actual data, but I’m just wondering if there might actually be more accidents involving elderly people wearing everyday clothes than accidents involving monks driving in their robes.
Some people have tweeted comments like “Don’t you care about the danger it poses to other people?!” To which I would respond, “Well, if we don’t allow anybody over the age of zero to drive, we’ll see a substantial decrease in the number of accidents.”
In which case I think their response would be, “But driving is essential to our daily lives!” And my response to that would be that that applies to monks as well. It would be a major headache if they weren’t allowed to drive.
How rough would it be on monks if the robes were declared inappropriate for driving?
The average person might have occasion to wear traditional Japanese clothing once every ten years or so.
But for a monk, this clothing (which in our particular sect is called a “dōbuku”) is what we get around in and conduct our daily lives in.
If this clothing is declared against the rules, it would mean the clothing we need for our job, the clothing we wear everyday, would be reason enough for us to be pulled over.
Working as a monk requires us to make dozens of official visits every day and schedules planned down to the last minute are not unusual.
Especially when funerals are suddenly called for, we are obliged to make hurried re-arrangements of everything else that was on our plate for that day and actually this is a very regular occurrence.
If we were forced to change into everyday clothing in those cases it would really be unworkable.
The robes are easier to change into and out of than a kimono, but it’s not as easy as changing a tee shirt or something.
When you’re moving from A to B you should change out of your suit!
You should change at each location before you get into the car!
This sounds ridiculous, right?
It would be just as ridiculous for monks.
And it’s not just a question of monk’s robes.
Without clear criteria for what you can be charged with, other Japanese clothing, or skirts or knicker-bockers, or men’s loose traditional trousers (called hakama), could be randomly picked on by police.
I keep emphasizing this, but as far we can tell from the article, this case was not about the footwear.
It seems to have been about the sleeves and the bottom hem (under the knees).
But this hasn’t been fully verified.
If you try wearing monk’s robes you’ll see you can totally move your legs around.
Essentially you have fabric around your legs, so it’s pretty much the same as wearing a skirt.
So the question becomes one of, if it’s alright to wear a skirt, why is it not alright to wear monk’s robes – which loads of people have been wearing for ages.
And the decision will be left to the discretion of the police officer at the scene.
There’s no verifiable proof, and it’s a judgement based purely on the intuition of a person who’s never worn this clothing. To then charge somebody with an offence on that basis is pretty weird. That’s what we’re suggesting.
Summary of the #僧衣でできるもん hashtag
This is not about just being obstinate or trying to use the excuse that this clothing is traditional, nor is it about poking fun at the concept of driving safety.
— へんも@ブロガー&足技で日本一の住職 (@henmority) 2019年1月2日
Looking at the reaction to the #僧衣でできるもん hashtag, roughly 80% of the people are taking it in the spirit it was meant and having a laugh.
It hasn’t been great having to take the time to write this long post to explain all this, but so many people misunderstood, so I decided to at least try to make it clear.
— 飴屋 (@incandystore) 2019年1月2日
#僧衣でできるもん It’s not about just shouting “Don’t make it illegal! Look at what I can do! This is not dangerous!” – it’s really saying “Yeah, it might be dangerous so let’s set out some criteria, but first make sure you really understand what monk’s robes are”. It’s fun and interesting and you guys are talented and amazing in so many ways.
I keep saying, road safety is super important, and we’re not making light of it at all.
In fact, in the course of performing our roles at funerals for our parishioners, we meet people who have lost loved ones in car accidents.
And I myself have been in the position of performing funerals for parishioners I have known well and been friendly with.
I really hope nobody would ever get the impression that we are making light of human life, because that’s not the case.
— へんも@ブロガー&足技で日本一の住職 (@henmority) 2019年1月4日
Not only do monk’s robes do not only present no obstacle to driving, you can juggle or skip rope, or even hacky sack with them on.
Heck, you can even do a Buddhist chant while wearing them!!
The fact that this is now getting attention from the media worldwide is truly surprising.
I’ve been getting enquiries from all over the world today (January 04)
I’ll make more updates as news comes to hand.
Special Thanks:Elena Alice
The Fukui police officer assessed the wearing of the robe as an impediment to the safe driving of a vehicle.
Not all monk’s robes represent a violation. Various factors are taken into account and the criteria is unclear.
（The whole article can be found on Yomiuri ONLINE）