Makeup artist monk teaches tolerance of sexual diversity

When Nishimura Kodo dispenses advice on tolerance and compassion, he does so from a rare perspective: as both a Buddhist monk and a member of the LGBTQ community. When representing his faith, he wears robes. Off duty, he prefers high fashion, high heels and makeup.

"Being yourself is very comfortable. It's such a joy to love yourself," he says.

Nishimura has enjoyed wearing dresses since he was a child, when he would borrow his mother's clothes. "My childhood idol was a princess from a Disney movie," he says.

He recalls the moment he first felt judged and labeled — in high school when he first heard a classmate referring to him as gay. "I froze in shock. My heart was wrenched," he says. "I had no idea how to behave in class from the next day. I didn't have any friends."

Nishimura's childhood
Nishimura Kodo (center) used to enjoy dressing as a princess.

A turning point came when he moved to the United States after graduating from high school. At the Parsons School of Design he saw everyone, including the dean, professors and students, talking openly about their sexuality. Nishimura gradually learned to talk about his.

"Seeing people living honestly changed my way of thinking over time. It's totally fine to live without hiding my sexuality. That's the strong conviction I developed in New York," Nishimura says.

Also in the US, Nishimura gained experience as an assistant to a makeup artist. He went on to become a professional makeup artist himself, and his talent took him to some major events, including the global finals of the Miss Universe competition.

Nishimura Kodo
Nishimura has been in charge of makeup at the Miss Universe international pageants.

Nishimura grew up as the only child of a Buddhist monk father and a mother with a priest's license. His parents never asked him to become monk, and he certainly wasn't planning on becoming one.

"Monk had never been on my list of dream jobs. In fact, I hated the idea because I didn't want to shave my head," he says.

But when he briefly returned from the US at the age of 24, he had a change of heart. "I figured I wouldn't be able to change without knowing my roots, which is Buddhism," he says.

After two years of rigorous training, Nishimura became a monk and now combines that role with his makeup career.

In contrast to many major religions, Japanese Buddhism has no opposition to LGBTQ. It teaches that everyone is saved equally, and that we should accept all people.

Nishimura’s training as a monk
Nishimura began training to become a monk in 2014.

And that's the message he conveys in lectures to raise awareness of LGBTQ issues.

"Questioning my own identity has helped me understand the pain of many people," Nishimura says. "The freedom to be oneself and mutual understanding are the key to a happy life. I want people all over the world to stay true to themselves, and to remember that everyone is equal."