Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on February 2010

Illustration by Julio Shiiki

Next time your girlfriend wants to go see a statue of Buddha, be aware that she might have an ideal man on her mind. No, not you. Buddha.

The Japanese media is famous for creating categories to describe people and trends, like “herbivore boys” (soshoku danshi), who are more interested in hobbies than the opposite sex. Now, we have the bosatsu danshi, or Buddha boy.

The Buddha boy is not about loving the belly. Literally, a bosatsu is a Bodhisattva, or enlightened being, which in statuary form are often rather thin and intense-looking. A bosatsu danshi likewise “has a beautiful face, smooth skin, slim body, but is not too feminine. Theirs is an attractiveness and sensuality beyond mere sex and age.”

That description is from the January 20 issue of women’s magazine An-an, which provides real-life Buddha boy examples—actors Masaya Kikawada, Go Ayano and Yoshihiko Hosoda.

The trend has become a boon for bosatsu statues and the museums displaying them. This is part of a larger fad, too. Jun Miura, the man credited with coining the phrase “my boom” in Japanese, is also known for striking up new interest in bosatsu, particularly the god of chaos known as Ashura.

Take for example “National Treasures, The Ashura Exhibition,” held at the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno last summer, where the main attraction was an Ashura statue from Nara’s renowned Kofuku-ji temple. Ashura often appears rather menacing, but this one had a benign look on his face—almost like he felt sorry for the strife of the world. Fans also noted that his body resembled that of Keita Goto, the 18-year-old winner of the inaugural “Ashura Award” in Junon magazine’s Super Boy Contest. Nearly a million people came to see the TNM show, and the lines were so long and the venue so crowded that opening hours were extended.

Not satisfied with just seeing the statue, visitors flocked to the gift shop, where the prize item was an Ashura statuette created by renowned figure maker Kaiyodo. The run was limited to 15,000, and visitors could only buy one each, but the ¥2,980 figures sold out in two weeks. They now regularly fetch over ¥10,000 in online auctions.

Buddha is also popping up in more unexpected places. The cover of Brutus magazine last April. The number five spot on Nikkei Trendy’s Best of 2009. In the Mixi Ashura Community. In something akin to a pin-up girl calendar, popular with middle-aged office ladies for its “soothing properties.”

And in manga. No, not Tezuka Osamu’s Buddha, but Buddha as a hot young man living as a poor bachelor in the suburbs of Tokyo with a Jesus Christ who thinks he looks like Johnny Depp. This is Saint Young Men, a manga by young female artist Hikaru Nakamura that has morphed from a one-shot gag into a cultural phenomenon. Volume 4, released last October, sold 321,000 copies in one week, topped the Oricon Biz comics ranking the following month, and was voted to the number one spot in This Manga is Incredible 2009. It also won the 13th Tezuka Osamu Cultural Award in the Short Story category.

Who ever thought Buddha, the guy who quit life, could be so sexy and successful?

For more info about Kaiyodo’s Ashura figure, see www.kaiyodo.co.jp/asyura.