Inside the monastery, Tokyo native Kodo Nishimura lives a humble life as a traditional Buddhist monk. Outside, he spends his time traveling between Tokyo and New York working as a renowned makeup artist. Culture Trip went to learn more about Japan’s first and only Buddhist monk / makeup artist to the stars.
Kodo’s Instagram account is loaded with photos of him working beauty pageants, dressing in drag, and posing for photos with industry people and models as well as close personal friends. His passion and skill in cosmetics have garnered him a large following both in Japan and internationally. While the glamorous world of fashion and drag may seem to clash with that of the Buddhist monk, Nishimura has found ways to build meaningful connections between the two.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
How do you identify yourself?
I identify myself as just Kodo, I am a gender gifted being with unique elements and traits such as gentleness and braveness. I used to consider myself gay because I did not know that there are genders that are impossible to categorize. So I realized that terms and labels are not accurate to define myself.
Why did you choose to live in New York City?
I wanted to study Fine Art. I love the musical and art scene in New York. I graduated from Parsons School of Design and started my career as a makeup artist.
Do you plan to stay or do you have plans to move elsewhere?
I always want to keep traveling but my bases will be New York and Tokyo for a little while. I would love to try living in Thailand and explore different types of beauty and a healthy lifestyle. I visited there last year and fell in love with the place.
What first drew you to cosmetics?
I picked up cosmetics because I didn’t like my sharp eyes when I was younger. I wanted to make them look bigger, so I picked up an eyeliner and a mascara. Later, I did makeup for my best friend and she transformed so incredibly much. The happier my subjects become, the happier I become as well. I wanted to master foundation, eye shadow, and all the other techniques so that I can make the people I love shine brightest. Happiness creates a chain reaction and that is my joy and motivation.
Does your training as a Buddhist monk influence your work as a makeup artist?
Yes, I learned that both heart and skills are important. You have to be skilled to hold ceremonies and deliver the message of Buddha, but you have to be sincere and honest about these actions, otherwise the message won’t be delivered. Similarly, you have to have skills to apply makeup, but the clients’ smile shines brightest when I pour my love into the person.
Buddhism teaches us to reduce our attachment to the self. Does makeup help you to achieve that?
Yes, I have learned that too much of anything is not going to help us. Buddhism teaches us to find balance. Makeup is not something you need in your life at the end of the day, so I want to make sure that makeup does not make people feel inferior without it.
I saw people without makeup smiling and being happy in the countryside of Thailand when I visited. It almost felt vain to be working with makeup at that time. The most important thing is to be happy and share happiness, and makeup just provides an opportunity to boost your confidence.
Did you have to keep your sexuality/gender a secret while working at the monastery?
No, my school of Buddhism teaches that everybody is equal, even prisoners and prostitutes. I am proud of myself and my fellow monks are glad for me too. Even there are some rituals I do differently from my master, he told me to choose whichever I feel is proper at that moment.
Do you think that Buddhism is accepting towards LGBT minorities? What more could be done?
Yes, I know that Buddhism is very accepting of all people. What more can be done is that this message should spread. The main purpose of religion is to help and make people live happier in peace.
You have done makeup for your close friends as well as several models and celebrities. How do they react after you’ve done their makeup? How does that make you feel?
Makeup is temporal, yet the memory of that experience is eternal. They stay confidently beautiful even without it, knowing that the makeup is more like a secret weapon. So I have seen my friends change to be more outgoing, self-loving, and successful.
Is there any friction between your life as a makeup artist which is very much about visual perception and your life as a Buddhist monk which is more about your internal subjective experience?
I do not see any friction, being a makeup artist and a monk are both about making other people feel happy. If you are happy with yourself, you can share happiness with others. I can be extra considerate of others when I am content. Plus, Buddhism is nothing old or outdated, it is something eternal and always evolving. I would like to use makeup and fashion to inspire modern people with Buddhist teachings.
What do you think is the Buddha’s most important message?
To be grateful.
Finish this sentence: My name is Kodo Nishimura, and I am
a messenger of freedom.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.