Photo/IllutrationA video shows a Buddhist priest doing double unders in a robe. (Taken from Instagram)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

FUKUI--Police here dropped a traffic violation case against a robe-wearing Buddhist priest after monks around Japan posted videos showing they could perform a number of tasks while wearing the supposedly hazardous clothing.

Fukui prefectural police in September ordered the priest to pay a fine of 6,000 yen ($54.90) for driving a car while wearing “garments that could interfere with the driver’s operations.”

The priest refused to comply, calling the order “unreasonable.”

After The Yomiuri Shimbun reported on the case in December, Buddhist monks around Japan posted videos on Twitter showing them in the “soi” priest’s clothing and performing various activities, including double unders and juggling.

One of the videos, designed to prove that one can move flexibly in the monk clothes, received more than 1 million views.

Police on Jan. 26 announced that the case would not be sent to prosecutors because “sufficient evidence could not be found to confirm the violation.”

A police source denied “any link between the decision and the media reports” about the case and the uploaded videos.

One monk criticized the change of mind of the authorities.

“Do police withdraw their accusation if it raises a ruckus on the Internet?” said a senior official of the True Pure Land Buddhism sect’s Honganji school, to which the priest in question belongs. “The decision is not fair given that some monks have already paid fines.”

The Honganji school lambasted police immediately after the priest was fined, arguing, “We have never heard of cases where the robe has posed any danger during drives, and the school will fully back the priest if a lawsuit is filed.”

Under the Road Traffic Law, the Fukui prefectural police regulations stipulate that motorists “should not wear geta, slippers and other footwear or garments that could interfere with the driver’s operations.”

Fukui police fined the priest on grounds that the restrictive bottom part of the “hakui” (kimono) could make it difficult to apply the brakes and the loose sleeves of the “fuho” (semiformal coat) could be caught by the gear lever.

They explained their view in a statement released on Jan. 27.

“Simply wearing soi (while driving) does not immediately constitute a violation,” the statement said. “It is limited only to instances where the clothing of drivers obviously interferes with wheel and other operations. We will carefully examine each case.”

Hisao Honma, a lawyer and a Buddhist monk, criticized the Fukui prefectural police regulations for being vague.

“It is not clear what kind of clothing style constitutes a violation, and police could arbitrarily apply the regulations,” said Honma, who is a member of the Kanagawa Bar Association.

The priest who was fined agreed, saying, “Police should provide more detailed guidance on whether driving in soi constitutes a traffic violation.”

Prefectural public safety commissions are allowed to set regulations for motorists as necessary.

While all 47 prefectures have rules on footwear, only 15 prefectures, including Fukui, have set regulations on garments.

Fukui prefectural police last year stopped cars operated by one monk and two women in kimono, calling their clothing improper.

(This article was written by Yuki Minami and Takumi Okada.)