Tuesday, November 01, 2005

On the pilgrimage

Peace Pilgrimage August 2005

This has been my first stay in Japan and the first time I went to Asia.
Even though the cultural differences are quite striking and I do not speak the language, I felt in an odd way very much at home in Japan. Next to Kyoto, particularly the town of Nagasaki with its surrounding hills and lively city roads with an interesting mixture of old houses with flower covered clay pots in front and tiny gardens in between the rooms next to the modern shiny buildings spoke to me.
Architectonically, I was fascinated by the plain and simple way of building things which often seemed to merge into one another to become one giant, in all shades of black and white glittering chessboard. This sense for sublime reduction was continued in how things were presented in the stores, how people were dressed, on food was displayed on the plates in restaurants, how purchased goods were wrapped in to go.
For someone like me, who has always taken great pleasure in little things, Japan was a feast for the eyes.

I enjoyed not understanding anything. It was quite relaxing to walk through the streets with all the signs I could not read (or only with a really big effort), most of the talk which I could not understand.
I was often eyes only, also a form of reduction.

I discovered my Christian roots in Japan. It might sound odd, because this was a Zen Buddhist pilgrimage and this is the way I am choosing to be trained.
It was very simple: upon seeing my first Japanese monk there in the Zendo do his bows, I realized I can never do it this way. It was just perfect synchronization, thought and effortless. One flow.
First of all, my body is too edgily built. This, I might perhaps, with great effort, be able to overcome through practice, but what I lack is the centuries of –Japanese- Zen practitioners behind. Even something so dear to me like the Heart Sutra will probably never resonate so intimately inside as some of the Medieval Chants do which I grew up with at the church I went to in childhood. Soon after I returned from Japan, I had the opportunity to live in a Catholic monastery. In participating in their services I recognized my deep familiarity with their forms, even though I was not brought up Catholic. However, as far as the Christian content is concerned, I still had to translate, to close gaps, to bring things said or written to my own self in the direct, experiential and fearless way I so much cherish about our practice.

As far as the pilgrimage itself is concerned, I was dipped into my German Karma right away and yet different than previously perceived.
War images, including the whole catastrophe in word, photo film etc. were not knew to me and even more familiar was the fact to come as the (former) aggressor, which for some of my American friends seemed unfamiliar.
My grand parents lost everything in WW II including their will to live, my father was drafted on his 16th birthday two months before the US invasion in France, both of my parents spent their teenage years in war. I read a lot about our history and all of these facts, at least to some extent, have influenced my decision to become a physician.
The new perspective on the pilgrimage was to experience the impersonality of suffering.
Whenever I said I am German, people seemed to be delighted. Everyone seemed familiar with some part of our culture, mostly the musical aspect. Many of the people I spoke with had been to Germany and liked it. Being “excused” from my German karma as far as the chain of effect considering the bombing is concerned (albeit without Hitler, the atomic bomb would probably not have been dropped) allowed me to see how big suffering really is.
It transcends all nations, frontiers or whichever barriers we chose to establish in our minds. Victim and perpetrator are suffering equally. There is no end to it. Also, it does not matter whether I was born by the time of the bombing/ concentration camps or not. I have to take full responsibility for whatever happened then until now and for the future, too. It is all still there, inside, waiting to be unlocked, looked at and released. Action always goes in both direction. Nothing is forgotten.
Which is why I perceived the suffering of the bomb survivors for example often- though only for split seconds- as soo close to my own skin, that, for the first time in many years I got quite sick for a couple of days. There might have been other reasons for this, too, but looking back now, falling ill in perceiving all of the suffering being still so abundant within the Japanese nation even within the new generation seems like an appropriate reaction.

How can I work with the experiences of the travel here, back in Germany?
I never understood the Asian smile.
Whenever Thich Nhat Hanh talks about his smiling meditation, I could feel my entire Germanic clumsiness weighing over me like rarely ever before.
What should I smile at? Why exactly? Even if I do not feel like it? It just did not seem to make sense nor work for me.
One aspect I have been trying to practice with since my return from Japan is to be more kind and to smile more often. Particularly in casual encounters, like at the cashier of the grocery store or when someone at work hands me something and I am in a hurry. It does not take more time and it feels really good. It is a mini break of relaxation, of coming home, within my often hectic days and the return afterwards is always lighter, and a little bit uplifted.
A lot of my work consists of staying calm within what we as physicians might call a normal work day- everything happening parallel, no pauses, a seemingly endless stream of people, phone calls ongoing and numerous decisions to make like checking things on the assembly line.
If I start thinking about all of it, particularly the actual history of my often rather complex patients, them waiting for me, setting their hopes in me and expectations upon me etc. in the context of my daily schedule, I get tensed up very quickly.
Occasionally smiling takes a lot of pressure out of these simple, normal work days. Particularly so in the daily tiny encounters which can often do so much harm by neglecting that they have an impact, too.
And then- just doing one thing after the other, like the old potter in the tiny vault shop in Kyoto, smiling at his bowls one by one.

Meeting Jizo Roshi
Eternally asleep
In his abundant gardens
Under soft evening light
Smell of Jasmine
And a cool breeze
From the mountains


She bowed to us
With the knowing gaze
of those
who return from hell
May I never forget
Her sweet company

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Ryushin's Recollections: Part VII

Hiroshima Peace Day

We woke up the next morning and sat zazen (meditation) with Hojo-san as we had the day before. We had our chanting service, a short breakfast, and period of temple cleaning. We were told that we would leave Zensho-ji at 7am in order to be at the park early. When the bus drove up we realized that it was a city bus. We loaded in and, fortunately, did not have many large personal bags to bring, just the Jizos for Peace items.

Hogen informed Genmyo and me that we would be watching over the supplies when we arrived. Taiken-san and Ikki-san had left slightly earlier to drive into the park and unload Jizos for Peace pamphlets describing the pilgrimage, banners, prayer flags, kimonos, etc. When we got to the park we found that, due to traffic, the bus could not get us to where we wanted to go. We got out and began walking to our various destinations.

There were essentially three locations for the pilgrims. Genmyo and I were standing guard by our supplies. It turned out that Taiken-san and Ikki-san placed the supplies in a completely different part of the park, but a part that we passed by chance.

There was also a group who would go to the official ceremony with the mayor of Hiroshima. There would be a reading of the namesof survivors who had died in the last year, a reading of the city’s commitment to peace pledge, a releasing of doves, and other peace-related activities.

The rest of the pilgrims marched to the Atomic memorial dome where there would be a “die in.”

There were security people lining the streets as we walked, giving us a wary eye. Other than security, no one seemed to pay attention to us. The security got active briefly when they formed a barrier between the mayor of Hiroshima’s car and people standing on the sidewalk. After that, they resumed their silent stance. All the while we could hear the ceremony on loudspeakers spread throughout the park. Someone was talking in a solemn tone. As it was in Japanese, I had no real idea of what he was talking about.

At 8:15 a bell began to ring over the loud speaker. Everyone put their heads down for a moment of silence. At the Atomic Dome Memorial, everyone in the vicinity lay down on the ground and were silent as they remembered the thousands of people who died instantly sixty years ago.

I’m told it was a moving experience for the pilgrims in attendance. Shortly after they stopped ringing the bell, Hogen appeared. He said that the ceremony was lovely, but somewhat boring for those who couldn’t speak Japanese. He suggested that we set up for the next part of the schedule.

Before the pilgrimage, Genmyo had made many large Jizo banners for display in Japan. Among the most impressive were six 6’ x 3’ canvas banners, each depicting a Jizo against a different colored background. He also made one which had all the colors of the rainbow streaming out from behind a Jizo who held the world in her hands. One of our Sangha members designs kites, and she helped us turn this design into a large banner. Somehow it grew in being transferred, so we ended up with an 8’ x 4’ banner made of kite nylon.

I had been in charge of this particular Jizo. As we began to hand out pamphlets, Hogen suggested that I set it on a pole and let it unroll. Suddenly, people noticed the three foreigners in monk’s outfits. Some looked at it and turned away. Some took a photo. Some bowed. Jizo was the easiest thing to see for several blocks. The “die in” pilgrims and ceremony pilgrims filtered back to our meeting spot and began to hand out pamphlets and gear up for the next event.

We were told that we would be involved in a parade with a few other groups and that we would march through the park, down one of the streets, and eventually come back to the park.

One of the strong supporters of the project had taken panels when Chozen was in Japan the previous August and had Sangha members sew them into kimonos. Some of the pilgrims put on Jizo kimonos.

We had designed a belt so that the end of the pole for the Jizo banner could be secured to a pilgrim. That pilgrim was me. I lifted the Jizo banner and pole into position, raising her another three feet into the air. We began marching towards our start point.

I quickly realized a fatal flaw in having a kite designer create a Jizo banner. Kites are supposed to fly, and to fly they must be able to catch wind. Our Jizo banner was actually an 8’ x 4’ kite!

As we walked along, the kite, and the pilgrim strapped to the kite, were gently blown about by the wind. I had to use great arm strength to keep it from twisting to the side and hitting fellow pilgrims. I also had several pilgrims on watch for power lines, which were well within reach of Jizo’s head.

Daitetsu served as my back up person. When the wind would get too crazy or trees would grow to low or power lines threatened to electrocute (or even shock) me, I would simply call out to DT and drop the top of the banner back into his hands. When the coast was clear, Jizo would return to the upright position. It was obvious to me why the Japanese do not make banners this tall.

We had walked roughly ten minutes from the park when Ejo stopped us and announced that we were at the start of the parade. He informed us that we would march through an arcade mall chanting the Jizo mantra and handing out pamphlets. We would continue back to the park to the place where our supplies were kept.

With that brief introduction, we were off. As we chanted, people once again took photos, bowed, or averted their eyes. I’ve never considered myself a fundamentalist, but at that moment I must admit that I really felt more like one. I cannot imagine what people must have thought to see thirty Westerners, some in monk’s clothes, wandering through in this odd formation. We paraded back, unloaded our wares, and were told to meet again at 2 p.m.

I went wandering around the park on my own, meeting people, and getting some lunch from a convenience store. We regrouped at 2:00 for our prayer march.

We dressed up in the kimonos again, and I strapped on my kite. We collected pamphlets, and headed off chanting the Jizo mantra. We marched across a bridge and north along the river until we reached the Atomic Bomb Memorial building. We gathered around the fountain and offered banners on one of the statues. We continued on to the Memorial Tower to the Mobilized Students.

In Hiroshima, 8,387 students were mobilized to work and help in the war effort. Many of these students helped with the removal of wooden houses in order to prevent fires from destroying large parts of the city. Of these students, 6,097 of them were killed by the atomic bomb.

The main part of the memorial is a large metal pillar with five cement-like boxes attached to the pillar in decreasing size from the top. In front of the structure were thousands of origami cranes, strung together with roughly one hundred cranes per string. People offered Jizo origami to the memorial as we chanted. While we were chanting, someone told us that a Hibakusha (atomic survivor) wanted to speak to us.

We all abandoned our posts and raced over to this woman in her seventies. She was dressed in dark blue long skirt, jacket, and hat. She was very soft spoken. Ejo was near the front and acting as translator, and Chozen was also in the front. Our camera people were on the scene taking photos and video.

Looking back, I’m surprised that it didn’t occur to me that thirty foreigners (some with cameras) surrounding you would be a bit intense. Some people gathered this and moved away. I admit that I didn’t understand.

The woman seemed unable to express herself. She could only say, “You are American? But America dropped the bomb. America dropped the bomb.” Chozen stared this woman in the face, herself in tears, as she answered in Japanese, “I am sorry. I am so sorry.” Eventually this woman reached into her pocketbook and offered us a donation. She apologized that she needed a little change in order to take the bus home. We bowed, and she headed off. Quietly, we walked back to our meeting place.

Many people had been shaken up by the experience and wanted to discuss it. Roughly half the group gathered in a circle to share their experiences of the day. I wanted to get away. I went to the Sadako memorial, which was right next to our spot.

About Sadako: Sadako was two years old and living in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb went off. She developed leukemia in 1955, as a result of the bomb. Her best friend told her about a Japanese legend that anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes is granted a wish. She set about making paper cranes and completed a thousand before she died in October of 1955.

People heard the story and were moved by her commitment to never give up hope. Millions of origami cranes have come to Hiroshima from around the world to support the prayer for peace. In Japan, the paper crane has become a symbol of peace. The Sadako memorial is dedicated both to her and to all the children killed by the atomic bomb.

I walked around the memorial briefly, and then headed back to the Dome Memorial. I was in a daze from all the emotions. I saw Ejo at the memorial, doing meditation on the brick ground.

There was man nearby dressed in white with a sign that read “One million faces for peace.” He was making drawings of people, for free, in the name of peace. The wooden blocks I mentioned previously were set up and stretched around almost the entire memorial.

Meanwhile, back at the discussion group, a middle-aged Japanese man came over and began ranting at the group. He was quite livid. One of the Japanese priests got up and went with him to a bench. They sat down there and the man continued yelling. The priest sat still and nodded as he deeply listened to the man speak. This went on for half an hour. Yelling and listening. Slowly, the man began to calm down. Eventually he said thank you and left.

I wandered more. I passed hibakusha sharing their stories with people, but by that point I felt too overwhelmed to listen to more.

I went to the cenotaph for the victims. It is a cement arch with ends that are flared on both sides. Underneath the arch is what looks like a large casket. There were sunflowers—symbolizing the end of nuclear weapons-- arranged along either side.
There was a long line of people waiting to approach the Cenotaph and pay their respects. I stood to the side and watched. People would offer money, incense, or flowers. They would hold their hands with palms together. I imagine they made a prayer, and they would bow and leave. Tears came and went silently, like the people.

A Japanese man in his twenties approached me and said something in Japanese. I apologized and said that I did not speak Japanese. He questioned me in broken English, “What do you think of the United States dropping the atomic bomb?”

“I think it was a tragedy,” I responded.

“What do you think of the president’s choice to use the atomic bomb? He asked.

I thought for a moment before saying, “I think it was a difficult decision. I’m glad that I wasn’t asked to make that decision.”

He said with very deliberate speech, “I can never forgive America for dropping the bomb.”

I felt that it was important to say something, so I pondered a moment, and finally said, “I think that we are all capable of being very good people or very evil. I think we are all capable of mistakes. I pray that we will always try to be good people.”

“I pray for that too,” he said, and he turned and walked away.

I began to wonder what I was doing here. I felt completely unprepared to try and defend my country’s actions. I joined the line for the Cenotaph.

Standing in front of the Cenotaph I could see the shallow manmade lake right behind it. In the center of my vision was an eternal flame on a small bridge over the lake. Through the flame, you see the Atomic Dome Memorial. It’s quite striking to take this all in: the image of the building burning, with bodies symbolically right in front of you. There is a saying, “Hiroshima gets angry. Nagasaki prays.” I definitely felt that there was anger in the midst of this prayer for peace. I offered a donation, placed my palms together, and prayed for peace in the world.

I worked my way back to our group, and found that Yasa had arrived. He asked me to do some juggling. I had brought my balls in case the opportunity arose. I felt, however, that the mood was too somber for such things. As I started to juggle, I gained the attention of several children and a few adults, who were more cautious about paying attention. I realized as I juggled that in times of stress––such as a day of mourning––a brief reminder of the bright side of life can be helpful.

As the afternoon turned to evening, there was a Buddhist memorial ceremony for all the Koreans who died during the bombing. Representatives from the Nichiren, Jodo Shin, and Rinzai sects all attended. Finally, it was time for the Soto Zen Buddhists.

Out came the Jizo kite again, and I fought with the wind as they chanted three or four chants from our tradition. There was a brief dedication and we finished. I rolled up the kite and Taiken-san told me to follow him.

Ikki-san, Taiken-san, Yuji-san, and I headed off for the car. I noticed immediately that things had started to get more crowded. I was at the end of our line, and as they quickly sped through the crowd, I dipped and dodged my way around people to ensure that I stayed right behind them.

We loaded everything up, they gave me some paper for lanterns, and we headed off. We headed up the river, towards the Atomic Dome memorial again. I saw the pilgrims coming over the Aoi bridge which had been the target of the bombing.

We turned and headed down a stair case which leads to the river. There were people on either side of the river, and standing along the pathways above. We began setting up paper lanterns. Earlier, people had written messages for peace on the papers I was carrying. We made them into lanterns and lit the candles. As the pilgrims came down to the water, they found the lantern(s) they made and sent them into the river. The current carried the lanterns directly under the Aoi bridge. It struck me that those lanterns were not only prayers for peace, but another representation of those who had died and were sailing away from us. We stood and watched them go for a while, as night set in.

Taiken-san told us that it was time to go, and we slowly gathered all the pilgrims together.We left the park then walked down to an Indian restaurant where we had dinner reservations. Yasa sat next to me, and we made paper airplanes and threw them at other tables. It’s amazing what you can get away with when a ten year old is by your side.

Yasa amazed me with his fluency in both Japanese and English. Whenever he was around, he was my official interpreter. We finished dinner and got onto another city bus which had been rented to take us to Zensho-ji. It was 8 p.m. and we had had a long day.

Unfortunately, the bus driver got lost on the way home. He didn’t notice this, but some of the Japanese people who could read the street signs realized what was going on, and they started to wonder what to do. Jihiken took charge and called Taiken-san, who was driving back with the leftover pamphlets, kimonos, signs, etc. Of course Jihiken didn’t know that much about the area, so she quickly handed the phone over to Yasa. Yasa quickly identified where we were and Taiken-san helped guide us back to Zensho-ji. We all had a good laugh at how helpful Yasa was.

Then quick showers and off to a well-earned sleep.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Ryushin's Recollections: Part VI

We woke up at about 5:30 the next morning. Hojo-san, the abbot, had informed us that there would be zazen if we were so inclined. About half the group made it upstairs for morning meditation.

In spite of my having secretly opened the windows the night before, the zendo was still fairly hot and humid. Placing twenty bodies in the room didn’t help the situation at all.

There was a slight rustle right behind me and then the meditation period began with three strikes of a small bell. I would later find out that the rustle was the sound the abbot doing kentan (morning greeting rounds). The purpose, in a traditional temple, is to ensure that all the monks are present and well. In our situation it was simply part of the form. Those sitting on the meditation cushions are supposed to respond by placing their hands palm to palm as a sign of respect. I think very few of us managed to accomplish that task the first morning.
At the end of half hour we did the traditional verse for putting on the Kesa/Rakusu. It goes:                   
How great the robe of liberation
A formless field of benefaction
Wrapping ourselves in Buddha’s teaching
We free all living beings.

We intone this three times, with the Kesa or Rakusu placed on our heads. The third time through, the ordained don their kesas, and the lay practitioners put on their Rakusus.

(Sometimes the honorific prefix “O” is appended to the name of the priest’s robe, yielding “Okesa”. Lay Buddhists sew and then officially receive the Rakusu in a ceremony of taking the 16 Buddhist precepts, which are universal vows for ethical living.)

We then processed to the Hondo (Chanting Hall). The Hondo has beautiful polished wood floors and hanging golden chandeliers. There is altar the size of a small hut. It’s elevated, so one must look up to see the Buddha images. This is actually quite common in altars that I’ve seen. I believe the idea is to physically be looking up to something that you should be spiritually looking up to, or aspiring towards.

There is a central area with a big fluffy cushion covered in a shiny satin material. The ordained enter into that central area, in rows by order of seniority. There are also wings where the lay practitioners stand.

Taiken-san sits in the position of the Precentor (the person in charge of hitting bells and blocks and leading the chanting), and Hojo-san enters into the central area. He goes to the altar, attended by a priest carrying a stick of incense.

When Hojo-san gets to the altar, the priest offers him the incense and he places it in an incense holder. We all do bows--Hojo-san gets to bow on the cool pillow--and chant a couple traditional Buddhist chants. We finish up with three bows, and Hojo-san formally wishes us a good morning.

People go and get changed and we find that our breakfast is…cereal. Yes, Taiken-san, having lived in the US for seven years or so, decided that he would try to give us something more normal than rice and miso soup. We also have milk, yogurt, tea, coffee, and bananas. Everything is set out buffet style and most people take their bowl of cereal to sit outside the Hondo. There is a walkway around the outside where you can sit down and dangle your feet. We talk quietly and listen to the cicadas.
When we finish up, we are told that we will have a brief work period and a meeting to review the day. We gather in the same room where we had dinner night, which is also the women’s dorm. We are told that many of us will have a free day.

This is the day before the Hiroshima Peace Day, so some of the residents will need to return in the afternoon to assist with setting up for that occasion. There is talk of a Shinto shrine at the top of the mountain that the temple is built on, a railway that leads to Hiroshima, and the small city of Heisaka.

We break up into smaller groups for temple cleaning. This involves cleaning, bathrooms, vacuuming tatami (bamboo straw) mats, and wiping down the wood floors.

Now, there is a special way to do all of these things. I can only speak from my experience of wiping floors. So, you wet a rag and wring it out until it is just moist. You fold it so there is a 1 x 1 foot piece. You place it on the ground in front of you, going with the grain of the wood. You form a triangle with your butt in the air, and your hands on the rag. Then you push with your legs and slide with your hands. When you get to the end, you turn around and clean the next foot of wood. It’s quite fun, actually, though it does require some strength.

Yasa (Taiken-san’s son) was with us throughout this time. During breakfast I showed him the basics of juggling. He quickly learned how to juggle two balls, and was attempting three. He referred to me as “Mr. Juggles”, and I definitely felt a fatherly affection for him. I decided I wanted to go solo for the morning to Hiroshima, so I told Yasa I would be back in the afternoon to play some more.

I took my day bag and walked down to the train. I really didn’t know whether I would find it or not, as I didn’t think I had been listening to Taiken-san’s vague directions. However, when I got to the cemetery, I knew to make a left. When I saw the Shinto gate, I knew I had to go through it. I wound up at the station with a couple other Japanese folks. They pretended not to be curious about the foreigner in samue and I observed my surroundings.

The station was a little shed-like structure. It had seats for three people and a map (in Japanese) of the train route. It was a sunny day and quite hot. The grass was brilliantly green and it was very quiet.

A train came and I got on it. I’d learned that there were very few mistakes one can make in Japan that are tragic. At the next stop I saw the sign and knew that I had gotten on a train headed in the opposite direction. I got off and waited at this station. There was a small road just beyond the train tracks and occasionally someone would ride by on their bike. The blue sky emphasized the green mountains in the distance. The stillness and beauty --probably the heat too-- reminded me of El Salvador.  Another train came and I got on, this time headed in the right direction.
When we reached Hiroshima, I simply started walking. I saw a sign for the Peace Park and decided I would walk there. I imagined it would be bit of a walk, but I think part of me hoped that if I walked far enough or hard enough that I could work accept the things I had seen the day before--though “accept” isn’t quite the right word.

I walked for an hour and saw no park. I stopped and asked someone for directions, but they were unable to direct me. So, I kept going. I knew I’d eventually run into someone or something. I always had the back up plan of getting a taxi if I needed to get back to Zensho-ji. I kept walking.

Finally, I found someone who could point me in the direction of the park. At the same time, I heard a parade marching down the street. I don’t know what they were parading for, but they were certainly making some noise about it. They happened to be going to the Peace park as well, so I simply followed them until I saw another sign.

Two hours of walking, but I had arrived. I walked around to see what groups had shown up. There were Nichiren Buddhists by the Atomic Dome chanting “Namu Myoho Ren Gei Kyo.” This means “Hail to the Great Lotus Sutra.”

(The Lotus Sutra is a Buddhist text which spends most of its time telling about how great the Lotus Sutra is. I can’t say that I totally understand it, but people of more practice than myself say that it’s one of the most profound teachings of Buddhism. Maybe I’ll get it someday.)
There was also a group of Europeans in their 20s and 30s who had several boxes around the Dome. They were unpacking three-inch by two-inch wooden blocks with messages of peace. Each block had two holes so that they could slide on wooden dowels. They were setting up enough of these wooden blocks to build a three foot wall around the entire Dome Memorial building!

I went to a survivors memorial which is located underground. Inside they tell you more stories of the survivors. After you hear their stories you can go down to a hall two stories belowground. The hall is circular and empty except for a few benches and a three foot fountain in the center.

Fountains in or around the memorial parks always symbolize offerings of water for the people who died of thirst. Around the top part of the hall is a 360° view of Hiroshima after the bombing, viewed from Shima Hospital, at the hypocenter of the explosion. It must have been carved by lasers, and is made of 270,000 tiles in total. Each tile represents a person who died in the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Seeing this enormous piece composed of one square inch tiles gives only an idea of how many people died.

I felt overwhelmed and ready to leave. I decided on a taxi for my return trip. I told the driver the cross street of the train station (which I had thought to note before wandering too far), but then I said Shinkansen station. He spoke in Japanese, and I had no idea what he was saying so I said, “Wakarimasen--I don’t understand.” He laughed, as Japanese sometimes do when they are embarrassed, and proceeded to drive. I prayed that I had said the right thing, as I only had so much money on me. The driver kept going, with the driver saying nothing.

I began to think all sorts of thoughts. Perhaps he was taking advantage of me and driving me in circle. Perhaps he thought I meant some noodle shop, and I would end up miles from my destination. Just as I was about to tell him to forget it, pay, and search for another route, we pulled up to the back of the train station. I realized that he had been confused because the cross street I gave was where the buses came to, and the taxis came to the back of the station. So, with a sigh of relief, I paid and got out.
Back at Zenshoji, I heard that some pilgrims had hiked up to the shrine at the top of the mountain. Yasa and I juggled some more. I found out that Michael, one of the videographers, is a juggler. You learn who can juggle when you start juggling. People simply seem compelled to join in or learn. After juggling, Yasa, Rob, and I played card games.

In the afternoon, as predicted, we worked on setting up for the following day. The main activity turned out to be setting banners up in the Hondo of Zensho-ji for their Obon ceremony the next day.

Obon is a time when people come to honor their ancestors. People will return to their home villages for a day to a week to pay respects. Behind the temple was a cemetery, and periodically while we were there people would come and offer flowers or simply clean around the grave markers.

In order to thank Zensho-ji for housing us we covered most of the inside of their Hondo with panels and banners. Many pilgrims besides the residents of the monastery helped with this project, so it took us only an hour to finish.

Jikan suggested that we go into the little town down the hill. She also suggested we take a taxi, as she was quite tired. I said that was fine and asked Yuji-san to phone a taxi company and order a cab for two people.

He came back and said it would be here shortly. No sooner had he said that then two cabs pulled up! Yuji said, “Okay, your two cabs are here.” Jikan laughed and I blanched. I told Yuji, “We weren’t asking for two cabs. I said one cab for two people.”  Yuji’s face dropped. “Oh…” he looked around, “did anyone else want to go into town?” No takers. Yuji walked over to one of the cabs and explained the situation. The cab driver left without much trouble, and Jikan and I thanked Yuji profusely before getting into our cab.

Our destination was a place she had been earlier in the day. It’s a shopping store simply called “The Big.” The first floor sells groceries, so we continued to the second floor. Jikan had found some T-shirts that she wanted me to see.

As I mentioned earlier, Japanese like shirts that say nonsensical English phrases in the same way that we like shirts with Japanese words that mean nothing. This is often termed “Engrish.” You can find examples of this on http://www.engrish.com/

I looked at some of the shirts and bought two. I then headed over to the electronic section. You know you are in Japan when you find an entire aisle devoted to rice cookers. It’s also obvious that you are in Japan when you can find everything for a Tea Ceremony in your local equivalent of Fred Meyers/Walgreens.

We finished our shopping and decided to look for a place to eat. We walked along the main street looking for restaurants. We saw one and poked our heads in, sushi bar. When we opened the door, a cloud of cigarette smoke wafted out, and three or four middle aged Japanese men at the bar turned in our direction. We quickly closed the door and kept going.

Further down the street we saw another one and looked in: sushi bar. The next one had its door open and was clearly…a sushi bar. We passed a convenience store and were considering simply going there and walking back to the temple. However we decided to go a few more blocks.

We walked past another store, and Jikan said it looked like a sushi bar. I said, “It can’t be, Kojun is in there.” So, we stopped in, and joined Kojun, Tova Green (from San Francisco), and Byakuren Ragir (from Minnesota).

It turned out to be a Ramen shop, which is Jikan’s and my favorite type of restaurant. Essentially, they sell Ramen noodles accompanied by whatever you want: shrimp, meat, vegetables,  etc. It was a little place, big enough for ten people to sit at three tables. There was a small refrigerator with a glass window on the front. Jikan got a cute little Coke in a glass bottle out of the fridge. They had ordered vegetarian Ramen. As they were involved in a conversation, Jikan and I ordered vegetarian Ramen and took to watching the Hiroshima baseball game on the TV.

When their Ramen came out they found that it had big pieces of pork on the top. They had a good laugh and tried to say vegetarian. The man repeated her word, but her reason for saying the word seemed totally lost to him. After a moment or two of this they simply chalked it up to a cultural experience and began to eat around their pork. So, when our dishes turned up with pork, neither of us were surprised. Jikan was secretly happy to get a little protein. We thanked the cooks, a husband and wife team, and heartily enjoyed our Ramen.

The ladies ate their Ramen, paid, and headed off for the temple. We finished and went to pay. Jikan showed him her bottle of Coke.  He said, “Service.” We didn’t know what he meant, so Jikan tried to pay for the Coke again, and he said, “Service.” We got the idea: service = no charge. We thanked them both and bowed before leaving.

We decided to swing by the convenience store and buy some matcha (green tea) ice cream before heading back to the temple. As we passed one of the sushi bars, we saw more familiar faces. We poked our heads in to say hello to Yuji and Korin (two of the priests who were helping us get through Japan safely). They were just having some dessert and a cigarette (smoking is not extremely common, but it is definitely accepted -- there is a smoking car on the Shinkansen.

We apologized again about the taxis and Yuji smiled and said it wasn’t a problem. I have learned that the Japanese are quite comfortable lying in order to maintain harmony. The down side is that you rarely know if they are telling the truth or not. The bright side is that it doesn’t matter, and it’s one less thing to worry about.

The waitress came over and asked if we wanted anything, in Japanese. Yuji explained that we were from America and here for a peace pilgrimage. The woman got quite excited and ran behind the counter. She came back with two desserts like the ones Yuji and Korin had. Essentially it was a snow cone with some nondescript Japanese fruit flavor (perhaps lychee).

We thanked her and pulled out our wallets to pay. “Service,” she said, thus proving our theory about the meaning of that word. We bowed, and ate our dessert.

Yuji told that this sushi bar was actually an Okonomiyaki shop. Okonomiyaki is essentially a cabbage pancake. It has eggs, flour, cabbage, and meat or seafood. They make the mix, and at the low-budget places you cook it yourself at the table. Actually, I’ve heard, that it’s more fun that way, and cheaper--how can you beat that? You cook it all together and add a sauce which has soy sauce, mayo, mustard, and some Japanese seasonings and ENJOY!

Yuji could not emphasize enough that the Okonomiyaki in Hiroshima is better than that made in Osaka (another big home of Okonomiyaki). This is, he informed me, because they use more cabbage here. One would think this would not be a big secret to anyone seriously comparing  the two, but rather a matter of preference.  

When we left the restaurant, I requested a stop at the convenience store, as that dessert had hardly satisfied my appetite for sweets. I purchased another Hagen Das Matcha Ice Cream bar (probably my fourth of the trip), and enjoyed it as we walked through the dark streets of Heisaka to Zensho-ji.

We got back in time to take a bath. There was only one bath, so we had men’s time and women’s time for the bath. Truly, after a day of sweating, there is no better way to relax than by washing off and hopping in a bathtub.

I went to bed with slight anticipation/anxiety, aware that the next day we would be going to the Peace park to bring Jizos for Peace to the masses. What would they think of us? What would we be doing? Time would tell.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Ryushin's Recollections: Part V

Our breakfast on the last morning in Kyoto was exactly like the previous days: yummy, filling, and very Japanese. We finished and were told to meet in the lobby to head to the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) station.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to get thirty five people in one place at one time. Let me tell you, it’s fairly challenging, even if they’re Buddhists. Ten minutes or so after our prescribed departure time had slid by, we decided to leave in batches rather than as one group.

Fifteen pilgrims rolled their carts and swung their tote bags nearly in synch as we marched to the train station (different than the bullet train). It was another amazingly hot and humid day (to remind you, dear reader). We passed by a gaggle of obachan (grandmother types) with their traditional accouterments: wide brimmed hats, umbrellas, and gloves that came up to their elbows. Everyone in our group made it on to the train without problems, and we safely made it to the Shinkansen station.

We had to wait at the ticket line for the second half of our group to arrive (as one doesn’t go back outside). We had some slight anxiety that they would find the right section (Shinkansen stations are fairly large and can be quite complicated, with everything written in Japanese and all). I stood up closer to a crossroads I felt sure that they would pass. While I waited, I took photos of people.
There is something quite amazing about taking photos of people going places. Each one is so obviously different, and also astoundingly beautiful. I caught people glancing in my direction, teenagers walking with their friends, families, and many business people.

I got a blurred photo of a Japanese man running--something you don’t see very much. It’s amazing that, when visiting a different culture, so many things are different that only when something directly in front of you reminds you how things would be at home do you actually recognize the extent of the difference.

As I was pondering such things, I saw a bald head in the distance, then two and three more. Chozen was leading the pilgrims to our section, and we rejoiced. I should also mention that there are many stair cases in these stations where they do not have escalators. Some of the pilgrims on the trip were carting large rolling suitcases, and this proved to be a technically challenging part of the trip, as you will see.

We got to our platform and there were signs on the ground where each numbered train car would stop, so you could line up in the appropriate place. There were, however, multiple numbers at one place, as different train lines came to this one platform. The Japanese were kind enough to explain which was which, only it was all in Japanese. So, we did some guessing and figured we could walk through the train if we were wrong. The train came in and we found out that we were right--a simple pleasure.

A comment about bullet trains. People say that you could set your watch by a bullet train, and they would be correct in such a statement. They are so amazingly precise and go such incredible distances that their accuracy is scary. One way that they keep to the schedule is by not dillying or dallying long in the actual station. I timed it a couple times and the doors were open for almost precisely one minute. That is one minute for all the people on the train to get off (with their baggage, if they have any), and for those on the platform to get on (with their baggage). These were probably the most intense times on the trip.

We boarded fine and just inside each car there is usually space for your baggage (not much space, I would like to add). In this car there were private compartments for people to have a meeting. As a result the baggage space was halfway into the car. There were two places to put your bags. As most people had put theirs in the first one, I put mine in the second. I found my seat and promptly took a nap. The scenery of farms and cities whizzed by. Occasionally we made a stop, and people scurried on and off the train.

I woke up when  our stop was announced, and we moved  towards the back in order to be ready to deboard. It seemed that everyone had grabbed our various bags to ensure that they all made it off. I noticed that my bag wasn’t there, so I continued on down the corridor. The train stopped. The door opened, and out we leapt. I was towards the end, and as I was about exit I took a quick look around the bags, and did not see mine! I ran back inside, people calling after me. I raced down the corridor to where we had placed our bags and looked again: no bags. Then I remembered, I put mine in the other cubby. I poked my head over and there it was. I grabbed it and raced towards the door. The whistle blew as I jumped off the train. The door shut and the train pulled off. It was like a scene from Indiana Jones.

Now we had eleven minutes to find where our next platform was and get there. This is where the problem of not having escalators came to the front of our attention. I passed my bag, which was fairly small and light, to another pilgrim, took their oversized bag and carted it down the long flight of stairs.

We ran and rolled our way over to the base of another set of stairs. Up we went, hauling our luggage of various weights. We made it with two or three minutes to spare. We spent that time scratching our heads about which of the three numbers on the ground was for our train. In the end we simply spread out so we could enter the train faster, and sort things out once on board.

Everyone got on safely and it was two hours at roughly 200-300 mph to our next destination, Hiroshima. I took another nap.

I would like to take this time, as the me in our story rests, to give a slight aside. I would like to warn you, dear readers, that from here on out the story becomes slightly more emotional. Most of you are aware that this trip was bound to have such moments, but I do wish to offer that forewarning. That said, we shall carry on.

We arrived in Hiroshima and met Taiken-san, who is a longtime friend of Chozen and Hogen. He had offered us his family temple as a home base for our time in Hiroshima.

We had an hour before our bus would arrive, so we were given the opportunity to get food at the station. Jikan and I found a small air-conditioned restaurant which looked trendy. We looked at the menu and decided to give our body a slight break from Japanese food. Jikan ordered “Ethnic breaded chicken” and French fries. I ordered a personal pizza with vegetables.

As we sat there, we both became very aware of where we were and what had happened sixty years before. Tears began to arise simply thinking of the tragedy that had taken place. We allowed the tears to come and sat in silence. Soon they had passed, and soon after that our food arrived.

Jikan was brought a small plate of chicken nuggets and nine French fries, which were arranged in an orderly crisscrossed fashion. My pizza was fairly light on cheese and the “vegetable” was tomatoes found in the sauce. Once again, we were laughing and enjoying ourselves and our meal.

We met our group and went to our bus. The bus drove us to the Hiroshima Peace Park. Prior to the bombing, the area that is now the Peace Park was simply part of the city. There were temples, businesses, hospitals, and homes there. After the bombing, there was nothing. The city of Hiroshima decided to devote a large area around the epicenter of the bombing to Peace.

We were all glued to the windows, watching this city unfold. Suddenly, from behind a row of trees, a building leapt out at us. To call it a building is giving it a bit too much credit. It is known as the “A bomb Memorial Dome.” It was previously known as the Prefectural Industrial Promotional Hall. What is left now is the shell of a building. The dome is roughly five stories high and looks like a skeleton wire frame. To look at it, and see the rubble still standing exactly where it fell sixty years ago is haunting. Once more, the tears came to my eyes.

The A-dome, as it’s sometimes called, is located mere meters from where the bomb detonated. The building survived in part because it was so precisely near the epicenter: the forces from the detonating bomb were all pushing directly downward. After the bombing it was one of the ten or so buildings left standing, and it could be seen from several miles away.

The city of Hiroshima decided that the building should stay as a reminder of the power of atomic weapons and a prayer that atomic bombs would never be used again. They have done three projects to strengthen the structure since the bombing, and plan to continue doing so for into future. 

We passed the A-dome and went into the Peace Park. At one end of the Peace Park is the Atomic Bomb Museum, our destination. We were told that we had slightly more than an hour before we needed to meet at the bus, and then we headed off to the museum.

 The museum starts off with the beginnings of Hiroshima, and how it grew into a city. It goes through the war, and how people were aiding with the war effort-- similar to the American workers who helped build planes, bombs, and so forth. They seem to be quite honest about the fact that all the Japanese civilians believed in the war and supported it.

Then comes the bombing. They show a circular model of the city as it was before the bombing. As I mentioned, there were the various parts of city life all represented in section of the city. Right next to it, they show the aftermath of the bombing. A couple buildings remained, as did a couple bridges. Essentially everything was destroyed.

At 8:15 a.m. on August 6th , 1945, the Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima. It exploded 600 meters above the city. The temperature was probably in the 70s and quite humid that morning (the clouds were slowly burning off).

When the bomb exploded there was a flash of light that people described as being the equivalent of one hundred bolts of lightning. The temperature rose to 3000-4000 degrees for five seconds. People near the epicenter, mostly civilians, were vaporized instantly without a trace. We saw one photo of a shadow that had been a man sitting on some stairs in front of a bank. All that was left of the man was that shadow.

After the heat came the sound blast, at roughly 200 mph., which blew down most buildings. The heat caused a fire which spread rapidly through the buildings, which were mostly made of wood.

People were caught under collapsed burning houses. People on the streets who had survived were badly burned. The radioactive dust, water vapor, and smoke went into the air.  They became a cloud, and fell as black rain later that day.

This rain was radioactive and most people who drank it died. But, people did drink it because all their pipes were destroyed and they had no way to get fresh water. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people died crying for water.

There were dead bodies floating down the river, and people crying out for their family members who were lost or dead. The hospitals were in ruins. Most of the doctors were dead.  It’s estimated that 80,000 people died as a result of that one bomb.

As we walked further through the museum there were pieces of people’s lives which had been found among the rubble. A burnt school uniform, a charred lunch box, part of tricycle. We had an audio guide and we heard little snippets about who these things belonged to, how old they had been, and where they had been at the time of the bombing. As I walked further along tears flowed. I walked with heavy feet, as if I were carrying each person I heard about on my back.

At the end of the museum is a section where you can watch videos of the hibakusha (survivors of the atomic bombings) tell their stories of that day. I was watching a man describe his amazing experience when I felt that I was being watched. I turned my head and there was one of our videographers, filming the authentic experience of my sadness. I felt myself get angry, and shut down. I walked past them and straight out of the museum.

I ran into Hogen outside, and he asked me to go back and remind people that it was time to go. I went back less than enthusiastically to inform the other pilgrims that we were late for an appointment. After an experience like that, the idea that we had to be somewhere and that it was really important didn’t seem to make sense. But, I went and gently told the people I saw (most of whom were in tears) that they would need to head towards the end.

We gathered and headed off to Taiken-san’s family temple, Zensho-ji. Zensho-ji is just outside of Hiroshima, on a hill that looks down on the city. We had to carry our bags up two long flights of stairs, but I heard no groans about this from anyone. We got to the top and were shown where to put our bags.

We were then ushered into a formal tea room. In the tea ceremony there is very little in the room to distract the mind. The things that are in the room are often seasonal, and thus remind us to be present. There was a flower arrangement, which we were invited to look at and appreciate. There was also a calligraphy which we were invited to reflect on briefly before sitting in a large circle.

A young Japanese woman came out in full kimono and began to perform the tea ceremony for us. This involves ritualistically cleaning the tea cup, opening the container of tea, taking some matcha (powdered green tea), placing it in the cup, taking hot water, pouring it in the cup, whipping it with a bamboo whisk until frothy, and offering it to one of the pilgrims.

It is a lovely ceremony, and each thing is done very deliberately and mindfully. Had she done this for each person we would have been there a long time. The way they get around this is to have other women (also dressed in their formal kimonos) whisking tea behind closed doors, and coming out to serve us, two pilgrims at a time.

The tea was lovely. In the middle of the ceremony we began to hear the shakuhachi (bamboo flute) playing in the background. We all thought it was very novel that they would play us a recording of some zen flute music to complete the scene.  

We were directed back to our baggage. This route took us past the Hondo (chanting hall). Inside the hondo we found, to our amazement, an old Japanese gentleman sitting in seiza (kneeling position) playing the shakuhachi!

Something about the way he played made the air feel like warm caresses and the sunset seem soft on one’s eyes. We proceeded into the a hall at the far end of the temple. There were low tables set up, and food spread in every direction. It looked like they had been cooking for a week. We dug in.

They had made several vegetarian food items, but some of the choices definitely involved fish or meat. We sat down and waited for everyone to go through the line, both pilgrims and the lay community who had organized this warm greeting. Westerners and Japanese were interspersed in order to promote talking and visiting.

There was a brief introduction from Hojo-san, Taiken-san’s dad and the current abbot of the temple. Chozen got up and gave an introduction and thank you. The head of their board got up to say some words. Kaz said some words. Apparently this is standard Japanese style. At last, we were allowed to eat. The food was wonderful. I was surprised to find that the Japanese make a mean potato salad.

At some point Chozen organized several of the female pilgrims to come to the front of the room. She had Kaz explain that they wanted to sing a song as a way of saying thank you. It was done in baika style. Baika is a form of melodic chanting accompanied by bells. The women’s choir sang a traditional piece devoted to Jizo Bodhisattva. They had little makeshift bells which they rang mostly in time.

As they chanted, I noticed an older fellow in the front with his eyes closed, tapping his hand to the table in time with the ladies. I thought he must be enjoying the performance. At the end, they gave a wonderful round of applause. The Japanese are very polite towards any attempt by a foreigner to embrace the Japanese culture. I’ve been told that they think of us like children.

Anyway, we returned to our delectable meal briefly before that man called our attention from the other end of the room. He had a small entourage of members , each with a hand bell and stationary bell. He explained that they had a small baika group, and that they wished treat us to their version of the same piece. Well, let me just say that they beat the pants off us. They went on to do a version of “taking refuge in the three treasures” which was, to our untrained ears, perfect. Lots of applause ensued, and they stepped down.

BUT, up came the shakuhachi player. He said he wished to play us a tune. He performed a couple traditional pieces, and then broke into a zen version of “Amazing Grace”!

After conferring with some of my fellow pilgrims about how we were being thoroughly shown up, I went over and made a comment to Chozen. She got up to formally present the banner that we had made for their temple. She pointed out different people’s panels and told about what part they had played in the trip. She then said, “…and this panel was done by Ryushin. Ryushin is one of our long-term residents at the monastery as well as a wonderful juggler, and he wanted to do a short performance for you.”

I asked Hojo-san to turn off all the lights. Then out came my glow-in-the-dark juggling balls. I can’t say that it was the best performance of my life, but I felt satisfied and they seemed impressed.

At this point, Taiken-san stepped up--before someone could try to up the ante and eat a centipede or something wilder--and called it a night. We all helped with wrapping food and putting away the tables. The men and women slept primarily in the room we had been eating in. We set out futons and got ready for bed.

A Japanese boy came up to me and was asking about juggling. His name was Yasahiro, and he was Taiken-san’s son. Yasa had grown up in Japan for three years and been in California for five years. He was very American, and we all got a big kick out of him. I taught him a little juggling and then told him we could do some more the next day. Lights out, and the day was done.
More photos are available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/97575609@N00/ 

Ryushin's Recollections: Part IV

Free Day in Kyoto
We shuffled downstairs to breakfast the next morning, still reeling from the food binge of the day before. Many people had asked if they could cancel their reservation for breakfast, and Jihiken informed us that it was too late for such things. So, good Buddhists that we were, all but one of us showed up for the morning meal.

The breakfast was on par with that of the previous morning. They added a piece of shrimp and some little dried fish to the array. I think that was the first shrimp I’ve eaten in nearly a decade.

At any rate, when we finished our meal we were reminded that this would be a free day to explore Kyoto. People spoke about the different places they would be going.

One group was going back to Tom’s temple, in the northwest section of Kyoto, to learn how to rake the small rocks of his rock garden (the rocks are raked in such a way that it has the effect of calming the mind).

Another group was going to a small village northeast of Kyoto called Ohara. They were going to see some temples, and get out of the city for a day.

The filmmakers from LA were going with Kaz to a famous villa outside of Kyoto. Apparently it takes almost a year for a Japanese resident to get permission to visit this location, but a foreigner can get permission on a day’s notice.

Some people were going hiking in the area southeast of Kyoto where trees have been cleared to form the Japanese character “Dai (Big, Grand, Vast, etc.)” on a mountainside visible from the city. In the fall there is a celebration where a fire is lit in that clearing to illuminate the Dai symbol. There are six other symbols carved on other prominent mountains around the city.

Chozen, Hogen, Jikan, and I went to eastern Kyoto so I could get measured for my koromo. A koromo is a long black robe that Soto Zen monks/priests wear over their kimono. It is made of a slippery nylon material which is very hard to work, so we usually pay a seamstress to sew it for us. We only had the name of the tailors, so we asked the hotel front desk to do some research, and headed off to find the store.

The tricky part about buildings in Japan is that they are not numbered in order down the street (e.g. 1 at one end and 10 at the other). Rather, they are numbered according to the order in which they were built (so 1 could be on one street and 2 could be five blocks over)!

We wandered around for about half an hour, showing people our little printout from the hotel. They would point and speak in broken English, and we would head off in that direction. When we met another person, we would ask them the same question. We did that several times until, after an hour, we finally stumbled upon the store.

A woman who spoke only Japanese invited us in. We sat down and she served us cold barley tea. We tried to explain that we wanted a koromo and what type of fabric we were looking for. Unfortunately, all the Japanese speaking pilgrims were elsewhere, so this conversation was quite taxing on both sides of the language barrier.

After twenty minutes of this woman running back and forth to get different materials and supplies, Hogen suggested we find a place where they spoke some English. As it would have been extremely impolite to simply leave, we said no thank you for the koromo, but we purchased a pair of tabi (ceremonial Japanese socks) and a juban.(formal undershirt).

We headed back out into the blazing sun. Chozen remembered the name of two shops but not the addresses. We decided it would be best to go to Kyoto City Hall (which was between our location and our destination), find someone who spoke English, and have them find out for us. We made it to City Hall and eventually got someone who spoke some English. We explained our situation and he said he would do some research if we would sit in the waiting room. Suddenly we found ourselves in the waiting room of city hall with all manner of Japanese folks. All in all, the day was reminiscent of being a child and having to wait with mom and dad for some boring legal thing--or perhaps waiting for my sisters to try on clothing.

The fellow came back to inform us that there were purveyors of priest clothing in Kyoto by those names. Stumped--and hungry--we headed off to the Terimachi arcade mall for a bite to eat. The Teramachi Arcade mall is the most spectacular of consumer sights that I saw in Kyoto. Imagine, if you will, a street with mall-type stores on either side. The roof is three or four stories high and made of glass. At the entrance you look down the corridor and you see no end to the shopping.

Pretend that you weren’t slightly interested in investigating and you headed down the block. At the next corner you could look down the cross street and see another section of the mall which also stretches as far as the eye can see!

So, you go in and explore. There are little shops to buy t-shirts with English phrases that make no sense (Japanese think the English language is cool in the same way that we purchase shirts with Japanese characters which are often meaningless).

There are 100 yen shops. In theory these are the same as our Dollar stores, except that they sell high quality goods for very cheap prices. Your eyes wander, unable to capture all the sights you’re taking in. You stop in your tracks at what you see next.

Next to a small greasy spoon type restaurant, you see a graveyard. You walk out, as the sounds fade slightly, and pass hundreds of gravemarkers (these being more current than the small stones of the temples so far.) There is a Buddhist temple next to the grave yard as well as shrine to Kanzeon. Impressed, you bow and return to the chaos of the mall.

At some point you pass a cross street. You see, to your amazement, that there is yet another section of this shopping arcade which stretches on with no end in sight. This section is devoted to every sort of food you can imagine.
Since everything is packed right next to each other, you get a whiff of fresh tuna followed by the fragrance of peaches and then the smell of pickled something-or-other.

This is where we found ourselves in the midst of our hunt for a robe tailor. Hogen, Jikan, and I stopped to get a bite to eat. Chozen wandered off to visit one of the temples. Hogen managed to get a hold of someone who knew where the robe shop was, and wrote down the directions.

Chozen came back and we were headed into the mall when the sky opened up and there was another downpour. We had to leave the safety of our covered arcade to get to the shop. I had brought my 300 yen umbrella. I soon realized that 300 yen does not buy one a good umbrella, as the thin plastic had begun to melt to itself with the heat of the sun. Hogen bought three more umbrellas at the 100 yen shop, and we entered the deluge.

The Japanese watched with amazement (from the safety of their covered stores) as the four bald westerners (dressed up like Zen priests) walked down the street. The umbrellas kept the top third of our bodies dry (from the shoulders up), and left the bottom two thirds defenseless.

We walked only five or six blocks before reaching the shop, but we were thoroughly drenched. The owner came to the door and invited us in. Hogen stopped us saying, “We’re not going in unless they speak English,” and to the storekeeper, “Does anyone here speak English?” The man assured us that yes there were people who spoke English.

Hogen said we weren’t going in until we saw someone who spoke English. The man left and a moment later a Japanese woman in her thirties came up and greeted us in moderate English. Satisfied, we accepted their towels and began to dry off. Luckily we were wearing light weight clothes which dried quickly.

We went to through the office and into a small room with a couple low couches. The woman served us cold barley tea (I was getting the impression that you could walk into a record store and they would offer you cold barley tea). Chozen had come her three years ago to get Daitetsu (our 6’10” priest) measured for robes, the last time they were in Japan. The woman’s eyes went wide when she remembered this and her hand stretched up to the ceiling and she said, “So BIG!”

We got down to business and things went rather quickly. We requested a koromo. We told her the type of fabric, and she brought it out to make sure they had the right thing. The seamstress pulled out her measuring tape and she measured the width of my neck, my height from neck to ankles, and the height from my extended arm to approximately my knee.  That was it. Four hours of searching, through the heat, through the downpour, for three measurements. I was slightly shocked.

However, Chozen and Hogen then mentioned that they needed some new samue (Zen outfits) for the trip. And, Chozen had promised new outfits for Kojun, Yuko, and Jikan. So, then we went through a process of bringing out various sizes and colors and fabric types of samue for the various priests.

The samue were all pre-made and wrapped up in cellophane, like you would see a set of undershirts. There was a growing pile of samue outfits in the corner of the small room. Chozen and Jikan were oohing and ahhing over the different materials and cuts. They were able to appreciate it more, having made several and being serious seamstresses themselves.

As things were starting to wind down, I asked if I could use the bathroom. The woman led me further back into the store room. There were boxes, cleaning supplies, a water cooler, and so forth. Your ordinary, dark office.

She pointed to a door and headed back to clean up. I opened the door and was amazed. On the other side of the door was a garden with the gentle sound of trickling water, bamboo, moss, beautifully shaped rocks…

Everything was placed so as to emphasize serenity. There was a wooden platform which led to the right to two beautiful wooden doors. In the first one was a pair of bright red shoes (I should mention that the Japanese usually change into a different pair of shoes when using the bathroom, unless they are in an airport), and a urinal…quite ordinary.

In the second room was a Japanese style toilet. That would be a low-to-the-ground toilet which requires squatting. It’s generally considered more sanitary because you don’t touch the toilet at all, but it’s a bit of a workout on the knees.

I did my business and went back to the little room where they were taking care of their business. At the first opportunity, I told Chozen and Jikan that they had to see this (I didn’t suspect that Hogen would be greatly impressed). I took them back and they had a great laugh about it.

We finished up and were waiting to pay for everything. In the front office was a Japanese gentleman in his nineties. He was the father and previous owner of the business. He was dressed in a business suit, and had a big grin on his face as he spoke to us in Japanese. Hogen tried speaking to him in English, as he knows next to no Japanese, but this man’s English was as good as our Japanese. So, Hogen smiled back and laughed with him and said, in an enthusiastic tone, “I wish I knew what you were saying because you truly seem to be quite delighted that we are here.” We said thank you, bowed, and headed back out into the street.

It was now 5 p.m. Having completed our major task for the day, and because they had a dinner appointment with a professor elsewhere in Kyoto, Chozen and Hogen departed. This left Jikan and me free to return to the arcade mall.

Imagine what would run through your mind if you were walking though a mall and suddenly saw an Iranian Roman Catholic priest and Italian nun laughing and shopping. This is probably similar to the Japanese experience of seeing two foreigner priestly-type people wandering though the arcade mall.

All the same, we had a wonderful time. We bought little trinkets, and talked with the occasional Japanese person who approached us. We wandered into Buddhist shrines. We searched for some fruit for the members of our pilgrimage who were (to put it delicately) experiencing some of the consequences of a lack of fiber in their diet.

We wandered for a few hours before heading back to the hotel. We met up with some of our fellow pilgrims at the train station and heard about their adventures. We bought a little food at the Daily Yamazaki (a Japanese Convenience Store) to tide us over until breakfast.

That night I took an extra long bath, as I was not sure that we would have the opportunity to do so ever again. A little zazen, and off to bed I went. Thus ended our last full day in Kyoto.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

A Journey of Reconciliation

I was one of the pilgrims who joined Chozen and Hogen Bays and their students from Great Vow Monastery to bring more than 270,000 images of Jizo Bodhisattva to Japan for the 60th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My small suitcase contained a very large banner made at Green Gulch Farm. Images of Jizo and messages for peace had been drawn on yellow fabric (died with turmeric by Wendy Johnson, who learned that turmeric can counteract some of the effects of radiation sickness), and mounted on red cloth. In the center was a large lotus painted by Abbess Linda Cutts.

In Hiroshima three generations of the Yokoyama family welcomed us to their temple, Zenshoji in the hills outside the city. Rev. Shoken Yokoyama, the 70-year-old head priest, lives there with his wife Hitoko. Their son Taiken, his wife and their two children had just returned from living in California for many years. The afternoon we arrived members of the temple served us a formal tea and dinner they had prepared. We exchanged gifts, speeches, and performances of melodic goeka chanting.

Zenshoji was built in 1615 in downtown Hiroshima, in what was once the entertainment district. On the morning of the bombing in 1945 elementary school students were having their classes in the temple hall. Rev. Yokoyama’s wife, who was five at the time, was the daughter of the head priest of the temple. She and her parents managed to escape with little injury when the family quarters of the temple collapsed. A month later her mother died from radiation sickness and in 1954 her father died from cancer. Of the thirty young students who had gathered at the temple that day to study only one girl survived.

Every morning after zazen a member of the temple played shakahachi (a bamboo flute) in the Buddha Hall as we quietly ate our breakfast. We were very fortunate to have such a nourishing place in which to start and end the day as we explored the Peace Park and Atomic Bomb Center, took part in the commemorations on August 6th, the 60th anniversary of the bombing, and got a visceral sense of the consequences of the bombing.

We hung an exhibit of Jizo banners and chains of origami Jizos in the Buddha Hall so that members of the temple could see them when they came that week for memorial services. When we were packing to leave, I gave the Green Gulch banner to the temple, hoping that the bright yellow panels would help to heal some of the emotional wounds that remain sixty years after the bombing.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Ryushin's Recollections: Part III

I like to refer to this day as “Death by insanely good Japanese food.” It started out like the previous day--with meditation. We woke up slightly later, so after zazen it was time for breakfast.

Once again, we were served a plentiful meal at the restaurant on the first floor of the hotel. Included were miso soup, rice, tofu, fish, shrimp, seaweed, etc. It wasn’t a lot of these things, so much as the sheer number. But, it was our second breakfast in Japan, so we ate with delight. There was a brief overview of the day, time for preparations, and then we were off to the tour bus.

We met Aki on the bus. Aki was our tour guide for the day. He was a peppy little Japanese man with only the trace of an accent. He informed us that his name is Akira, but westerners don’t pronounce it right so he goes by Aki. I can’t report all that Aki told me about the places we saw, or about Kyoto in general--but I can assure you that he is quite proud of what he knows and would probably tell you all about Kyoto if you were ever to meet and ask him.

Our first stop was Mibudera. Mibudera is one of many temples dedicated to Jizo, which is part of the reason we visited. In accordance with Jizo’s vow to aid children and travelers, the temple operates both a nursery school and a senior home, as well as a stage for Kyogen-style plays. Kyogen are Japanese style plays that are dialogue-based and often have a comic element to them. This temple also has a number of the stone grave markers mentioned previously, in Part II. To the of the chanting hall they have several hundred of these markers set up to form a stupa.

A stupa is a Buddhist monument and represents the body of the Buddha. It has several sections to it, each with a separate meaning, and they don’t always look exactly the same. They look like the upper portion of a sphere, with a graduated pyramid or cone rising from the top. They can be as small as three inches high, or as large as a building. Mibudera’s stupa was building- sized. The markers surrounded the graduated cone section, in smaller circles as they reached the top.   

Our bus let us out on the main street near Mibudera. I was assigned to carry a box of ceramic Jizos for the seniors, and Onshin got the box of Jizos for the nursery school. There are 144 seniors and 127 children at Mibudera, and we had one statue for each person. That’s roughly 25 lbs. for each box. Keep in mind, as the story unfolds, that it was in the 80s, about 75% humidity, and we were carrying these boxes

We began trickling down the narrow alley, without really knowing where we were going. Suddenly I heard a woman frantically saying, “Chozen Roshi? Chozen Roshi?” She passed right by Chozen (who was the only one in formal priest robes, I should add), and then me. She went up to Hogen, who was at the end of the line, and said, “Chozen Roshi, you need to come to the front of the line.” Hogen kindly explained that Chozen was up closer to the front.  She turned and raced back up the line calling for Chozen, now with several pilgrims calling as well (which probably only added to the confusion). Finally, Chozen was found and escorted to the head of the line just as they reached the entrance to the temple.

There was a long walkway from the simple stone gate to the chanting hall. Lining the walkway near the hall were little school kids with their uniforms (white shirts, blue pants, and a blue cap). They each held either a US or Japanese flag, which they waved in a rather confused fashion. Perhaps they were scared to see so many foreigners. There were film cameras and photographers there, in addition to our film crews. Film crews filming film crews. I hoped they were getting each other’s good side. As I was taking all of this in, I heard the click of speakers turning on. Suddenly we were being greeted by the Star Spangled Banner! It was all simply too much.

Matsuura Roshi greeted us and thanked us for coming so far. He was speaking to us from a podium. He invited Chozen  up, and she briefly described how they met. We went into the chanting hall to perform the Jizo Mantra. I got to put the box down in the chanting hall. Then we headed outside and Rob and I took the boxes along.

Matsuura Roshi led us to a place where there were many grave markers set out on the ground, laid on their backs. Each one had a small tag with a number and its weight. He explained to us that he was going to donate these grave markers to our monastery! There are 108 in all, a prominent number in Buddhism, and he would even pay for shipping! Many photos were taken as we “ooohhed” and “ahhhed.”

We brought out many Jizo banners and held them up for Matsuura Roshi and the camera crews. Rob and I continued to sweat. The news crews circled around Chozen and Kaz. They were asking questions of Chozen while Kaz translated.

Matsuura Roshi came over and talked with me about the statues. I smiled and thanked him. Sweat streamed in my eyes and my arms quivered slightly. Finally, Hogen mentioned that it would be helpful to get out of the direct sunlight. Matsuura Roshi suggested we go inside for lunch.

Inside we put down (phew!) our boxes and sat at two long rows of tables while classical western music played in the background. A small boy started serving us cans of orange and mango juice. There was a fancy box in front of each person. They told us to enjoy and we opened our boxes. Oh boy.

Inside our boxes was the highest-end bento lunch you can get. Someone estimated the meal cost $60 per person! There was sushi, tempura, eggplant, tofu, orange, seaweed, green beans, cucumber, etc. It was all very beautifully decorated, to boot. Now, when I say all those food items you might say, “Holy Buddha that’s alotta food!” But keep in mind that there was one piece of orange, and two small green beans. On the other hand, keep in mind that we finished a big breakfast only three hours before.

Hogen had been here before, so it was he who mentioned that the people serving us were Matsura Roshi’s son, daughter-in-law, and grandson! Hogen had them stand still for a moment so we could offer our applause. They bowed, of course. We crammed down as much of the lovely food as our little stomachs could hold. We were informed that it was almost time to go. We did have time to present Matsura Roshi with the ceramic Jizo boxes, and (phew) say goodbye to them.
On our way out we saw another set of grave markers in a pyramid shape. On the top was a beautiful metal statue of Jizo holding a smiling baby. In front of the markers was a familiar sight, one of the garden Jizo statues we sell at ZenWorks! I went to investigate and found a plaque in front of the statue which read: “Hello Buddha of Mibudera. I am an American Jizo from Oregon.” I bowed to the pile of Buddha figures, and hopped back on the bus.

The next stop was the Kugi Nugi or “Nail Pulling” Jizo Temple. This is a small temple, with next to no frills. It is a devotional place for people who are experiencing pain. When you enter the gate you are greeted by a set of three-foot-long nails and an equally number of pliers, with a bib wrapped around the pliers. You will often see bibs around fences or virtually anything that will hold it. Each bib represents a child who has died, and a prayer to Jizo for their safe passage to whatever lies beyond this world.

Just beyond the pliers/nails statue is a small building. In the building is a statue of Jizo. People offer donations to Jizo and make prayers. To the left of this statue is a smaller altar with a statue of one of the Buddha’s disciples. In front of the statue is a wand covered in cloth.

The thought is that people pray for healing of their pain, and then they touch the wand to the place where they are experiencing pain. It was obvious in watching the way people used the wand that they have deep faith in this healing. I saw one elderly man tenderly pick up the wand and touch it to his shoulder, his other shoulder, down his right side, around the lower back, down the entire right leg, and down the entire left leg. I was near tears by the time he finished.

When people finish using the wand they will often circumambulate the building several times. Lining the sides of the building are plaques of  nails and pliers with the name of donors to the temple. Behind the building are two wheels with small Jizo plaques on them and people’s names. They are similar to Tibetan prayer wheels where prayers are placed on a wheel, and when the wheel is spun all those prayers are sent out into the world.  

We met the caretaker of the temple. We mentioned that it seemed fairly busy (there was a stream of people the entire time we were visiting). He agreed and said that from the time he opens the doors at 5:30am until the time he closes the gate at 5:30 pm there is never a time when the temple is empty. We chanted the Jizo mantra and circumambulated the temple. He served us cold barley tea and sweets. We thanked him and said good bye.

The next stop was Ryoan-ji, known for its amazing rock garden. Zen gardens use a combination of rocks, sand, and foliage to create an atmosphere capable of inducing a contemplative mind state.

We only had a brief time here. This was more of the “Japanese-style touring” day. That means racing to the location, taking some pictures, hopping back on the bus to the next place, taking some pictures, etc.

Next on the list was the Golden Pavilion. The main structure is a three story pagoda-like building which sits overlooking a beautiful pond. It was constructed in the 1200s to be a villa for the Shogun. It was passed down for over a hundred years before being given to the Zen school as a temple.

The pavilion is entirely coated in gold leaf with lacquer in between the layers to secure them to the sides. The building was kept in good shape until the mid 60s when a monk described as “deranged” in the brochure burnt the building down. It was, of course, rebuilt exactly like the original.

As we were headed towards the exit, a little Japanese man in a white jumpsuit, knee pads, and helmet came over to our group. He asked us where we were from. I suppose he was surprised to see so many westerners wearing Zen clothes. We told him about Jizos for Peace and he got very excited. Daigaku informed us, “He has invited everyone to have green tea.”

The little fellow, who turned out to be the head gardener of the grounds, brought us to an area where, for 400 yen, you can purchase a cup of powdered green tea (Matcha), served cold. He told the woman who accepts the money that he was treating all of us to tea, and it seemed that there was a brief and unspoken exchange between the two of them. He then went to the small basin of water just inside the tea area and waved us ahead.

As each person came up he would pour water on each of their hands and a little water to swoosh in their mouth. We all sat in a long line in the tea room and were served three at a time. The man came up briefly to make sure we had all been served and we said in unison, “Arigato Gozaimasu!” (Thank you very much!)

I was not particularly moved by Ryoan-ji or the Golden Pavilion, because they were amazingly busy places. I found it quite ironic that these sites, designed to create stillness, instead drew crowds which created chatting. People were taking photos of friends pretending to meditate for a minute in front of the rock garden.

The last stop of the night was a restaurant right next to Tom’s Temple, Rinsen-ji (see Part II for info). Tom explained to us that this is one of the best Rinzai restaurants in all of Kyoto. Rinzai is a  style of Zen Buddhism, and I didn’t know that they had better or worse restaurants. The Rinzai temple that I once spent a week in only served miso soup, rce, and pickled daikon radish. I was hoping that the best Rinzai Restaurant would do one better than that, and they did.

So, the first course required lessons. We were served three cups of soy milk in a metal bowl with a piece of Sterno underneath it. They lit the Sterno and heated the soy milk. Eventually the soy milk heated to the point of forming a skin on top. The customer would take the skin off, dip it in sauce, and eat it.

This skin is called yuba. It is a very slow way to eat three cups of soy milk. About a half hour later the Sterno burns out and you are left with two and a half cups of soy milk. At that point you take the next item from your small array of condiments and toss it into the milk. I don’t know what it is, but it causes the remaining milk to curdle in a few minutes. You place the watery yuba into the sauce and also eat that. Course number one: complete.

The meal progressed like that, amazingly scrumptious dish by dish. I was sitting with some of the videographers. They got the idea to start filming all the food we were eating. They even enlisted the help of another pilgrim at our table to be directed in picking up a chopstick full of this or a spoon full of that.

Most people at my table were full by the sixth or seventh course. I was hoping that we wouldn’t seem unappreciative of all this beautiful food. As a result, I ended up eating other people’s courses in addition to my own!

I can’t remember all the dishes but I do remember an elegant array of tempura towards the end, with condiment dishes of powdered green tea and salt shaped into flower or spiral designs. We were served miso soup and rice, and Tom informed us that in Japan restaurants serve that last as a way of getting people out the door.

So, we politely ate our soup and rice; some people took video clips of it instead. And yet, a final dish came out! I can’t even remember what it was (I think my mind has chosen to delete that memory). At any rate, I ate it, and knew that I was done.

We shuffled off at our own pace, finding our own way back to the hotel. I went back with Rob on the train. Rob was the weblog updater, and I was the blog photographer. So, I mentioned it would be good to get something on the web. It was 10:30pm. He and I were both very tired, sweaty, and full of Japanese food…but we knew it had to be done. We went to the hotel to collect his laptop before scurrying down to the Internet/comic book café, located directly above the previously-mentioned Pachinko parlor.

We asked the guy if we could hook up our computer to his internet. He said no. We said fine, and he showed us where to go. Only after I sat down did I realize that I couldn’t understand a word on the screen. There were no words, only Japanese characters. A sigh was mutually and wholeheartedly expressed.

We decided to take a chance and try to log on with their cable and Rob’s computer. Success! We got in, wrote our piece, added some photos for good measure, and finished mere minutes before they closed at midnight.

Tired but happy, we returned to the hotel. We took a long bath and fell asleep around 1a.m. Thus ended the fourth day.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Ryushin's Recollection of Day 2-3

Pt. II

So, I mentioned that [the previous post] was the end of the first day. In truth, two days had gone by. We left San Francisco on the 29th, and crossed the Date Line into the 30th. We arose to face the proud image of the 31st. I greeted the morning in my traditional way, meditating for an hour. Jogen joined me when he awoke.

As Rob and Michael arose we decided to go on a brief tour of Myoshin-ji before breakfast. Myoshin-ji is called a temple, though it contains about fifteen other temples in its walls. Picture it like Thanksgiving dinner with your centerpiece turkey surrounded by mashed potatoes, cranberry bread, corn, and so on. Each side dish would be the equivalent of another temple, most are family-run. The big turkey would be the enormous lecture hall, Hondo (chanting hall), and Zendo all rolled into one in the center of the table/complex. What about the apple pie that tops it all off when you thought you couldn’t handle anymore? That would be realizing that you are really in Japan.

Anyway, originally there would be several temples where monks trained under different masters while existing under the general title of Myoshin-ji. Now, interest in Buddhism is declining in Japan. As a result, many temples are empty--run by families, or run by a minimal staff--leading to their state of disrepair. As we walked around in the morning, I could imagine two hundred years ago, seeing monks going to and fro about the grounds.

The importance of monasteries can still be seen in the grandeur of Myoshin-ji’s main buildings. The lecture hall, Hondo, and Zendo are located in the center of the complex. These buildings were created in 1342. They have probably burned down a few times in the last 600 + years. However, since they have been rebuilt exactly the Japanese refer to the buildings as being the same. This is one of the MANY differences between the Western and the Eastern mind.

The buildings are four to five stories high with traditional tiled roof and Chinese-style curved corners. The chanting hall is the most famous building in Myoshin-ji. It is often called the “Dragon Hall” because there is an enormous painting of a dragon on the ceiling by Kano Tanyu. Tanyu was a famous painter of dragons. The abbot of Myoshin-ji went to him and asked him to paint a dragon on the ceiling of their chanting hall. The only stipulation was that it had to be a painting of a dragon from life. Tanyu told the abbot that he had never seen a living dragon, and the zen master told him he there were many at Myoshin-ji. When the artist arrived and told the master that he couldn’t see a single dragon the master responded, “You can’t see them? What a pity.”

So, Tanyu took up sincere training with this zen master for two years. One day he told the master, “I have finally seen a dragon!” The master said, “Good, but can you tell me what its roar sounds like?” His bubble burst, Tanyu returned to his meditation. For another year Tanyu practiced diligently. In the end he painted the masterpiece that is the dragon of Myoshin-ji.

We headed back to the hotel and got there in time for breakfast. Breakfast was served on a long, low table. Often people will sit seiza (kneeling on their heels) for a whole meal. Luckily, this restaurant offered a way to cheat. There was a large hole underneath the table where one could comfortably place their feet and be sitting as if they were in a chair. Breakfast consisted of tofu, Miso soup, Rice Gruel, seaweed, a mushy version of seaweed, a piece of fish, napa cabbage, and tea. It was a fairly large meal, but as it was our first Japanese meal we were hungry for the flavors. I should mention that the Japanese do not consider seafood to be outside of the vegetarian diet. In fact, depending on who you ask, the Japanese consider very little to be outside of the vegetarian diet. In fact, there are very few Japanese vegetarians.

After we ate, we had a greeting from Chozen, Hogen, Kaz, and Jihiken. We went over the plans for the day, and gave important information about cell phone numbers. We finished our meal and gathered our belongings for the day. Hogen and another pilgrim (Onshin) were off to Kyoto station to get our rail passes validated, so Hogen enlisted me as the carrier of his robes. I was listed as Hogen’s attendant for the trip, but that means very little, as Hogen rarely asks for help. It also felt appropriate to carry around the robes before getting permission to put on robes.

We walked as a rambling pack of pilgrims down to the train station. In Japan, it is rare to see someone who is not Japanese. I imagine the 35 of us were quite a sight. Add to that the sight of westerners with bald heads and samue (Zen Buddhist clothes).

Chozen stopped the group and said, “One of the qualities of Jizo is to enter realms of suffering.” That said, she led us through a Pachinko parlor. Pachinko is a Japanese pastime that is a combination of a slot machine and pinball. It’s amazingly loud game, and often the rooms have flashing lights and are quite shiny. So, if we looked odd on the street, I can only guess that people were quite confused to see a stream of westerners wandering through this casino-like setting.

We took the local train to an area in northwest Kyoto known as Saga Arashiyama. We began walking to Adashino Nembutsu-ji. Kyoto has grown over the centuries that it has been a city. People living on the edges of the city used to bury their family members' remains in the nearby forest. As the city expanded, city builders came upon these burial markers and had to figure out a way to build around them. The response was to gather them together at several temples. In August there is a festival called Obon where people return to their home towns in order to honor their departed family members. During that time they light hundreds of candles at this temple to honor the 8,000 people who are remembered there.

As we were on our way to Adashino it began raining. Jikan and I were towards the front, and we took the stoic Zen approach and sallied forth. The rain grew harder. And the rain grew harder still. We passed by a store with some translucent thin plastic umbrellas for 300 yen (about three dollars), and we gave in to the idea of keeping dry.

Umbrellas in hand, we stepped into the street. Then the wind picked up. We retreated to a covered porch and watched as soaked pilgrims slowly came around the corner. Some had bought similar umbrellas in a variety of brilliant colors.

Together we marched on to Adashino Nembutsu-ji. Seeing the rows of stone, each with a carving of Buddha on the front, was moving. There was a section for children's markers, with a Jizo statue as the central figure. We gathered around the statue and recited the Jizo Mantra. Slowly people left for the next temple.

Located further up the way was the Otagi Nembutsu-ji. This temple is home to 1,200 “Jizos.” Jizo is very popular in Japan, but often a mistaken figure. If it’s cute and Buddhist, it’s often labeled “Jizo” when inconography specialists would wag their finger in disapproval.

Anyway, this temple also home to two Nio statues. When beings heard the Buddha's teaching and decided to become Buddhist or protectors of Buddhism, the Buddha always had a job for them to do. If they had a wife and kids, they were lay Buddhists. If they were free of--or able to--relinquish their job and family they would become monks or nuns. If they were deities they would become protectors of the teachings.

SO, the Nio were fierce deities who became protectors of temples. They stand at the gates of a temple to keep out those who would cause harm to the temple. They usually stand about one and a half to twice life size. They are usually red with big eyes and scowls. They have muscles and veins leaping from their body. Not the kind of being you’d want to have a scuffle with.

At any rate, the temple which these Nio protect was in a state of disrepair, and the priest was going to have to sell the Nio statues to a movie company in order to keep the temple. Then the priest had an idea to get over a thousand pieces of stone (about three feet hight by two feet wide and deep). He offered to have people come and carve a statue in exchange for paying a price to the temple. Now there are these 1,200 “Jizo” statues. They say that if you look you can find one that is in your own image. Believe it or not: someone found me.

By this time, we were late to lunch. The videographers got a taxi down the mountain, and the rest of us waited for the bus. When the bus came it was full (as it was still raining lightly), so only a few made it on. Chozen said she would walk back. Seeing our leader, who was 1-3 decades older than most pilgrims, we hopped to and followed her back.

The next stop was at Rinsen- ji. This temple is run by Tom Yuho Krischner, a long-time friend of Chozen and Hogen. He served us a bento (box) lunch and green tea. As we ate, he told us the story of Zen coming to Japan. He also told about Muso Soseki, the founder of his temple. He recounted more than I will here. The essence is that Tom lives in a 700 year old temple, which only looks about 200 years old…mostly.

After the show-and-tell we had a jukai ceremony. Jukai is when someone takes the Buddhist precepts, gets a new name, and receives a rakusu (zen bib) and lineage chart. The rakusu is a handmade by the person who receives it and is worn as a reminder of the vows one takes. The new name also serves as a reminder of their vows.

We gathered in a room with tatami (thick bamboo mats) and paper screens for doors. The paper was peeling from age, and covered with simple drawings of monks, most likely based on Zen stories. In the background were a chorus of cicadas ("semi," in Japanese). It was an amazing setting for the ceremony.

We did bows, chanted the Heart sutra (a fundamental Buddhist text) in Japanese, and each person was invited to take or retake the vows with Harald Schoecklman (one of our German pilgrims). Harald received his rakusu and the dharma name Yugen, which means “Courage through the mystery.”

After the ceremony, we were free to explore as we chose. Jikan, Jogen, and I headed off to look at Japanese trinkets. Alas, most of the stores were closed or closing. We did stop into a few shops before they closed, though. Outside of most stores they have umbrella racks. Often we would forget to put our umbrellas in the rack, and the rest of the time we forgot to take them out. Jogen ended up losing his umbrella this way.

We decided to go sightseeing instead. So we crossed over the river and walked along this small pathway which ran alongside the water. Occasionally bikes would stream past us. A few times, little Japanese cars came along. The road is really small, so we had to step over to the very edge to let them pass. People got a great kick out of seeing Jikan and me dressed up in our samue. I don’t think they see many nuns around (people often mistook her for Japanese), and even fewer westerners.

We headed back to the hotel after our long day, umbrellas in hand. We stopped at the Daily Yamazaki for a small dinner. Daily Yamazaki is a Japanese 7-11 where you can get Japanese fast food. Some of the yummy things include: sushi rolls with fermented soy beans, soba (buckwheat) noodles, inari (marinated tofu with rice stuffed inside), and a variety of interesting drinks including Pocari Sweat, Amino Supply, and others. Most of the food involved tofu and rice, or seaweed and rice (as far as non-meat/seafood went).

I should point out that people in Japan don’t eat while standing, and they NEVER eat while walking. People will stare in astonishment if they see you doing such a thing. The only exception is that you can stand and eat ice cream. We tried our best to fit in.

Back at the hotel we enjoyed our dinner. I enjoyed a soothing bath (a half hour was my maximum tolerance for soaking). We all meditated for a bit, and then went to bed.

Thus ended the third day.