Daniel in Japaniel

Archive for September 2008

Metro / Mos Burger / Long Island Cafe

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Unfortunately Osaka did not happen this weekend. Drag ball at the metro did, however:


Although we were a little late preparing drag outfits (that was more or less left to the lip syncing performers of the night), Julian did pull through some awfully beautiful scene-danas. Item of note, though, the outfits were really one popped collar away (sans scarf) from establishing a bro-ligarchy friday night.

As for the ball itself, fantastic. We went four metro stops north, past Shijo-dori, to club called “Metro” in the metro. Pretty standard stuff. Silver beads, a stage made from almagate wooden cubes, bar (standard point, hold up fingers, and nod), smoking sections, more, more. Midnight, exactly exactly, every filled the place. The dancers black lit outfits angularly moved as they lip synced “American Girl”.

Perhaps my most frustration with speaking Japanese came that night. Throughout hanging out with a girl named Eiko- struggling balancing the fine line where drinks debilitate/bilitate your language skills. Eventually I just spoke English to her while she starred back, confused what to do.

Took a 4 AM cab back to the temple, and rested my tired brain on the rice bean bag pillows.


Between ramen, pee breaks, naps, nalgene-emptying/refilling, I unconsciously absorbed the entirety of the Godfather as other ABS students watched it in the men’s room.

Picked myself up around dinner and hit up the Shijo-dori street with Julian. This street is the main financial/market street of Kyoto. Definitely lit up in a Tokyo-esque way. Though, my understanding is that there are certain zoning lawas in Kyoto that maintain it’s noise pollution to retain its quaint charm. Shijo-dori is the exception.

If my kanji were better, I am sure I’d detail what variety of stores line this artery of commerce. Needless to say, the English I read “BF, 1F, 2F…” hint at a depth of consumer culture I’ll never be able to experience even as a resident of Kyoto. It’s something to marvel at, however, the amount of “Mom and Pop” shops that still coexist in the reflection of the United Colors of Benetton and McDonalds of Shijo. Really, those global companies might make it in such a populated area, but take one side street and you see traditional family spots that are barely even advertised, yet still have a committed clientelle. Even the “Men’s Clubs”, the “Happy Peach”, “Loveness You”s of the night (I bet, if you checked) are past down father to son.

For dinner we hit up the biggest “Mos Burger” of Kyoto. Now, yes it is fast food, yes (maybe) some sort of McDonalds twin, lost-relative, mistress of Japan. But there is something about their version of anthropomorphized cuisine that makes me yearn for their Shrimp-Patty-Burgers. Even the Chick-fil-a cow’s moo with envy.

On the third floor of this machine, we (barely) fit under the bar table as we looked out over Shijo-dori. There teens with hair the same color of their skin moved in packs of 12+ sharing their Baskin-Robbins (“31”) cupcake ice cream.

A Mushroom-BBQ-Swiss-Burger later, we were walking into the the building over: McDonalds. Now this was my first experience, mind you (Mos Burger, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of worshipping before), in Japan. Immediately I asked the server “スマイルおねがい” (I’d like a Smile please). Knowing well that “Smiles” are free at Japanese McDonalds, my friend smiled and asked what we were ordering. Now I haven’t eaten McDonalds food in 4 years (tragic accident involving a double cheeseburger), but I felt the pressure of the almost silent store (watching like pilgrims in a western) that as an American I had to order the biggest option possible, regardless of my Mos Burger meal. So it was: A Mega-Mac, Large Fries, Qoo (a juice that I get because in Vietnamese the name is funny) and a Caramel Machiatto McFlurry.

You’ll be surprised to know, that it tastes exactly the same. The onyl differences are (and correct me here) the McFlurries are not filled to the lid as they are home, a Mega-Mac is a quadruple burger Mac-esque, and Qoo is not sold in America.

Yes I did finish it all.


Ironically or not so much enough, Sunday was self-care day. A hair-cut, some book browsing, biking were in store after such a weekend of consuming.

Avery (linked on the side) unfortunately came down with something nasty nast. This flu is actually disabling the ABS people quick. Having just downed a liter of orange juice, it’s easy to say that I’ve already come down with a terrible case of hypochondria. What else, we’ll have to see.

Anyway, with him down and out, I picked up his shift at Long Island Cafe. This is the part-time job speaking English with the middle aged populace of Kyoto and it’s neighboring areas (as far as Uji). And, although my experience working wednesday was great, this Sunday was a great day to work. From 2-5 we all talked about anything. The first session was shared with three early thirty women, Toshiko, Yuka and Yuki. Yuki arrived late wearing a full on kimono. We were all surprised. Apparently, this owner of two art gallery bars, wears a kimono every day simply because she loves them. We mostly talked about music we were interested in. Yuka is a huge Death Cab fan, and actually saw them in Kyoto this past summer. She also kicks it to L.P.s of Skip James, B.B. King and Oscar Peterson in her free time from her design work.

At three, a bubily elastic man named Takashi came in. Immediately you notice the baby blue pearl framed glasses he sports. Like looking at a prism, when you see the glasses from the side you see this negative space that almost makes the frames appear in pieces somehow floating together above his nose and ears. No, he just happens to be an owner of thirty ocular opuses, as he is the manager of “Oogley Raconter” a eye-fashion wear shop up the street on Shijo. He’s actually never taken a single course in English. For the past 4 years he has been coming to English-cafes (like mine) as well as going to Glasses-Expos. Somehow he’s simply mastered the language. We just talked about Japanese Literature, Shigematsu Kiyoshi, Banana Yoshimoto, Harukimurakami and the like. We took turns turning each other to American/Japanese counterparts of our favorite authors- and simply that hour disappeared.

The final hour was spent talking with Bill Clinton’s best-Japanese-friend, a Mr. Osamu of Uji. Retired now, he spends his time giving free consulting to Japanese students dealing with loans, meanwhile swimming 1000 meters every morning. If there was a distribution of Daniel vs. Customers in terms of discussion, I dominated the first hour, split it fifty the second hour, and with Mr. Osamu- he told me everything I needed to know (apparently) about American diplomacy both financial and militaristic. He told me about his days giving impromptu lectures on world peace at Harvard, and I just lost myself in his White-linen-jacket-Burberry-undershirt-wearing-self.

Over and again, while sipping iced-coffee, looking up at the staff members pulling out Edamame-chips on a plate, I could barely even comprehend the beauty of my work.

Unfortunately, my next shift is next week (wednesday). What is on my schedule would be, Ryukoku welcoming party tomorrow night, my first TA class wednesday and then friday, with probably a few visits to the public baths thrown in there.

Life has taken an interesting settling here. Though everything is still new, Japan’s ability to craze me has become expected. This is probably the hardest part of the trip. In terms of mindfulness, it’s becoming a dedicated procedure, reminding myself of this moment. I almost didn’t post about this weekend. This, I’m sure is some byproduct of all of this. Anyway, I’m certainly grateful for it all.

Be sure to keep checking my photo albums, there are plenty more pictures there than what I post here.

In the meantime,


Written by Daniel

September 29, 2008 at 1:57 am

Posted in food, work

VISA in Osaka

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It’s the end (or the beginning) of the typhoon season here in the Kansai region. I’m tucked away, luckily, in the immaculate computer lab of Ryukoku University’s Omiya campus. Other ABS students are around me. We are all plug in to our respective rainy weather music (personal choice of Jukebox the Ghost)

Although I claimed victory over the travel arrangements that be, announcing to the world that, yes, I will be going to Vietnam. The journey to make my words true has been exhausting. Luckily with the help of a much more gifted Japanese speaker I was able to receive a voucher for the trip; however, because I lack a VISA to Vietnam, I had to take care of that before purchasing the ticket itself.

No problem, a trip to Osaka became necessary (my unfortunate life). Julian and I picked up a round trip rapid pass to the city. It’s actually south of us and, unlike Kyoto, is not boxed in by mountains. So, while urban development makes these cities kiss (common, imagine the Twin cities, reaching mountain to every mountain of this island nation), Osaka continues to spread as far south as Japan’s second largest population finds necessary.

An exhausted state tucked Julian and I in for the thirty minute trip. The unfortunate side of this trip was our time crunch. The Vietnam Embassy, consulate of the general socialist republic blah blah blah, opens for two hours 10-12, closes and then opens from 2 to 4. No problem, we got there at 10:30 and proceeded to push maps and names into the helpful JR staff, getting colors, lines, numbers and hands thrown at us every way. Eventually we master the beautifully simplistic subway system, and get to the Hommachi district around 11.

And now, at no fault of ours whatsoever, we went north from the station (not south). Japan makes everything so simple, that you forget maps are usually oriented on the perspective of the person. In this case, the map was pointing South as North, and so we found ourselves uptown walking back to Osaka-eki.

Eventually we realize this, only after asking every other passerby “Be-to-na-mu?” pointing at our map. Now six blocks north of where we wanted to be, and with ten minutes left to closing time we booked it to the Embassy. Got there right at noon. However, like my mother, the Vietnamese Embassy finds it necessary to set their clocks five minutes ahead. Consistent rehearsal of this system has made them completely unaware that they’re always early. So, they closed the doors on us, handing us forms.

Luckily, they would open in a few minutes. Julian and I composed ourselves, drank Pacari Sweat while we went through brochures of Eco-tourism of Vietnam (circa publication date mid-80s).

We decided to go to our next plan, visit “American Village” or “Amemura”.

Now at this point, of course, we had already created our grossly overgeneralized opinion of Japan’s cities through “is” and “like”. Lemme show you, Kyoto is like Boston: old, humid, quaint, historical hot spot, a surprise it was never firebombed (too soon?); while Osaka is like Philly: industrial, grungy, local population fueling a culture scene. I guess we could go on and think Tokyo is like New York, except clean and houses roughly 120,000 war ready robot/cyborg/machines etc.

So we made our way southwest, ogling the outdoor/indoor market that like a hollowed aorta funnels Japanese through the bright shops, First Markets, Subways (selling foot longs at 8 inches), and 390¥ Thank You Mart!s.

Amemura (American Village) draws a much younger crowd, interested in buying vintage American tees at thirty dollar+ prices. Kanye West blares around corners and the employees chant “Irashaa” “maaseeeeei” like mooing cows, their syllables murmur and carry to the next Reggae themed store.

In a Germany based clothing store, InDesign?, we chatted it up with the employees, asking them, where do you usually go? One was a little ways more south, the other (Junk Cafe) was simply around the corner.

Located on the 9th floor of M building, the front door says “7 DAYS OPEN! cafe all time O.K !!”. Engrish at this point in the trip has faded from it’s original gaudiness. At time, we were unphased, I probably read it and thought sincerely, “this will be great!”.

Of course it was. Lately, I have been hitting the jackpot on tasteful cafe’s. Back home, I was getting to the point where I’d take out every employee of the next techni-colored chalk, beatle cover playing, roasteria (weapon of choice, probably a french press). Now I don’t think there exists a bizzaro-japan version of me who craves exposed brick and vintage 50s steel signs, but I am not him.

There are two sections, a window seat bar area where Pinocchio is playing on a flat screen, Chinese and Japanese subtitles underneath, and then, straight ahead, are red linen covered Norwegian otherwise inspired foam forming furniture. A cute japanese duo are texting, knees together, chatting about something, about sisters.

At the bar Julian orders a “Master Burger” and I, a “Taco-Curry”, both set meals with iced coffee. A Tom Jones J-Remix plays while Julian takes sepia photos of the cafe. Bullion broth in tea cups are brought and for a moment we wonder if those are tea leaves at the bottom or dehydrated scallions. We left a little for the meal (always identify the palette cleanser in these situations).

The about six dollar meals, each, were gigantic. The Master Burger is a teriyaki marinated burger (sans bun) with a soft-boiled egg for a hat and spam and rice as company. The Taco-Curry on the other hand is a crispy cold pile of lettuce, pico de gallo salsa, with Nekojita hot curry and some chili-fried beef sprinkled on top. With the soup-tea, and our iced coffees (that look like fountain soda Coke with it’s tall glass and iconic red straw), it was hard not to gush with each bite. In between bites, the happiness of our meal made us laugh about anything. The view outside, for instance, had in the reflection of a glass covered business tower a scale model of the Statue of Liberty, bought with High-heel and bronzer profits.

In planning for our excursion in Osaka this weekend, it was hard not to want to go back to Junk Cafe but we had to let go, and trust that the clubs will be equally fulfilling.

We went in and out of the surrounding shops looking for the cheap cheap clothes, but after little success we made our way back (with more success) to the Vietnamese Embassy.

The man there hustled me out of twenty extra bucks on top of the fifty dollar fee for processing. Two conflicting sides tell me, one, he was either doing this because I wanted it same day, or two, when I told him my Mom came from the South he up’d the price. Hard to say, but I do know the American before me picked up his for 50$ same day.

The Vietnam ticket woes, sadly don’t end there. Some complications with Wachovia have made money transaction a little difficult (my ticket can only be bought in yen). Actually after lunch at the student Co-op, I plan on visiting the ATM and picking up my tickets.

Tonight, if the weather clears up, the ABS folk are going to have a few games of BPIP (Beer Pong in the Park) followed by the Drag Ball (“Diamonds are Forever”) at Club Metro downtown.

Tomorrow, Julian and I, and maybe a couple others (Charlie and Paul) will meet up with their Antioch friends to enjoy the night life.

Written by Daniel

September 26, 2008 at 8:39 am

Posted in shopping, wandering

Cafe Kosci

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Now for a new cafe. After grabbing some Indian food with friends, broke off to look for a store by my work. It is a stationary store that has been in Kyoto since 1663. On top of finishing my book on the Translator, I started writing about a man obsessed with his handwriting, who deals with his past passively by projecting so much meaning upon his script as it developed. He is an employee of Nova (an English teaching program in Japan) and follows him as the company goes bankrupt. In Music Man-esque style he teaches his students (mostly elderly and middle aged couples) that as long as they perfect writing the alphabet they will master English. Unlike Prof. Hill, he believes in his method competely. Every evening he analyzes their handwriting, and reads into their strokes as looking glasses into theirs, imagining mostly the absurd.

Anyway, that is the story so far. I picked up a notebook for this project, as I only want to handwrite it. The notebook is actually a blank sutra book. Japanese folder style. I assume the calligraphy / stationary shop I bought it from has in mind sutra-copiers in mind when they sell these books, but I plan to use it to make one continuous line of text.

At the shop I ran into a lovely Turkish woman who is in town for her Marble Art exhibit. Unfortunately it just ended, and her next gallery in Japan will be the new year’s June. A few of her pieces were marble with Turkish calligraphy, which carries a sort of religious connotation. She was stocking up for her next pieces. I met her because she was bargaining with the clerk, she asked me to translate for her. Luckily the clerk spoke about as much English as I could Japanese, so we found some ink blocks that suited Nilufer Tutuncu.

Afterwards I walked up the side street my work is on, and past by a little antique store. Unlike the stores I’ve been wandering through lately, all of the pieces were aesthetically placed apart from each other. Every tiny animal statuette or tin match cases I picked up the worker would tell me exactly how much the item was, making the number in the hundreds (of yen) hand against hand. Seven was two against five for a wood block print.

I talked to her for a little bit to find out that it was actually her part time job, that she actually is a recycling artist. Luckily, hers opens at the beginning of next week. She gave me card (website keyaki-3r.com) and said  she’d see me in a few days.

I left without buying anything, and then stepped into Long Island Cafe (Roungu-Iraando Cafuee) to find my boss in seza organizing bills with her husband (nicknamed “Master”). We talked about this past week, while we figured out my work schedule for the rest of this month. Although I have to get my Vietnam VISA tomorrow in Osaka, I am hustling back to work at 6:30 for a shift. Should be something to write about.

Now I am my new favorite spot. It is a cafe in the next building over from my work. Cafe Kocsi is on the second floor, plays Thelonius Monk, colors its cement walls in 80s seagreen while the rafters are exposed. A line of used books outline the entire coffee shop. Double dating philosphizing Kyoto University students smoke charcoal filtered cigarettes while the occasional barista practices their English with me. I am on the north facing side, on a low little bar right by the window.

When I sat down I read the title of the book spine in front of me “1973年のピンボール” (Pinball 1973), Murakami.

I ordered a Banana au lait and a croissant, chatted it up with my bar stool company. One of them gave the other a stone tortoise from the Darwin Museum gift shop in Osaka. They both are dressed in that Bohemian Japanese style.

Aside from business in Osaka tomorrow, Julian and I are planning a weekend with his friends in Osaka.

More to come.

Check out my Hokyoji album, they are pictures the monks took during the program. Also, please forgive me for posting so much lately, mind I was cut off from it for too long. Much love everyone, miss you all.

Written by Daniel

September 23, 2008 at 11:09 am

Posted in shopping

Fairy Angel

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Okay, before reading this one, you should know I did write about some of the experiences at Hokyoji. I think it comes off as pretentious. Anyway, if you are interested it is the article underneath this. If you aren’t read this cute story about how my first day back in Kyoto was!

First day back from Hokyoji, just needed some time to myself.

On my way back wandering the financial district and the river front of Kyoto, I took a side street that led me to a cute cafe called “Fairy Angel”. This would make it the second venture into a Western style restaurant (the first being Spaghetti and Cake). There are plenty of French style cafes to choose from. It seems when a restaurant is going for class, similiar to home, European style is the goto. This particular corner stop, is more tasteful in the decor.

Walking in, there is a refridgerator full of “Fairy Angel” brand “letus” (that, really, I am only noticing now that I am piecing together this place), past there some ceramics, salts, oils, also by the brand, there is a mini show case full of delicately made pastries, box sandwiches, and poppy seed cakes. Scattered around, since it’s coming on that season, are little pumpkins that read “happy halloween!”.

The music is tip of the tongue recognizable jazz that makes me wish I was some music savant character in a Murakami book, instead I try and pretend the piano player is Brubeck, which is enough for me. There are business men settling a real estate deal next to me, a thirty year old couple sharing a fruit tart, and two middle aged men who, from how they relax into their chairs, and talk with out stress or eye contact, seem like old elementary friends. I sit in the middle, get served water and a pleasant menu. I’ve already made up my mind, though. I get a set, the fruit tart the couple is having, and a cafe latte the friends have, “Ha-toh” I say in request, no ice for me.

Today was an adventure in air travel. With the help of my generous Mongolia-documentary-appendicitis-recovering-fluent-in-seven-languages professor (Crystal-sensei), we make attempts at booking a flight for Hanoi; first, through cheaptickets.com, then, through the Student co-op, and then (finally) at the HIS (international…. travel agency so on), which happens to be at Kyoto eki. Conversation was fantastic though. Crystal-sensei, the freelance journalist, the bank of knowledge and experience, just could talk about anything. She has a soft NPR-esque voice, minus the queen’s english, and was/is patiently helpful.

Sadly, my Japanese, though gets better with every day, still is not strong enough to hold a conversation with a travel agent. Luckily, Crystal had me covered. She has also allowed me to miss her class for a week, in exchange that I research a new religion popular in Vietnam called “Cao Dao” and give a lecture in class when I return. From what I understand from the information she gave me, it consolidates all religions and recognize three saints: Sun-Yat-Sen, Victor Hugo and Trang Trinh (as usual, wiki it).

So anyway, officially from October 27th until November 4th, “Daniel in Japaniel” will actually be “Daniel in Vietnamiel”. More to come.

After some Katsudon at the co-op at Ryukoku University, Crystal and I parted ways. I swapped VISA forms and ticket vouchers for Dharma Bums and my camera and hit the streets north into the downtown Kyoto area.

I took turns walking and riding the bike, staring off into the windows of all the spectacular stores. Eventually I cut east and cruised by the river front. Couples in their same place, still evenly distanced from the next, trumpets, trombones, and french horns were being practiced, their embechure appreciated by the herons and cranes. This time around, the water level was signifcantly higer, so the further upstream I biked, the louder the water gates and falls crashed. Still they were landscaping the grass though, weed whacking with saw blades, pacing backwards slowly in their bright blue uniforms and pristine white caps.

Wait wait, before that I went down an alley. Alleys here have undeniable charm. Tiny grocery stores, kimono shops, futon, little deity carvings, all these little hole in the wall places line up haphazardly down the street. Occasionally people bike by, but mostly they are quiet places. Their collectivist culture permeates even the dingy back alleys, by no means dingy in a negative sense, but just in their faded look.

I get off my bike after passing a store called “Accountant Accessory Store”. As soon as I got off my bike, an owner of a different store starts up a conversation with me and, to the best of my Japanese, made out that he thought I was looking for a job at his used futon store.


The accountant store was beautiful. There was a thin layer on dust on all of this 80s stock stationary. There were various Casio and Seiko calculators, next to stamping material and money envelopes with purple patterns whose lines had smeered from years of exposure to Kyoto humidity.

As I walked around, the owner noticed I was there and came to the front of the narrow store. I asked her what the name of the little district I had stumbled upon, After giving me a weird look, I repeated myself. “Why is my Japanese so baaaaad” my brain yelled. She moved to the little counter at the front and pulled a day out of her mini-calendar and began writing kanji meticulously. She then wrote out the hiragana out above each character and handed it to me.

I went around the store with my little paper in my hand and bought a calligraphy brush pen for a friend, and then found a precious treasure. There, in the corner of rib level shelf, was a pile of palm sized notebooks called “New Language Word Book”. These fake-leather memos had the browned edges like the ones at old book stores. I picked one up for someone’s birthday.

When I brought my pile to the owner, she typed the price on a gigantic calculator, presented the price to me, and then proceeded to type .20 the multiplier sign and then equals. She gave me a bright smile, and said arigatou with distant consanants and I understood.

I’ll go back sometime.

Eventually (after making a couple babies cry as I took their photos) I settled by a bench and jotted some thoughts down, drank some Pakari Sweat, and just breathed.

Now I am here, the “Fairy Angel”, for one of the more memorable times stepping outside of the gaijin-bubble and thinking about this past week, past few weeks. I hope I’ll ever get tired of these moments.

Written by Daniel

September 22, 2008 at 1:26 pm

Posted in wandering

Hunger is not an option

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It’s tea time on the second day at Hokyoji. In the right side of a tatami laden main hall, there are shin high tables lined up end to end in two parallel rows with one end closed by another table. The wood is stained to the color right before burgundy becomes brown. All along the sides of the tables are zafu (little cushions used for zazen). No one is sitting, the thirty of us, either American, buddhist priest or otherwise, stand behind our zafus. The Antioch crew shifting their weight off knees to ankles to feet to ankles to knees again, attempt to recover from the near hour of sitting meditation from the earlier morning. It’s now morning tea time. A slow wave of lowered heads runs through everyone, looking through the corners of our eyes we remember, “oh yeah, abbott, we gasho, right, got it” By the time the head abbott makes it to the closed end of the tables he takes his hands out of sezu and gestures everyone to sit.

A mantra that ran through my head throughout the whole secular seclusion experience living at the Soto Zen monastery Hokyoji, was this “hunger is not an option”. The short time we spent there was exhausting, but, at the same time so comfortable. We met to eat 5 times a day. Rice gruel and pickled vegetables in the morning, Brown rice and veggies for lunch, and then various delicious dinners in the evening. On top of that we had tea twice a day which was always a combination of either fruit, mochi, or crackers, with either black, wheat, or green tea. Housing was provided for, baths were allowed once a day, the sights surrounding the temple were pure pleasure for the eyes. However, waking up at four, at least 3 hours of sitting meditation, cleaning tasks, walking up mountain paths, takahatsu-ing on the streets, and walking meditation was an incomparable exhaustion.

Usually fatigue is broken into two categories: mental, physical. You can be both. You can be neither. At Hokyoji I felt neither. There was some type of exhaustion. I was working a part of mind I rarely ever use. Zazen is time spent with yourself. When you are in full, half-lotus, Indian, Burmese style sitting, eyes half closed, virtually no sound besides the water running through the mountain cobblestone troughs, you mind rests and, like a backroom intern, sighs as he slowly picks up the piles of paperwork and begins to alphabetize.

Again, maybe to clarify my mantra, the way I rationalized the regimented lifestyle was I was learning a reflex. Like breathing, the awkward practices of foot washing, bowl stacking, napkin folding, were so that needs could be eliminated. The mindset of I, Me, Mine, was sought to be destroyed, and when pots of eggplant shitake mushroom curry are placed in front of you, it’s hard to want beyond what is in sight. It’s all a dance, foreplay for the meditation throughout the day. More than a spa, you are forced to be mindful, whether you are consciously trying to or not, like Ralph Macchio in the Karate Kid, you are learning a craft, a reflex.

The realization that comes, or came for me, as I chewed these words, was that there is little need for regimentation, the monastery was kindergarten preparing you for the next step, the noise that comes with elementary school, the depression of middle school, the flairing emotions of high school, uncertainty, manicness, the distraction that comes with life.

Then it was time to sit, though.

One night the abbott surprised us with a third session of zazen. After sitting for a good hour and some change, frustration filled my head. Pride was a source of power throughout the days, the inner monologue mocking myself for thinking my knees hurt, for thinking things were difficult. So the frustration filled my head, while any compassion I was stockpiling for the world was emptying out.

Before that, an image of my father appeared as a caricature, he was on a ducks body. Then the body swirled into an old woman. A few moments later it was an unrecognisable decaying something or other, and then it was a teacher, then things sped up more, it shifted into anything and everything, while my eyes could scarcely comprehend the shapes and sizes. There was no frustration then, though. I realized he was and he wasn’t these things at the same time. He is defined by his presence in these things: people’s personalities, the way a rainstorm feels, the scruffy gray 5 o’clock shadow of your Sensei; yet he is also defined in his absence from them, what they lack, what they can’t offer. And yet, it almost simply doesn’t matter, “hunger is not an option”.

He’s there, simple enough.

Ingrained into my experience of things is always everything I have ever thought or felt, and nothing I will ever know.

I will stop there. This is by no means to seem condescending. Literally these are straight from my notes I took after having these thoughts and feelings. It’s sad to say, but the following day (continuing from the frustration of the 3rd zazen) bitterness took me over. I found myself in the same mindset my mind always wanders back to, mindless, irrational cynicism.

My thoughts the took me over for the next 2 days. Trying my best to force the compassion back in my head, I resisted making snide comments, or even thinking negatively of the people and places surrounding me. I finally decided what I would ask the abbott for dokusan.

How often do you get a chance to ask a Zen master, any question you could dream up?

I sat half lotus in the ante-room, with a patina copper bell in front of me. I heard ringing from the master’s chambers and I tried to ring the bell. Sadly, I was terrified, I hit the bell too softly, then again the same, I finally hit it an audible level when one of the monks took the mallet of my hands, made a half bow, and gestured me to the abbott’s room.

I took off my slippers and knelt by the door. Trying my best not to screw this up, I slowly opened the sliding doors, stood, walked in, bowed, knelt again and closed the door quietly (using my fingers to prevent and noise). I side stepped in front of him, made a full prostration, lifting the head of the Buddha with my palms facing the sky. He corrected my form, and insisted I not bow three times. And then, after a moment, his opened palm came into the corner of lowered eyes. I began to tell him my life story. Well, he and the translator.

I wasn’t attempting melodrama, just trying to give context to my question. Catching him up to the moment where some half-Vietnamese suburbia boy was kneeling before him, I asked him “why is it, that on my path to compassion, I only meet more hate within myself”

The first words he said were “おめでとう” – congratulations. This is a gift from the Buddha. That goosebump rush destroyed me as I was beyond holding tears. I don’t believe in a spiritual Buddha mind you, just a metaphoric one. He reminded me that Dogen (the father of the Soto Zen school) lost his father at age 3, and his mother at age 8. He asked me “if you had a stroke today, and forgot all the pain of your past, would you be as happy as you are today?” Which, was rather open ended to me. I mean, sure I have thought of this before, sadness builds character, you can’t have joy without it, etc. etc. I have heard this before. But he was honestly asking me. Just like he honestly wanted to hear my question, he wanted to hear my answer.

Written by Daniel

September 22, 2008 at 12:22 pm

Posted in temples


with one comment

Greetings, it is 11:30 here, back in Kyoto.

Won’t inundate you yet with the experience at Hokyoji. Needless to say it was a beautiful experience for my heart.

Be prepared, starting tomorrow I will consolidate my notes into a nice little story for you all. Tonight is some well deserved rest.

In the meantime (since it is 10:30 back home) I did upload 3 new baby pictures and 66 new Japan pictures. Sub-note, in the Japan pictures there is in fact 2 pictures of babies but I don’t feel they fit my rules for the Japanese baby pictures. If you check out the album, you will understand.

Until tomorrow.

Written by Daniel

September 16, 2008 at 11:51 pm

Posted in announcement

The World’s Smallest Buddha

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Today I saw the world’s largest Buddha and then the world’s smallest Buddha. Whereas the former would seem muyo impressivo, actually the knowledge of the thousands of iron working slaves it took to make it takes from whatever sublime majesty it first strikes you with. However, the latter Buddha was simple enough. You take your shoes off at the base of these wooden steps. Friends from the program answered “what’s up there?” with “the world’s smallest Buddha.” Julian and I laughed, assuming sarcasm. Sure enough, upon the raised tatami mat, past the meditation bowl, between the standard incense holders, sat the tiny man in full lotus. There is a catch, however. Some people say they can’t see him.

The places we visited were Nara (about an hour out by train to see big Buddha, and, actually, the world’s largest wooden structure) and another temple 20 minutes down the line, Horyuji.

Nara has about a few hundred tame polka-dotted deer harassing the local tourist population, as they diligently search your body for food, smelling your hands. It was prime baby picture taking I am happy to say. Actually, you should take a break from reading this and check out the updated pictures.

Here is some incentive:

Sorry Mom.

The rest of the day was spent walking into every souvenir shop available. The thing here are cell phone key chains. I didn’t really understand them before, seeing them draped once and awhile on American phones, but after seeing everything from Pokemon, Mayonaise Mascots, the assorted cartoon noise, Horses, various bells, bobble headed baseball players, to even a golden Buddha holding Hello Kitty (four dollars) I started to weigh my food stipend against decking my backpack in the jingling cuteness. Reluctantly though I’ve been fine enough with BunBun-san (Mr. BuzzBuzz). He’s the Japanese equivalent of Baxter, the library cat. He comes in many different outfits. Mine, however, is probably the best.

There is story too, if you can believe it. I was picking up some Murakami books at Kyoto Tower’s bookstore, checking out, all that stuff, when the cashier who’d been helping me out put a open blue box in front of me. Now I am familiar with BunBun-san. One of my KEIO students this summer had a similar one. I also know that you only get these if you buy a book that’s on his list, which I wasn’t. So, she was sticking her neck out for me so I could get my first key chain (of this trip). I made a spectacle of it. Harassed her for stealing, etc. After getting three other employees to tell me that it was okay, I pointed at the BunBun-san I wanted. They all shook their heads, explaining that it’s random which one I get. I laughed, held my eyes with them and released my BunBun-san from his baby blue plastic womb. Sure enough, it was 1950s BunBun-san, all set for a day at the beach in his one piece striped one piece, and, more importantly, the one I called out.

Preternatural senses aside, he hangs out with my camera, since I am cellphone-less here.

One last thing. Bath houses.

Now bathrooms here, in a similar way home, are always an adventure. You’re not sure what you’re getting into. While in America, however, this uncertainty is based on the bath’s level of hygienic facilities, Japanese bathrooms are a plunge into the mysterious immaculate technological world. They are truly a microcosm of Japanese culture. You have the traditional aspects set aside hyper-techno-saavy culture. Standing back seeing the options of a straight up squat toilet versus the various -lets (Warmlets, Washlets) bidet fashioned sit downs with infrared sensors programmed to search for your poo-shute, completely changes your concept of what is possible in this life. Meanwhile, environmental consciousness remains as there are hardly ever paper dispensers. It is either hot air (rarely) or nothing (common). Similarly, some toilets run their tank water through a sink that runs after flushing. All I can say though is after receiving a warm shot of plum flavored water up my bum, I only wish Isaac Asimov were still alive to advise me on the ethics of Robo-rape. I mean, it was consensual, I was asking for it when I pushed the button. But these days when I pass that library bathroom goosebumps raise, and my eyelid’s own bidet leaks a little.

*Anyone who reads this, prepare yourself. I am incommunicado starting wednesday until sunday this week (hits me a day earlier than you people). I will be living in the mountains at Hokoji. Living is so ritualistic that monday we have a 3 hour lesson on how to eat rice gruel properly. Send your e-mails now, or… you know a postcard.*

Written by Daniel

September 14, 2008 at 11:35 am

Posted in temples