Daniel in Japaniel

Installing a Priest

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Constant inner monologues, things we are use to, words shifting around in our head, experience solidifying knowledge, dissolving preconceptions, redefining experience itself, every day- whether in Japan or otherwise, we constantly add to our collective experiences while rehashing our past (organizing it or not) and, while our mind talks to ourselves, we do.

Pretension aside, this weekend was great to me.

Friday night was business as usual, hung out with Julian, Paul and Charlie out in Shiga at a friend of friend’s house. I brought three other people (one I had made at this new TAing thing at the local university the other two, her friends). Tall boys of Asahi an cans of Sapporo made themselves comfortable, filling clear cups, while Styrofoam bowls filled with udon, mussel mushrooms, and some foreign vegetables were slurped. We spent the night in a guy named Kohei’s room. This seven hundred dollar a month room, is a beautiful single with a view of the slopping hills towards Lake Biwa and the respective condominiums and college apartments that are terraced alongside.

Perhaps the length of weeks here, Japanese lifestyle, 5 AM calls, all things considered, just add up, at any rate- I was pooped, partying aside, you can’t resist sleep. There was more of a conversation going on inside than I feel I was contributing. All’s fair, no worries, you sometimes have a quiet night. This happens all the time at home. But for some reason- the distance from that, created this terrible homesickness. And, even though the company could speak both English and Japanese, the foreign sight exacerbated a constructed loneliness.

Wake up call came through the soundbites I could understand on the last train into Kyoto that night. Everyone was enjoying themselves, until the train waited forever at a stop. Apologies or something came on the speaker. Rie, a former Antioch- now Kyoto resident, explained there was a suicide, someone through them self in front of the train just ahead of us, “it’s terrible, it happens a lot” she expressed, “we have to switch trains, but it will be a little bit”. As brokenly as the news hit me, so did it drift through our party, the Ryukoku students took it solemnly, “wait what happened?” was asked as it was explained again to us, personally I felt frozen.

The next morning I was up at 6. With an hour before the whole face wash, shirt change, teeth brush, just thought above the triviality at which I approached things the other night. How, for some reason, despite my beliefs this summer of experience’s holiness as the one true, pure, and sure thing of life, I still found myself expecting a “change” in myself. Some bizarre fallacy that “change” happens, will hit you, suddenly the things you don’t like about yourself are gone, you know all. It’s a deleterious stereotype about study abroad programs, that you will change. Change may happen to you, but you can’t make change happen. It is stupid to assume that a change in scenery may make me never feel down again. “How will you live in Japan?” Julian asked me on the train, responding to my quiet look. How will you live anywhere? Anyway, you have to approach, confront yourself.

There is a terribly unsupported belief that’s been running in my head since that night, it is concerned with gratefulness. It goes “at any moment, any action you do, is someone’s ultimate wish come true” Now it’s tough to resolve that with death, are you, in that moment, suppose to appreciate that someone some where desires your experience more than you do? And in that find peace? I’m certain, but you can’t refute that somebody is wishing for that.

But like I said, intellectualized-pretension aside, this weekend was great for me. It had the perfect frame of mind that let me just take in these moments without expecting change, instead breathing in experience.

At 8:30 AM we boarded a rapid train out to Japan’s sea coast. Somewhere around Fukui, a mountainous area that reminds me of the Appalachian range around Pennsylvania, or somewhere more south, that place in between mountains, we boarded the “Tango Discovery” a local bumpy one that grows in cars as it heads east, and loses them as it travels to the Japan Sea coast. The ride was spent napping mostly, conversation happened- etc. etc.

Standard op. getting off the train, we huddled up, the field trip-esque group (we sometimes appear as). There is one road that follows the river and the train bed through this valley. We walk “two abreast!” west. Inside of what looks like your typical ancestral shrine, actually is filled with food you can take. These honor system shack grocery stores with their “Victory Garden” grown goods, put to shame the gucchiest of Organic markets, homely of farmers markets, or beautiful of country girls sitting in the back of tomato filled paint peeling Toyota pick-ups. Throw a dollar coin in a jar, pick up an Asian pear (Nashi) keep walking. (Of course too there is a convenience store, we hit up the next day on Avery’s birthday, pick up some coffee for part 2 of Abbott installation).

Anyway, we get to the temple. Moss covered steps, that have uneven divets from centuries of raindrops, and monks walking up the sides. Suddenly it was Hokyoji again, we bowed as we entered the main gates to the Soto Zen temple. There was a great flavor to this though. The experience was some bizarre wedding. In the courtyard of the Ryogonji were canopies set, underneath same black suit wearing men (parishioners of the temple) wearing purple sashes along their nape representing the seal of the Soto Zen sect and the Kansai area (specifically); they all had their own unique silver ties, though.

” Who are these gaijin?” we assumed they thought. We entered the main hall and made our three prostrations (sanpai) to Buddha.

The more casually dressed parishioners eagerly drove us (the 19) in their cars (the 7). In my Autobot rode four. I love when we get 4 on 1 (X>Y; X on Y) experiences with Japanese. There is this silent moment where you can feel everyone prepare themselves to delve into this person’s life one broken phrase after another. Before you know it you have an open invitation for a futon somewhere outside Tokyo, later, always sometimes later.

I have to say, as a side note (something to imagine throughout this story) I bought a cell phone recently (imagine it in my coat pocket, backpack, or left side pants pocket)- the added appendage has been amusing. I have to say I love the hiragana/kanji-T9 tech here, not only does it guess the words, grammar, I am going to use, but it also forecasts my expressions based off what I commonly use. I am totally predictable.

It’s hard not to relate experiences to a movie. Sadly, I am not at the point of “genius” where I can separate my own life from fake one’s I’ve seen/read. Example: kept thinking about “Darjeeling Limited” this whole weekend. Especially whenever they oldest reads the itinerary, mentioning all the very “spiritual things” they are going to do. It’s funny, I mean, the whole movie they desire such a spiritual solution, but they’re downing cough syrup, messing up rituals. Whatever though, what is silly is the belief that this purely holy moment exists. So what if the secular is so mixed up in this trip.

So this idea catches up on this trip. At first it seemed like perfection, the whole ritual, but despite the language barrier- you definitely feel the tension (like a wedding) the behind the scenes, behind the meditating face, the shear fear behind. There were monks chain smoking in the back room. There were babies screaming in the distance, probably bouncing on the knee of a son-in-law as made shushing faces at the kimono-clad-lad. I mean, even during the ceremony, as heads lowered in honor of Kansai’s highest priests, eyes used their time to search into Canon cameras, at the LCD version of that past moment.

I love coasting between these extremes though, the secular and the holy. That was the appeal of the program in the first place. Pretty soon I will be on my own, searching for it myself, train hopping throughout Japan, Hokkaido to Kyushu.

Before part 1 of the installation, we were taken to a Kimono “factory”. I mean, “factory”, because only 10 people work there, weaving the oldest known method of Japan. One Noh Kimono we saw, which had the color of a burlap sack, goes for about 300,000 $. Things aside-

I don’t think I’ve expressed the gravity of this ritual we had the distinct privilege of enjoying. First of all, now again maybe huge generalization, I’m not sure if this part of the country had seen such an influx of Americans since Post-war occupation. Every person we met knew where we were from, what we were here for, they bowed and welcomed us to their small town.

Throughout the ceremony, we sat, honored guests of Eitoku-sama (the new abbott of Ryogonji), next to his immediate family. Kansai’s great Soto Zen priests came to witness this, most came half way across the country, just to sit outside and hear the commentary through speakers. We, sat (or attempted to) seza, listening to ancient Sino-Japanese Dharma talks, as the new Abbott assumed his position as a living Buddha, a top the altar.

Although the Dharma Combat (a new priest was attacked with classic questions about the Dharma from every corner of the room), was one of the most powerful moments of the ritual. What was most beautiful for me, was interpreting, or reinterpreting the experience for myself.

Sitting on one end, with all the other Americans, facing the black-suited parishioners, pastel colored Kimono women, I amused myself, imagining myself as a brother of my Dad’s or some cousin, sitting in at his wedding in California, in a Buddhist temple- completely unaware of the language, but completely there with the honesty and beauty of everything.

Empathizing this way, filled me with so much inexpressible joy. When we prostrated in congratulations to Eitoku-sama, I had never so honestly congratulated some one. Afterwards- I thanked his sister, who was sitting next to me. She said that she had been holding in tears throughout the ceremony, but for her to see us all understand the importance of the ceremony, to bow before her younger brother, we made her so happy (ureshii) she wept.

The ceremony was concluded with massive photo ops, and even bigger meals. Each guest was presented with a giant bottle of Asahi, a bottle of sake, bottle of green tea, and a can of beer, to drink along with a Bento lunch box about the size of a briefcase (filled with everything that lives underwater, snails, salmon, fish eggs, eel; and some above, beef), tempura everything, some rice boxes with dried mackeral and flakes of tamago sprinkled atop. My joy, again, could not be matched. But perhaps, with the wife of Eitoku-sama handed me three bottles of Sake to take home… maybe then it was beaten.

Time off was taken recovering the nerve damage to our heels, walking shrine to shrine (independently perhaps… not sure what other ABS did), checking out local grocery stops, flower stores, just relaxing in the main hall.

Before we left, Charlie, Paul, Juliana and I presented the very…very tired Abbott with flowers, gave our final Sanpai (three prostrations), he invited us for coffee.

Then it was back to the “Tango Discovery” our very own “Darjeeling Limited” back to Kyoto. Each stop it picked up more cars (and with it, more travellers, business men, couples, Europeans, etc.)

For the weekend, it was good to be back to Soto Zen. Outside of confining experience to a word, and just letting it happen. Of course, the irony is my own experience- memory has to be sacrificed (in a sense) as I want to convey it to everyone else. Now it is re-scrambled.

The benefit is maybe I can remember this longer. And maybe you can live this with me.

At any rate, new photos on Picasa, check them out. I took my first flying baby picture.


Written by Daniel

October 6, 2008 at 12:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Great great post. Its an awesome encapsulation of all the different worlds and times you’re traveling through during your trip.

    I got your letter 🙂 Will send a reply shortly.



    October 9, 2008 at 3:31 am

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