Daniel in Japaniel

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Stew in Beppu, or Another Photo Post

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As something to hold everyone (myself) over until the final in Japaniel, Japaniel post, I am posting my Uncle’s Photos of Japan.

As for his impressions of Japan, I would seek the man out yourself- receiving his e-mails, updating me on the Ravens, explaining his latest cooking adventures, reminds me that his observations were fresh, mixed with the experiences of his life and affecting his impressions.

After a week of attempting to cover the ground we covered in a simple blog post, I, unfortunately gave up. Our adventure was the stuff of books- and sadly this blog is the stuff of the internet. Something found when facebook stalking me, or googling “Japanese Boys, Osaka” (this happens, as my wordpress stat info tells me, more often than you’d imagine).

Hopefully though- one can pull an impression at least from the photos I have.

Tomorrow will be a longer post- explaining what I’ve been up to, in between things. But, as this month has mostly been spent tying up loose ties, and looser relationships, this month has been more of a touchstone for my life, than for entertainment, for the moment.

In other news, as these things are addictive, and since I am a narcissist, I have created a new blog- not travel-based, however, just for my short stories.

I’ll post the link in my last entry.

Photos courtesy of Uncle Stewart.




Written by Daniel

January 13, 2009 at 9:25 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Two Weddings and some Temples

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Right now cj, Stewart and I are cooling off on the third floor of the Anh Phuong hotel somewhere on an island in the Mekong Delta. Maybe a few days ago, on one of the marathon bus rides, I realized I’d be shit to find my way back to Ho Chi Minh city at this point.

Although internet has reached to even the poorest of areas we’ve visited (kids playing Everquest in tin roof cafes), it’s been a little tough finding a few moments to collect these past few days.

Alright, enough with the pomp and fluff, in CaMau (where I posted about the Best CM Hotel) we took one of the buses as south as we could. At a bend in the road we all got out to board two canoes. The (now) thirty plus of us took these boats to the temple grandmother built.

As we approached, our aunties would explain the wonders grandmother brought to her village. What would take the afternoon to realize was that bringing life into this world was not enough for her. Grandmother’s testament would be the love and life she filled and continues to bring to everyone she met. My only clear memory of her would be her nicknaming each of the brothers while teaching us sitting meditation late one night in the basement of the Wolfe house. Here though, to drop her birth-name or Buddha-name  is to talk about a celebrity.

We went under bridges (stone, brick, metal, wood) that she built, while hearing about the vegetables she’d dive for to cook and share with the disabled children in her youth. Then finally, the bright yellows, whites and reds of her temple showed itself.

Mud seemed to be everywhere, yet there were more monks here than at most of the monasteries I’ve been visiting. They tromped ahead leading us in there stained orange robes. Wasting no time, we moved to the back to Grandmother’s alter. Prostrating ourselves behind our three aunts, cj, Stewart, Andrew and I kneeled patiently making meaning out of the Vietnamese chanting. Then we moved back on the canoes to place her ashes at the family graveyard. My grandfather’s younger brother, told us there was a tiger in the area that has been eating their ducks. We jokingly asked how many humans. He responded with one. Apparently there use to be 8 tigers in the area. Our gravesite use to be in the thick of jungle. Now we walked down the clear path our grandmother also made possible.

After the final rites were performed, we met again at temple for a gigantic vegan meal (cj appreciated immensely). I offered a gift of chopsticks and the baby Bodhi tree found outside our first hotel, and in response the head abbott offered his temple to us for dinner where he’d give me a set of robes for zazen.

Before then we stopped by our cousin’s home just up river. Things were being prepared for the next day’s wedding. I wouldn’t get to really explore the house until the next day. Right when we got there, Mup (that’s how it is pronouced at least) my 23 year old cousin, pulls out a moped and hands me a helmet. Though he speaks a handful of English phrases, he only gestured up the road, somewhere past the bridge (I couldn’t see). Knowing Mup as immensely chill, I hopped on.

“Everyone look at you” he said back to me. “Wai-Kyuu?” I replied. He laughed and I assumed he knew I was trying to say “returning whitey” our derogatory title.

It only took about 15 minutes until we came upon a Cao Dai temple. The same religion I am studying for ABS in exchange for this trip. For better, the Viet-gossip-train got to Mup and he took me there.

The otherwise beautifully painted temple was virtually empty. There was a service led by an 8 year old orphan, while his 11 year old superior in white robes bowed before the Great Eye (Cao Dai), an emblem surrounded by Amida Buddha, Moses, Confuscius, Jesus, Maitreya and historic Vietnamese leaders.

Mup acted as my translator. But for the most part I pointed at Vietnamese names I had highlighted from my Cao Dai packet. Reactions varried. While I stomached some questionable fruits and tea, the most emmaciated people I have ever met asked me for a donation, gesturing the lights. They had no power. I donated 160,000 Viet-dong (equivalent of 10 dollars) and felt guilty for not giving more. What seemed like unappreciation, was actually (as my Aunt Kim would explain) incomprehension. The standard earning in a city like Ho Chi Minh would be 100 US dollars a month. A typical villager in CaMau might see 10 US dollars in bartered goods and earnings from their street/river side shop. A temple in these parts, less than a dollar. They framed a receipt of my donation by the pictures of Jesus and Moses.

As Mup and I left we gave coins to the orphans of the temple, and made our way back to his house where some of us took the bus back to Best CM Hotel. After receiving robes from the high abbott and turning in for the night, cj joked “wait you’re cannonized in some temple and you’ve been ordained by a priest?”

The next day we returned to Mup’s house for his sister (our cousin’s) wedding reception.

Most of the party was spent wandering around talking to the beautifully elderly relatives, trying to tell them this in the little Vietnamese I know. “Come dup plum?” I say, as my grandfather walks by laughing and smacks my back.

Hugging my cousin couldn’t be topped though. I met her when I landed in Ho Chi Minh, and she has only been full of love for all of us since then. In spite of the arranged marriage, she still made it her day. She joked, as her husband walked around looking for a lighter, “He smoke, he die, I get a new husband”. When she hugged me though, you could feel that bottomless well of love that seems to be present in grandmother’s children.

That and the belly full of moonshine only abated my uncomfortabilty for the first three hours of the eight hour bus ride to the Mekong river.

There is no need to rehash the pain that was that trip. It’s enough to say it was pain.

Once we made it over the ferry, the aunts told us that we are not allowed to travel alone in this area. Currently we are near the Cambodian border, so they are terrified we’ll become another hostage US citizen to the Cambodians.

Fear of Vietnam seems to be the returning theme when talking to my mother or her sisters. Since getting to this area, we haven’t had a full meal. cj jokes that that’s why people ordain at temple, the vegan alternative is better than bird flu etc.

We turned in to this hotel. Although it sits on the river, Anh Phuong is no bayside resort. The lizards that cover the wall like 80s wall paper are more accomodating than the hotel staff. Apparently we lucked out on the room. Most of the rest of the family isn’t getting water or sleep. Anything is better, cj reminds me, than the bus ride. It’s funny to note that though the risk of malaria and bird flu is present, it’s the things like riding buses that get to u. Not that I am complaining or anything.

This morning was a fantastic dsiplay of Wolfe-boy love. After watching our ex-carsalesman, waiter in Maui Uncle of 46 years old marry the 26 year old daughter of the island’s tiling company family, our Uncle (Van), popped a few bottles of Greygoose and pulled out a case of red bull for our 9 AM wake up call.

A dream come true.

“You guys are the life of party” Van said, as we filled up on goosejuice and Heineken. Armed with Karaoke mics, the brothers sang hits like Hey Jude, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, YMCA, Something… and a few solo acts: Gangsta’s Paradise – Stewart.

Eventually the 200 guests left the party. We did around 2 after only 6 hours of drinking and singing.

One thing of note… before I finish up. Everytime I went to use the restroom, my mother would sit me down and lecture me about Black Voodoo. Among many things she fears in Vietnam, Vietnamese Women rank number one. And because I was talking to one, she had to tell me the truth. Women practice Black Voodoo here. They touch you and you can’t control yourself. At any rate, I’ve cast it off as rationalized sexism on the culture’s part, as some of the legends go “sometime men wake up, and find no money in their wallet!”

Auntie Kim assured me she is clean, however, saying “she twenty-eight! If she practice Black Voodoo she be married by now” This legitimizes a Mup, Black Voodoo, Wolfe hang out in Ho Chi Minh.

I can only hope I find a contorted position comfortable enough to doze off for 45 minutes on tomorrow’s ride.

Written by Daniel

November 1, 2008 at 3:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

My lover, I’ve been donating time to review…

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Before I begin, of course a huge apology is necessary (not at all unnecessary) for falling out of contact the past week. So here’s the deal, I have been working on this entry for a couple days. You read it, and I will make you smile looking at the words and pictures. Sound good?

There are many possible things I could point to and deflect owning up to disappointing my handful of readers. But, as I write this, it is pretty difficult to say what happened. One thing I can say, and we can decide if this somehow relates, is that I have been awfully homesick.

Now what have I been up to? Many things. This past weekend was one of the last “field trips” of the program. The destination was Mt. Koya- the birthplace of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, where some odd incomprehensible amount of time ago a guy threw this diamond staff as hard as he could- then went out to find it. Sure enough (after two dogs and a incognito mountain deity showed him around the mountain) his stuff landed on the tip of a cypress tree. When he got to the tip of this tree, Kukai (his name) looked around and saw the eight peaked mountain range surrounding him as the eight petaled lotus. “A fine place to build a monastery!” he said, and then I trounced about it this past Saturday.

The path to get there found the ABS students at a traditional Japanese inn in the Omine mountains.

Japan does mountains well, so when I say mountains, imagine the best. We talked it up about Crosby Stills Nash and Young while we hit endless one laners with the sharpest BMW-commercial-esque turns you’ve ever Tivo’d past, while cypress trees led the push up the mountain side.

There is a single road that goes through this valley town, and all along side are inns that run right up to the road. The area is known for Mountain Acestics (the Yamabushi) who make pilgrimages up the mountainside, live in caves, have near death experiences off cliffs, etc. From the balcony of the inn, you can see them with their giant bags walking up the road, as the skin underneath your fall yukata cools after an hour spent in the natural hot springs.

Sure there were river walks during the day. For awhile we followed downstream the cleanest river of my life. We are talking clear clear clear water you can feel the coolness of off your cheeks- and when it hits and tumbles down into tucked away ponds, all you see is this mysterious blue that has a translucent aura where the water shallows. We also visited the matronly saint of pilgrimages’ temple. We chanted unintelligibly under freezing waterfalls as a yamabushi blew into a Conch shell horn-ette.

But the main thing- was the food.

Shojin-Ryori (actually part of my research project on Japanese food), it was a traditional way the aristocracy ate, which eventually evolved (was simplified) into a vegetarian feast for Buddhist monks. We sat in two rows facing each other, and mini-bowl after mini-bowl of fried-tofu with grated radish, tempura, a soft angel-hair-esque noodle, various pickled vegetables, sauteed baby-rainbow trout (okay, so maybe not completely veggie here) and elegantly crafted tofu ensembles of different textures and after tastes.

I love the variation of senses you encounter with Japanese food. Eating is never mindless- a cynic could say the exoticism of Japan makes me enjoy every morsel of my meals, but after over a month here (a month now-) still these seconds are reveled in with each bite.

Real quick- Of Montreal album?

The other day, for instance, Julian and I hit up KyoMoMa (the Modern Museum of Art in Kyoto- I don’t think it is actually called that). After enjoying their permanent collection, we made our way downstairs. Me, with only an hour or so to make it, and Julian with an empty stomach (myself as well, naturally), we decided to plop down on the outdoor patio of the museum’s cafe. I ordered the seasonal set meal while Julian ordered the rice pilaf and pickle set. He remarked it was delicious, I don’t doubt him, since I didn’t get a bite. Mine was fantastic of course. Again, here it is, the tiny tasting plates make it. My dish included a “potato” salad made with kidney and chickpeas, barely could taste anything but the fiber of the beans themselves, sesame dressed salad with button mushrooms and slice of daikon, a slow cooked salmon fillet that somehow kept a refreshing fishy after taste, and there was a coffee mug filled with a very creamy pumpkin soup with a hint of almond. There was also a little croissant and bagel (odd combo, yes) to be used as sauce sponges. A fan of dipping, the meal was enjoyed slowly with the Heian Jingu’s jade moat, reddening Japanese maples, rotating chrome sculptures over great conversation.

It made up for the fifty minute bike ride to Fukakusa campus. Actually that day (two days ago, wednesday) I biked a total of two hours. It has been beautiful weather, so it is well appreciated. After TAing, I grabbed some lunch (really just some ice cream) with friends and then biked back north to the Shijo-dori area for my work at the English Cafe. Work go out early, and I spent the night hanging out with my 30 year old staff mate from Osaka, Sacchi, at a 333 yen beer and Japanese-style-tapas bar.

So far I have jumping around in time. To make things clear: Omine mountain was last friday, Koyasan was the following saturday, KyoMoMa was wednesday.

Oh, and Franzia in bottles?

Though KyoMoMa is in the elegant complex that is the Shinto shrine Heian Jingu’s, it is not the same as the Heian Jingu dance contest I caught a glimpse of on sunday.

Now friends of mine who go to the local tech school here, have been practicing every night at the fields of a park by Kyoto-eki. It wasn’t just them either, lined up all along the park were various college groups practicing their routines. The thursday before heading out to Omine-san, Julian and I witnessed 700 of them choreograph the epic routine that was the opening ceremony for this festival.

As for the festival itself, I can’t really say what it was for, aside from that it is a tradition that happens every year there, always coinciding with another festival (the Festival of the Ages, October 22nd). Both of these festivals, I believe, are suppose to honor the philosophies of the Meiji restoration- dipping into the traditional roots of Japan. So the dance contest consists of completely different styles of dance. For the most part, however, kid’s our age performed beyond what I could have even expected. The coordination of these 20-30 odd people dances were remarkable. The groups were graded on style, rhythm, creativity, narration (there are 1 or 2 members interpreting through singing or yelling through a mic), costume design (most of which are hand made) and overall aesthetic quality of their performance.

While there were outliers of hip-hop, cheerleading, flamenco, and Para-para dance present at the festival, what seemed to dominate were college-student-dance circles’ genre. Neo-traditional in many ways, usually their performance started slowly with stark contrasting poses, fingers extending back on themselves and their Japanese style castanets keeping the building beat. In an instant, the remix starts to blast of their song, the narrator has picked up intensity, and dancers arms roll into the air as they yell “sore! sore! sore!” “yeah! yeah! yeah!”, from here your eyes kind of relax on just all the movements. Our friend’s group in particular reenacted a famous battle for the Old Capital, another played Hiyao Miyazaki’s theme from the movie “Pom Poko” as they showed how the various agriculture groups and the men and women of their ancestors banded together to build a great culture.

I took videos of all of this on my digital camera, and promise (I make too many) to edit them all into a few minute clip for you all to see. This really is something to be seen. That said, check out the, and by the by- HUGE UPDATE of photos on my Picasa. They include these and many other photos.

As for KyoMoMa (same area, different day, wednesday), although I have been busy keeping up with Fukasusa and Omiya campus, life at the temple (reminds me, lemme catch you up on my new morning routine), nights at Shijo (work or otherwise), and the “politics as usual” back home (jk rowling), I was able to spend a good few hours out with Julian in this beautiful culture district.

Flanked by Heian Jingu, the Geisha/Maiko historic road, and Kyoto University, KyoMoMa shares a couple block area with the Kyoto Institute of Design, Kyoto Zoo, and some other fascinating buildings. Though the first three floors are the special exhibits at KyoMoMa, Julian and, not feeling like footing a 1200 entrance fee, went for the 130 price of seeing their permanent collection. In retrospect, probably the best choice.

Whereas we could have seen collections of various European and American artists’ modern art, we had the honor of seeing pre and post-war collections of Japanese Modern art. For a bit of history, late 19th century Japan into the 20th was a time where the country rapidly surrounded it with the western world. The government sponsored academics to travel Germany, France, Italy, Great Britain to research industrialization and western philosophy at large. This carried on throughout and continues today as well with America now on the table as a line leader in “culture” (post-war culture).

So, as far as modern art is concerned, in short, we were looking at art that had obvious influence on the big dogs of their time. They had slight difference that maybe the back and front of a Highlights magazine has, eerie- if you stare enough. From things as simple as roman-lettering signatures versus the traditional family name Hanko- or even calligraphy Kanji, to the uneven circles of Gentaro, Komaki’s “Espiritismo No. 8” versus Charles Demuth’s “The Figure 5 in Gold”, the subtle differences allowed for an alien perspective of the modernists’ “dilemma”. What was once seen as universal, now seemed so Anglo-centric in the halls of KyoMoMa, it was still effectual- but, the soul lacked, and what filled it was the struggle of country finding it’s footing among world powers of it’s time.

Check it:

As for my schedule these days, we have been studying Shingon buddhism (was was was, we moved on now, monday is the first day of our Pure Land services). For the past three weeks, we have been alternating from going to services at Toji (home of the world’s tallest Pagoda, also it protects Japan, also it becomes the sword of a MegaZord whenever PETA activists team up with aquaman retributing for the whaling industry). Shingon is interesting in it’s similarity to Catholicism. Here we got saint worship, a desire to seek unity of mind, body and speech. Moreover, our morning service consisted of sing-song chanting the history of Kukai (dog man, threw a spear etc. etc. read above), the Heart Sutra, and various mantras. Somewhere during the last story chant on Koba-daishi, a monk wearing a face mask takes the reliquary of the Historic Buddha (Shakyamuni) and bless each of the lay practitioners. Each of them bring their own things, pictures of their family, letters, sutras, beads, praying for Koba-daishi’s grace. In this way, it appears like a sort of communion, and the lay people accepting the body of Buddha, yes, but of course the whole atmosphere has the smell of exotic Buddhism around it. By the end of the service, we prostrate before the alter and pray for the distribution of the good merit we’ve gained to the world. Toji is known as the protector, or healer of Japan, and these old men and women are there every morning at 6 in the morning praying for just that.

Now something I have to look into some more while I am here is the artist Kiyoshi, Hasegau. She/he started off as Japanese Matisse, then after the war, only seemed to keep the contrasting black and white of their silhouetting days and moved into a pencil-still lifes of mexican folk art. So bizzare.

One last story before I tell you my plans for this weekend.

My mid-term exam and a paper were due the other day, so last night deemed necessary for some relaxation. After watching McCain creep away my soul, one blink of a thousand at a time, Julian and I shared a bottle of wine, and geared up our bikes for a trip to a sento, a Japanese public bath.

The one we sought, unfortunately, is on a year long sabbatical. I learned this from a lady-bartender (mid-50s) who was keeping a man named Oeno company in her simple Karaoke bar. Oeno spoke to me, I am pretty sure. He had the thickest accent I’ve encountered so far in Japan. All I could understand was when he paused and asked, “ハフ?外国人?”, (Half asian, or Foreigner?). “Foreigner, foreigner” the bartender told him, he stopped making a map, and he said that he’d take us to his favorite bath.

We hopped on our bikes after him, it was already 10:45 (which is late considering when we wake). Alleys turn to alleys, and we arrive at the familiar fish-curtain-drapped doors that all sento dawn. He ran in ahead of us to check something for us, and then appeared again and gestured us in. After thanking him, Julian and I found ourselves in a smaller house than we are use to, but by no doubt- a popular local spot. Immediately we saw the naked backs of Yakuza, their emerald green and purple dragon tatoos stretching from weenis to weenis, under legs, every where imaginable. The lady at the front desk, situated between the mens and women’s section in order to see everything, didn’t ask for money, instead waited for it. After handing her a 500 yen coin, we found out it cost 410 (pretty standard).

The bath house was phenomenal. Again, it was very small- but efficient with it’s use of space. In about a half classroom sized room there was a hot spring style, cold water, jacuzzi, electric, tea, bathing showers, a shower tower (cj would approve) and a sauna that kept at a terrifying 110 degrees Celcius.

What makes bathing so relaxing here, like eating meals, is the journey your body goes through experiencing the juxtapositions of sensations. The electric bath, for instance, is painful. Your body convulses uncontrollably, you curse while the old men chuckle at you. Should you choose a cold water bath after you’ll feel every muscle in your body, or you could enter the hot bath and dissolve away those same muscles. My favorite combination is a simple but beautiful one: cold water until it feels like nothing, and then sauna until you feel like nothing. The tea bath was interesting that night, though not my favorite. It was a Lavendar and Camomille bath. Usually bath houses have a green tea or barley tea you soak in.

We barely were able to bike back. At around midnight, with our bodies’ numb from comfort, minds’ drunk from fatigue, we swerved our way back to Koshoji.

Anyway, that’s been more or less how it has been. This weekend should be great. Tonight will be spent at Kyoto University (perhaps) listening in on a DJ-circle, followed by a few drinks in the Shijo area. Saturday is a trip out to Osaka where we’ll meet up with some friends, have some amazing curry (hopefully). And Sunday is a brunch of Vietnamese-food (finally) and participating in Osaka’s Gay Pride Parade. The last one will be undoubtedly an interesting experience. Given the amount of repression this culture deals out, the state of sexuality in general (rights or otherwise) should all come out during this march.


Thank you everyone who has been keeping up with this. Thank you people who have been checking this even though I haven’t updated in awhile. Today I learned that I have had over 1,000 reads of this site since starting it.

Written by Daniel

October 17, 2008 at 2:38 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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