Thank you for checking out my new updated blog. Follow me around the world and on to Albania.
Valentines Day in Japan is a little different than the flurry of men in America searching for a way to get a girl or couples sweating over what to do for their spouse and worrying if their gifts will match up to their partners.
In Japan, this day of love is celebrated by women doing most of the work. Ladies from all around, crowd stores in the hunt for chocolates to give a crush or even multiple men. These gifts are either handed in person or left to be found by them. The most important part is not to have a secret admirer, so they know how to celebrate the following holiday called White Day.
On White day, any man who received a gift on Valentine’s Day reciprocates by purchasing his admirer a gift, most commonly a box of chocolates. This day falls on the 14th of the following month. The system is simple and does eliminate confusion and running around by both sexes when they scramble to find gifts. Although some could say that it may take away some of the excitement but that’s what makes cultural differences so interesting.
As I was in class in Japan I found a box of chocolates left in my mail box and my dorm was used by female Japanese students who wanted to make their own sweets for people. However, it isn’t just a day to give sweets to crushes as many of the Japanese students made and gave out sweets to new and old friends alike. And likewise, on White Day men would give back sweets to all the women that had given them something.
Before the forty minutes of Zazen that was the prelude to bedtime, it was time to take a bath. As the time switched from women to men, my friend kindly pointed me in the right direction.
As I entered, a monk had come in also. Through a series of gestures and bad Japanese and English, I still managed to misunderstand that the washroom was designed for two and he meant we would be going in together. This point landed home as I turned around to see a nude man casual enter the room. this wasn’t my first time in a communal bathing situation but it was my first time being surprised by it.
Upon entering the bath we sat only a couple feet apart. Things may have been awkward if we didn’t end up laughing about our inability to speak each other’s language effectively and stumbled over words to explain how we ended up in this monastery.
The second day started much like the first one. We woke up and did Zazen, ate breakfast and performed morning service. This day, however, was a little different as the Abbot asked me to help him and another worker lay down some new grass for the front of the temple. With my limited Japanese my conversation with the worker was very limited to motions informing me that if I saw a caterpillar, to rip it in half.
The Abbott took this chance to express that he didn’t feel my stay there was long enough and that I should not just stay for longer but leave school and live there. That conversation didn’t last very long, but I appreciated the compliment behind it. It’s always nice to have an option to come back regardless.
After I had finished, the day went on just as the others did and during free time I climbed around the old dirty mountain pathways.
On the final day there, I still continued to avoid seiza as much as possible, and continued to be amazed at how much I was okay with the food. This day there was an event happening and we all headed out to the Abbott’s home monastery, where he grew up.
The monastery was very nice and as we arrived all the monks and nuns went out to do chanting. as they left I was charged with staying with the only person that lived there, and elderly woman, whom was not to thrilled it seemed in having me there. I suppose this came from my lack of Japanese and the fact that I was supposed to help her in the kitchen. Despite having worked many food-related jobs and cooking back in the states, I let her give me her tutorial on how she likes to wash dishes. I have come to find out that many times in Japan there is a set way to do things and that’s just the way it is.
The woman appeared cold and only concerned with dealing with the Abbott, but we finally finished making the egg salad sandwiches, and other small snacks and waited for everyone to return.
I got another moment with the Abbott in which I used my time to ask him about the moon designs I had been noticing on small pillars around temples. His reply, however, was, “What is ten moons, 1,000 moons, 10,000 moons. Do you understand?” He then walked away and the elderly women simply looked at me with a smile and said, “That’s Zen.”
One moment stood out to me in particular though. I stood outside taking pictures as everyone was returning and we had finished preparing the meal. The elderly woman opened a window and called out my name. As I responded she said, “Will you please come in and eat.” it was the first time she had seemed welcoming all day. that marked a subtle change in the rest of the experiences.
As everyone returned it was the first time we had eaten a meal together where people were smiling and seemed to have a good time with a few laughs.
We arrived back at the monastery just in time for nighttime meditation.
As my experience came to a close, I found myself staring out into the night sky and then reading a book on Zen in the small light of my room. It was a moment I could only describe as serene.
I enjoyed the day to day practice of Zen, however, I was not a fan of Zazen. I did not feel that it was more beneficial than meditating on ideas and the self as opposed to losing the self. However, as I have continued to sit Zazen outside of the monastery. I have come to enjoy it more and more. my blood pressure has even gone down, which has been to the delight of some of my concerned friends.
Buddhism still interests me and I continue to read about it and learn more. I appreciate the life that monks and nuns, who live in monasteries lead but I know that it is not the life for me. perhaps a visit for a few days, but regardless of if I decide to walk a more Buddhist path in life or not, my place is out here in this world.
For those who know about the geography of the U.S., Japan in its entirety is roughly the size of Montana as far as square miles goes. This means a number of different things considering when many people think about Japan, they are filled with ideas of the variety of cultural sites and long existing history.
Because Japan has so much history and a vast array of cultural and tourist oriented sights with its relatively small size compared to the U.S. it gives the feeling that so many of the things in Japan are fairly close together.
Even going from one end to the other is but a day’s flight. This takes me to the title of this article. The thing I will miss the most about Japan is the public transport system. one can not only easily go to many places within a single prefecture but many times major areas like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nara can be visited in a weekend or even a day trip with the famous Shinkansensen.
In fact, I plan on taking a six-hour bus to Tokyo for a few days. The bus trip for round trip will cost 4,000 yen which is about $35. With cheap travel and an abundance of places to visit and things to see, I could almost say I’ve seen more historical and cultural sights in Japan than my home country of America.
The Shinkansen can turn a six-hour trip down to an hour if your willing to drop the extra money. Regardless of what route is chosen, it is efficient.
Even traveling around the Nagoya prefecture there are a ton of places to see and festivals to visit. A day pass for unlimited rides on a weekend is a great investment.
I’ll miss it because back in America everything is so spread out its hard to really see what all America has to offer, and at times is easy to feel stuck if financial situations have you bogged down. Many Americans can’t simply pay $40 or even $20 sometimes to hop on a bus and head to a major location within a day and head back that same night.
If you’re visiting Japan as a tourist please look into the Japan rail pass. It is costly but comes with unlimited rides in many areas and on the shinkansen. A great way to see a lot of places in Japan in a hurry.
There is a special kind of freedom and excitement that comes with the feeling of being able to travel so many places for cheap and with an ease that does not compare with living where I do in America. This air of being connected to so many famous places and events can almost be overwhelming when a person sees what all they can do. That is the feeling that nothing can beat.
Hanami is a special time of the year in Japan where the famous Sakura(cherry blossom) appears for not even a month. There are other flowers in abundance but the real delight is the Sakura as they are a symbol of beauty and impermanence because of their short lifespan.
During this time people flock from all for a chance to view these flowers and sit underneath a warm sky enjoying a gentle breeze surrounded by Sakura trees.
I and my dormmates were not immune to the crazed sickness of hunting sakura flowers as we traveled around Nagoya to see them at the local famous spots.
A river in Okazaki where we took a boat ride to see the flowers.
Not even the rain could stop the need for sakura viewing.
-Tsurumai Koen in Nagoya
-Yamazaki river in Nagoya.
As I was curious to see how different all the little things are in Japan, my roommate suggested going to a movie theater. After some searching, he came across a theater that showed English movies with Japanese subtitles and a few of our Japanese and foreign friends were interested also.
Sadly no pictures this time but as we walked down the rainy street in Sakae there was a small cafe. It appeared to be an average small quick stop cafe as we approached and walked in. We were supposed to all meet up at the cafe together but little did I know that the cafe was the entrance to the theater.
they sold all the things you would find at any other cafe, including small trinkets and baked goods, but around a small corner was a large hall with a row of theater rooms.
Of course in Japan, there was a specific structure in getting to your seat. After you have your ticket everyone lines up in the small hall shoulder’s bumping against shoulders. An usher shows up a little before start time and calls out ticket numbers, sending people in to find seats five at a time.
After we were all seated, the usher returned to give a speech about the theater and what I assume to be etiquette and rules. Once again my minimal Japanese comprehension leaves me in the dark.
perhaps this wasn’t worth a blog but it was interesting to see the structure of going to a movie theater compared to the gaggle that is going to one in the states.
The movie we saw was Birdman, they also recently had fifty shades of gray in theaters here, but from what I’ve heard and read it didn’t do so well.