The Zen temple Shuuzenji in Shuzenji

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

On our way back from Heda (West Izu ), Mr. Seki said that he’d like to visit Shuuzenji temple. This temple is in the town called Shuzenji. It has good access from Mishima which has a Shinkansen (bullet train) station. Izu Hakone railway takes you from Mishima to this town, which is also famous for its hot springs and old Japanese style inns. One inn even has a Noh stage and puts on performances of this ancient form of theater.

Our visit was at the beginning of December. The autumn leaf colors were past their best but we were still struck by their beauty. We were lucky to have a chance to see the garden of Shuuzenji temple. This garden is open to the public for just one week or so every year and we arrived on the last day. The garden is magnificent and the trees along the river in Shuzenji are beautiful, too. It’s nice to take a walk and visit some of the gift shops.

I wondered why Mr. Seki is interested in Zen temple. As he was a student in Japan, he stayed at a zen temple to experience zen training for one week.

In fact, his major is philosophy.

He was told to do zazen all day long for the first few days. He felt he was doing nothing and that just doing zazen was very hard and so when he was told to sweep the garden, he was extremely happy to work. I thought people who don’t feel like doing anything might try this. After that they will be willing to do many things.

 Sometimes we have too much to do and too many things in our minds. During year end and new year vacation, I’d like to clear my mind by doing zazen.

One of the mysteries in Izu ( Shizuoka )

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

At the beginning of December, we had a year-end party after a study meeting about economics. I often go to study meetings on economics in Numazu. The organizers know many different kinds of people and they invite guests to give us lectures. And for the December meeting, we had a person who is very familiar with Chinese related matters. He is Chinese but has been living in Japan more than 20 years, married a Japanese woman and became a naturalized Japanese citizen. He has published some books and occasionally on TV. His name is Mr. Hei  Seki.

As everyone knows, some problems underlie the relationship between Japan and China.

Personally, I’m very worried about it and so are my friends.

By listening to his talk, we got new ideas and understood the things better.

I think a person like him is a treasure for both China and Japan. He can help both of us to understand each other.

 

After the lecture, Mr. Seki and some of the members went to Heda village located in the western part of Izu. This village is said to be one of the most loveliest traditional Japanese villages, with a view of Mt. Fuji over the ocean, beautiful paddy fields, a fishing port and mikan orange orchards covering the hills. We all enjoyed eating fresh fish and drinking high quality Japanese rice wine from all across Japan.

The following day, some went orange picking. But I was in a group going to Shuzenji on my way home.

 

 

 

The weather was not perfect but we could see Mt. Fuji over Suruga Bay.

We also overlooked the Ose promontory as we drove. This promontory jutting out into the ocean has a pond called “ Kamiike “. “ Kami” means god and “ Ike” means pond. This pond is in the precincts of Ose Shrine, surrounded by a juniper wood, which is a protected plant. Strangely, the pond water is fresh, not salty, even though it’s located only 20 meters away from the ocean and only one meter above sea level. Fresh-water fish such as carp, crucian carp and catfish are living there. The water is not very transparent so we can’t see into the pond very well and no in-depth studies have been conducted on it because people say that if we investigate the pond, a curse will come on us !

I have been scuba diving in the nearby ocean but I haven’t visited the pond and shrine. I’d like to do so someday. This is one of the famous scuba diving spots in Izu with many kinds of sea animals.

This place has an interesting festival on April 4th. Many fishermen wear women’s costume and makeup and they go on board. In Japan, March 3rd is called girls’ festival, May 5th is boys’ festival. So maybe this festival in April, lying between March and May, could be a gay festival!

Mr. Seki seemed to enjoy himself viewing Mt. Fuji. Talking with him was a lot of fun.

 

 

Green Tea and Japanese confectionery YOKAN

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

   

After long hot summer days, it finally got much cooler – sometimes quite cold, even. Now I think it’s time to enjoy hot green tea with Yokan.

 

This is my favorite Yokan made by Shintsuru in Suwa ( Nagano ).This shop was founded more than 130 years ago and since then they have been making Yokan by hand without compromising on anything. They still burn Japanese oak wood to cook the azuki beans. I heard Japanese oak keeps a perfect temperature for cooking beans. They make many kinds of confectionery but this shio-yokan is the most famous. Yokan basically contains beans, sugar and agar. And salt is added for this shio-yokan. These days we have a lot of variation with sesame, green tea or chestnuts etc.

 

The idea of yokan is originally from China. If I break down the two Chinese character “ yo” and “ kan”. “ Yo” means sheep and “ kan” means soup. In China, people had sheep soup and Japanese priests brought back the idea

However priests were vegetarians so they changed the ingredients and made something completely different. Instead of meat, they used cooked beans.

 

I also think the combination of green tea and yokan is the best. They help each other to enhance their taste. Some people add some sugar to green tea but I can’t imagine the taste. I heard taking liquid with sugar is very bad for teeth. But after eating something sweet and taking green tea is a very good combination.

 

Or the people who want to lose weight can simply drink green tea. I don’t know if the substance of the green tea helps you lose weight but drinking tea when you are hungry makes your stomach full and it makes you lose weight.

All in all, thinking about green tea and confectionery is very interesting.

Shoju-an, Zen temple in Iiyama, Nagano

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

I have always wanted to visit Shoju-an in Iiyama since reading the book on Hakuin( Wild Ivy), the famous Edo era Zen priest. Hakuin was born in Hara (Shizuoka) about more than 300 years ago. He trained in many temples in Japan. One day he visited Shoju-an to see the head priest Etan. That time Hakuin was kind of conceited and the old sharp priest at Shoju-an saw through Hakuin’s mind. The old priest was very hard on him but Hakuin somehow came to respect him. However the old priest didn’t accept Hakuin as his pupil. Eventually Hakuin was allowed to stay at the temple and he learned a lot from the old priest.  

   This uphill path to the temple is called “ Hakuin keotoshi no saka “.

“ Keotoshi” means to kick one down and “saka “ means slope. It is said that Etan, a son of the lord of Matsushiro (Nagano) kicked Hakuin down the slope. Etan ( the old priest at Shojyu-an)  went through a lot of harsh training, he became a distinguished priest and was offered many good positions and donations but he kept turning down many kind offers. He was happy to be at Shoju-an, which is small and located in country.

 

 

 The night before I visited Shoju-an, I had dinner at an Izakaya style restaurant. I had a chance to talk with the owner of the restaurant. He told me a lot about Iiyama City and Shoju-an.

   He was an alpine skier himself and he has been a coach for Olympic competitions. One of the famous skiers who he has coached is Aiko Uemura.  According to him, Iiyama has been famous for manufacturing skis. The ski firms Ogasaka and Imura are from Iiyama. They were originally manufacturing furniture. The owner also knows a lot about Zen.

  His story about the present priest of Shoju-an was very interesting to me. This area was affected by a big earthquake a few years ago. One day a person offered some amount of money to repair the building of Shoju-an but the present priest turned down this kind offer. Everybody asked him why he didn’t accept the donation. He said that the money would help him and the temple only temporarily and he shouldn’t grow to always expect that kind of money. He is far from greedy. For example, he grows vegetables at the temple and he often gives them away to the supporters of the temple. He probably takes after Etan’s spirit. Shoju-an is not big but it is a very pleasant temple.

   I really enjoyed listening to the owner’s story. The food they serve is very delicious. I also like the wide line up of their sake. The quality of the food and drink are good but the price is very reasonable. I strongly recommend the people who visit Iiyama should go to this restaurant called “ Rokubei “.

 

 

 Another interesting thing I found in Iiyama is this golden lavatory.

I asked why they applied gold on a lavatory. Iiyama is also famous for making family Buddhist altars and the interiors of these expensive altars’ inside are covered with gold. I was just amazed to see it and I felt kind of guilty about using the toilet. I just viewed and took some photos of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oyama, the spiritual mountain in Kanagawa

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

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I went to Oyama Afuri Shrine in Kanagawa. The nearest railway station is Isehara ( Odakyu Line ). Since it’s not far from the Tokyo area, many people visit it for worshiping the Oyama temple and Oyama Afuri Shirine. This shrine is said to be founded around B.C.97.

It also has nice trekking courses. I saw many young people going hiking with relatively comprehensive mountain climbing gear. We reached to the top by cable car. Only 6 minutes’ ride brings us to the top. We could see Sagami Bay and Enoshima from the top.

During the Edo era, people climbed this mountain to worship just like climbing Mt. Fuji. Some groups of people stayed at inns at the foot of the mountain.

Spiritual or religious leaders called Sendoushi worked as guides and teachers. Nowadays trains or cars enable us to make day trips and people don’t always stay at inns so some inns closed down ( too bad ! ).

   

 We stayed at an inn called “ Asada”. This is one of a few inns which is still providing accommodation for tourists. This inn is amazing. The room we stayed in was very nice. Tofu dishes are famous in Oyama and this inn also serves Tofu Kaiseki and Tofu breakfast. The food was all incredibly delicious.

They served many different kinds but let me show you three of them.

Here is the some served as relish. I really like the style and setting. We use this tray to serve offerings to gods. In Shinto, after offering food to gods, we share the food with gods. All tofu is fantastic but this soy milk and tofu was out of the world. We can make our own yuba or boiled soymilk skim as you drink hot sake. Tofu gratin and yuba rolls are worth trying, too.

 Good water from the mountain makes sake, tofu and konnyaku (devil’s tongue) great. Next time I’d like to visit here in autumn to view colored leaves. I also miss the tofu I enjoyed. I also have to pay a visit to  Oyama temple on the way to Oyama Afuri Shrine.

A bonfire event after New Year’s Day

Saturday, January 21st, 2012

On our way to Hatsugama, or the first tea gathering of the year, we saw a bunch of local people who had got together and stopped over at this place.

This festival is called “ Donto Yaki “. People bring New Year’s decorations, wooden daruma dolls or the first calligraphy of the year to burn them.

 In Japanese, “Yaki“ means burn and “ Donto “ sounds like “ don’t “ in English. However we burn many things.

Here you can see some red dolls called “ daruma “. This doll represents Bodhidharma, the Zen founder born in India in 6th century. It is said that he sat in silent meditation for nine years, facing the wall of a room at the Shorinji Temple in China to attain enlightenment !

 Some people buy these daruma dolls. When they buy them, the dolls’ eyes aren’t painted but when the doll owner’s wishes came true, they paint in the eyes. In Fuji city, we have a daruma festival in the beginning of February called “ Bishamon festival “. At that festival, many kinds of daruma dolls are available. Every year some people buy new daruma dolls for their New Year’s resolution. To give thanks and to wish for another successful year, they burn the previous year’s dolls.

We have the proverb, “ If you fall down seven times, get up eight “ in Japanese “ nanakorobi yaoki”. That means never give up.

 Some people burn the first calligraphy of the year. If the calligraphy goes up

carried by the wind, the person’s calligraphy might improve.

 

The Year of the Dragon 2012

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

 

 

A happy New Year !  I wish all of you health and happiness this year!

This year 2012 is a year of the dragon. This dragon comes from the Chinese zodiac. According to this zodiac, each year a different animal plays a role as a symbol of the year. Last year, a rabbit was the symbol. According to my father, rabbit years often bring big changes or upheavals I remember my father mumbled this on New Year’s Day and we had a big disaster last year. My father isn’t a fortune teller but he simply said what he had heard from his parents or grandparents.

 I think it’s very important to listen to older people or learn from history or folk tales. I also believe Japanese old belief that what you say will occur.

For example, if you keep telling good things these lucky incidents are sure to happen and if you keep telling negative things these unlucky things may occur.

 Now this year’s symbol, the dragon, is an imaginary animal as you know.

It is said that this animal brings us the blessing of water. Water is very important for us but we sometimes miss giving thanks for it. Japanese have considered nature as a group of gods but these days we sometime forget about it.

 I sometimes visit this shrine deep in the mountain. Some people say this place is a so-called power spot. I know some people train themselves under the icy waterfalls. (not for me though . I heard an interesting story from a person who takes care of this shrine. We are supposed not to catch and eat the fish in the river since it belongs to gods of this place. But someone caught a fish and ate it. Then he had a terrible stomachache. He apologized for his wrong doing many times, then the pain went away. This waterfall and river is such a mysterious place.

 Even on hot summer days, this place is very cool. But in winter it’s not as cold as I expected. This area is surrounded by mountains and looks like being protected by them. In fact, even after a typhoon passed by this area wasn’t messed up much.

 I can get very good water from this shrine. The quality of the water is very good so I can make delicious tea or coffee. I also can cook tasty rice or miso soup with this water. Another good thing is that this water doesn’t go bad for a long time. So I keep this water in the tank for emergency.

 Of course I always make sure to thank the gods at this shrine. This year I specially begged the gods to protect us from natural disasters.

Zen Temple, Ryutakuji in Mishima

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

I went to Ryutakuji in Mishima on Nov.23rd with two Americans . This day is a national holiday called “ Kinroukansya no hi “ or giving thanks to those who work.

However many people I know went to work on that day. Japanese people work hard or some just pretend to work hard but our economy doesn’t improve much. I wonder why.

 

Every year on Nov.23, Ryutakuji opens the temple for “Kanpusai”, which is a kind of maple-viewing festival. They display paintings, calligraphy done by many famous priests or painters etc. It seems that each year more and more people visit the temple on this day. They never advertise the festival but people learn about the festival by word of mouth.

I arrived at the temple almost the same time as last year. I didn’t have to queue last year but I had to wait for about 15 minutes this time. They controlled the number of the people who can get in so that we could have a good look at the works.

 

 

 

 

 

This year the leaves haven’t turned into autumn color, so let me show you the one I took two years ago.

 

We saw some pictures describing hell. In Buddhism, we are supposed to go through seven trials after death. The trials take place every week. In the paintings, some are forced to see themselves in a mirror showing what they have done during the lives. They are at a place called “ enma cho “ where “ the king of enma stays who tells the dead people how eivil they are. Bad people have to endure many kinds of punishments, such as being broiled, being put into boiling water, or being forced to walk on mountains of needles. They are in great pain but they can’t die since they are already dead.

One of the Americans said that the paintings look very bureaucratic !

I hope the real “ enma cho “ is not as bureaucratic as they are in this life.

He said that they have similar kinds of paintings to teach people morality but they have a different style.

We said we should make many copies of this hellish scene and distribute so that they can discourage bad people from doing something wrong.

 

 

 

 

We talked with some trainees called “ unsui”. Last June , went to the lecture given by “ Roshi “ or the head priest of the temple during “ settusin” , a very strict training period. I heard one of them chanted sutra and was fascinated by his beautiful voice. I told him that his sutra is as beautiful as music. He said,

“ But I’m out of tune.” I can’t believe that. Ryutakuji people’s sutra is very beautiful. I hope they will make a CD and release it.

In December, the settusin period is from 1st to 8th. During that period the head priest gives a speech from 13:30 to 15:00.( Those who attend it must be there by 13:15)  Anyone who would like to listen to the lecture can join for free. Next year settusin starts on January 17th and I heard this is the most strict one in a year. I don’t think I can do zazen almost all day long for a week. But I can listen to the lecture called “ teisyo”.

However all trainees look beautiful. I wondered why. Probably they move their bodies a lot, doing zazen with deep breath and eating only basic food make them look beautiful. I wish I could be like that!

 

After visiting the temple, we went to a buckwheat noodle shop nearby.

The shop was crowded. We had this set menu for November. It has noodles with mushrooms, Japanese omelet with baked buckwheat soybean paste and dessert of pumpkin. It was very good and inexpensive. They served buckwheat tea generously. It made our bodies warm up. It’s always pleasure for me to show them something Japanese since they understand and appreciate Japanese culture. Thank you for coming.

 

 

 

Tea gathering at Kobayashi En ( Fuji, Shizuoka )

Sunday, November 13th, 2011

I went to a tea gathering at Kobayashi En with two Americans who study Japanese Literature. Kobayashi En is a tea farm in Fuji city. They grow and process Japanese green tea. They have a beautiful garden with three traditional buildings. We usually have sencha and sweets in one building.

After that, we went to another tea room called a chasitsu. On that day we arrived a little early. As we were waiting outside of the gate, the young owner came out to usher us in. I asked him about another building I haven’t been to, and he showed us inside the building willingly. We were all amazed to see the beauty of the room and the material they use for the building. The wood used for the building is about 400 years old and the building is made of one big tree.

 

 They are on good terms with many zen temples such as Ryutakuji ( Mishima ), Nanzenji ( Kyoto ), Myoshinji ( Kyoto ), Tofukuji ( Kyoto ) and etc. so they have calligraphy or drawings made by Roshi ( head priest of the temple ). I was also intrigued by the calligraphy written by old politicians and the story behind it.

 They were going to have a group of tourists on a bus that day. The tourists were to have lunch in this building. They ordered Obentou ( box lunch ) from the Japanese restaurant nearby called Takito-rou. In summer, people can observe fire flies at the small stream in the garden while having a cup of tea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We stayed too long in this building since the place is cozy and his talk was interesting.

 

 

We moved on to the chasitsu. One of my companions has experienced this gathering last month but the other person looked a little nervous since it’s his first experience. I told him that going through the entrance called Nijiriguchi is just like going inside John Malkovich, and then we all laughed.

 

In tea ceremony, they change the style of serving or setting of the chasitsu depending on the season we are in. Since it’s November, the fire place called “ Ro “ is moved closer to guests. This is only one of the ideas of hospitality.

The tea ceremony teacher looked very happy to have two guests from foreign culture and knowing they are American, she brought up the topic of Donald Keene and was excited to know that one of them studied under Donald Keene at the graduate school of Colombia University. The tea ceremony teacher always gives us a lot of information all about tea ceremony related things.

Tea ceremony is related to almost all parts of traditional Japanese life so it must be a good way to know Japanese culture.

 

We are very happy to share a luxurious time with delicious home-made sweets, matcha green tea, and the first sencha we tasted won the first prize for green tea this year ! It tasted very delicate and elegant.

 Anyone who is interested can join in this gathering. The next gathering is December 4th from 10:00AM to 13:00PM. Fee: 500 Yen each.

  

 

 

 

Getting to know hemp in Yamanashi ( Lake Kawaguchi )

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

I happened to know about hemp by reading someone’s blog. I don’t know why but I became really curious about it. I learned that a couple living on Lake Kawaguchi ( Yamanashi ) and growing organic rice and vegetables also deal with hemp products. The wife makes clothes, underwear and accessories, etc.

I visited their place and found beautiful hemp clothes. They say that hemp is not only beautiful but also gives you energy and health.

Honestly I couldn’t believe that at first. So as a trial, I bought some pairs of socks made from hemp ( 46% ), cotton ( 38 % ), nylon ( 13 % ) and polyurethane ( 3% ). I bought some pairs for my family and we all tried and were surprised with this magical power. 1. Socks and feet don’t get stinky. 2. After wearing them for a day, the socks stay dry. 3. We all felt our feet warm in the socks.

 

 

 

Then I bought a loincloth since they say loincloth is the best to feel the effect of hemp. The loincloth is made from 100% hemp. Loincloth covers the point called “ seika tanden “ or “ hara “. The point is located about two inches below the navel. When I do zazen I try to bring my mind to focus on that point. Probably hemp provides my hara with its energy. The loincloth is thin but strong. It didn’t look very warm like a blanket but in fact I feel really warn when I wear it. They say wearing underpants often lowers our immune systems. But when I wear loincloth, our hip joints move smoothly and lymph glands work properly to make us healthy.

I feel very relaxed. The touch of hemp is very nice, too.

I heard that god gave humans hemp and water. After trying out hemp clothes, I understand that. It’s fun to know about hemp.