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.

 

 

 

Bringing loose-leaf green tea for a hiking.

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

I went on a short hike in the nearby mountains. The main purpose of hiking is enjoying drinking tea after walking as we view autumn colored leaves.

The weather was all right and the temperature relatively high for the beginning of November. It was a little too early for leaf-viewing though.

 

We discovered a small path along a main road then we pulled over in our car. This path is very quiet and the air is fresh. Its slope isn’t steep so it’s easy to walk as you breathe fresh air in. I don’t know why tea or onigiri ( rice balls ) taste so good outdoors. I don’t like tea from a thermos so I bought a small burner and kettle to make tea outdoors. In some places around Mt. Fuji, natural spring water is available but I brought water from my place. With this small but powerful gas, I can get cup noodles ready, too.

     

I tried this loose leaf drip. A kyusu (tea pot) is too heavy to carry but with this pack, we can enjoy loose-leaf tea. As I opened the package, its fragrance pervaded the air. You don’t have to look for a café when you go for a drive.

Sitting in a car long hours makes you tired. It’s important to take a break from time to time. You might find something you miss, if you just keep driving. I love to find lovely little things existing without being noticed.

Enzyme Bath

Monday, November 14th, 2011

The weather in Japan is kind of irregular this year. Sometimes it’s too warm or hot and the following day it gets cold all of a sudden. We have to pay more attention for our health so as not to catch a cold. In fact, I haven’t had any serious health check for several years. I drink and eat as much as I feel like though. To avoid seeing a doctor, I do yoga and sometimes take an enzyme bath.

 

This brown sandlike thing is rice bran. Water is combined with it to induce fermentation. This fermentation brings about heat. We soak our body in this rice bran. Its temperature reaches around 60C.,but I don’t like it too hot so I take it at around 50C. At first, I was a little scared but now that I have got used to it I sometimes fall asleep while soaking. This bath helps our immune system work better, encourages our metabolism and aids detoxification.

 

I heard many people’s body temperature is lower than before. I wonder why. We have more food than before. I think about fifty years ago, Japanese people didn’t eat a lot of meat or fat. I heard a long time ago, milk or eggs were only for sick people. However Japanese people’s average body temperature was higher then than nowadays.

 

After taking this enzyme bath, skin and scalp get moisturized and smooth.

My body stays warm even on a cold day and I can sleep very well.

I heard this bath is good for the people who have cancer, diabetes and rheumatism. According to some book, if you stay in a 60C bath for 20 minutes, you burn off calories as much as when you run a 15km marathon or do aerobics for two hours. That means it’s good for losing weight. I’d like to take this bath as often as I can.

 

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.

  

 

 

 

Hemp Breakfast

Friday, November 4th, 2011

November 3rd is a national holiday in Japan. It’s Culture Day.

This day was established to commemorate the proclamation of the post-war Japanese Constitution. But I don’t understand why it is called Culture Day and a “Cultural Medal” is awarded for some people at the Imperial Palace. And this day is Gozzilla’s birthday !

 

Anyway I enjoyed a relaxing morning today. Some people I know have to go to work though. We usually have typical a Japanese breakfast but this morning I made pancakes with rice powder and powder of hemp seeds.

Pancakes made from flour are familiar to us but we tried hemp cake for the first time. It was very good. Hemp adds a nutty taste and flavor. Rice powder added a somewhat sticky texture. I’m going to make “ chijimi “ or a kind of Korean pancake with this mixture. This mixture is sold in 200 g bags so it’s very easy to use for pancakes and can be used in many other cooking.

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.

Kaiseki in Autumn

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

 

I went to a Kaiseki cooking lesson. Kaiseki has to reflect the season you are in. We made a dish for the autumn. Have you tried “ dobinmushi” or matsutake mushroom soup? Matsutake are a kind of rare mushroom so the cost is high. In this pot we placed some matsutake mushroom, a piece of chicken, a piece of fish cake, ginkgo nuts. Then we poured in stock made from bonito and kelp, sake or rice wine , a little salt , soy source and a little sweet sake for seasoning. Heat it on a stove and before boiling it stop heating and add a leafy herb called “ mitsuba “ . Just before enjoying this soup, we squeeze on some “ kabosu” which is a kind of citrus fruit.

This soup was great. We all admired its smell and taste.

My teacher made one using brown mushrooms instead of matsutake mushrooms. It was also good. I rather enjoyed one with brown mushrooms. Its taste was more familiar to me. Many people tend to think expensive or hard to get ones are better to impress guests.

I guess one of the most important ideas for kaiseki is to consider what the guests really enjoy eating most. So it’s not just for the satisfaction of the people who make and serve it. I like my teacher’s flexibility in trying brown mushrooms instead of matsutake mushrooms. Expensive food doesn’t always taste great. Although that dobinmushi with matsutake was great.