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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sake brewery, Shiyunnouten, in Yamanashi

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

The river Fujikawa starts from Mt. Nokogiri in Yamanashi and Nagano.

This river eventually runs into Suruga Bay.

It contains a large volume of water and is one of three fastest-running rivers in Japan.

Long ago in the Edo era, many commodities, such as rice and salt, were carried by boat along this river between Shizuoka and Yamanashi.. Kajikazawa town ( currently called Fujikawa town ) was prosperous as a tradepost.

I happened to visit this town only by accident but felt a strong sense of de ja vu. I felt like walking around the town and happened to find this beautiful sake brewery. This brewery was called “ Yorozuya “ established in 1790. They changed its name “Shiyunnouten” later.

“ Shiyunnouten” is a famous piece of the court music of Japan. It means the voice of bush warblers. In 1933 Akiko Yosano , a famous poet, stayed at this house with her husband Tettukan Yosano since the owner of the brewery was a friend of them. Akiko wrote a poem. In the poem, she used the word “ Shiyunnouten”. Since then they called the place Shiyunnouten.”

 

I really like the building and of course the sake they make. You can taste sake or have some tea in the spacious café area. If you want to relax they have a large Japanese-style room too.

They ask a specialized farmer to grow rice for sake somewhere near their place.

The inside of the brewery can be visited in winter with advanced reservation and I am planning to do visit then.

Going back to Minami Soma

Friday, August 10th, 2012

Minami Soma in Fukushima is my hometown. Before 3.11 in 2011, it was not as well-known as now. Now whenever I say I’m from Minami Soma, people look rather puzzled or even astonished. I sometimes feel kind of uncomfortable and tell myself “ I shouldn’t have said that.”

 

Minami Soma and Soma city have a very old festival called “ Soma Nomaoi “.

It’s at least 1,000 years old. Last year, it was a big issue for the whether to hold the festival or not. But this year the festival recovered up to 80 % with 400 horses. Many people and horses left Minami Soma last year but they came back. I’m really happy for that.

 

I came back to Minami Soma to attend a memorial service for my relatives; it was just a co-incidence. I wanted to get a ticket to see the festival but all tickets were sold out in June. This festival is usually around 23rd of July but they decided to have it on 28th, 29th and 30th  of July this year. This weekend schedule enabled more people to visit Minami Soma more easily. Some families living separated could be reunited and people who came to know this festival visited Minami Soma for the first time. In fact, as I was walking on the street some people from different areas of Japan asked me for directions.

 

Tradition is important but being flexible is also important. I wish this festival were held sometime in autumn so that more people could enjoy the festival in better weather ( it’s too hot at the end of July ). Also tourists can visit nearby hot spring while admiring autumn leaves.

 

My parents and relatives who have been living in Minami Soma are all fine.

According to my parents, moving into different and unfamiliar places is more harmful for older people since they feel tremendous stress.

   

After the memorial service, we had meal at a restaurant in a hotel. I was very surprised with the quality of food and skills of its chef. I didn’t expect this good meal in the affected Minami Soma area. All dishes were great but I liked fresh sea urchin ( from Sanriku ) and other dishes cooked in good stock.

 

 

The one big problem was transportation. We had to drive to Fukushima City to take the Shinkansen. From Minami Soma to Fukushima, it usually takes one hour and half but it took about twice as long. Joban Highway and some part of railway aren’t functioning so people have to go to Fukushima City. We also had to give priority to homecoming horses. When horses are on the road, cars have to wait. More people visited Minami Soma for the weekend and the city doesn’t have enough accommodation and many people stayed in hotels in Fukushima while taking the bus to visit Minami Soma.

 

We still have many difficult problems to overcome but I’m sure we can do it.