Thursday, December 28, 2006
Holidays in Japan
The current update so far… (Jane and I will continue our adventures until Jan. 5)
My sister Jane and cousin Katie visited me for the holidays. This, I feel, was a great sacrifice on their part, not being with their families and friends on Christmas, so, I wanted to make their vacation to Japan the best that it could be. My Job was also to kind of prove to them that Japan is a very magical place full of miracles and surprises, thus crediting my decision to live here another 2 or 3 years. So I planned a short tour to as many sacred places in Japan as possible on a relatively cheap budget. I chose to stay in and around Shikoku, to save money and time (no Tokyo or Kyushu this trip). Although I did dicide to include a ride on the Shinkansen, or what we call the "Bullet Train," which was very expensive, and softly skated across the Japanese landscape, from Himeji to Kyoto, smooth and fast as a dragon.
First, I picked up Jane in Osaka on the 16th and we stayed there two nights waiting for Kate to arrive on the 18th. Luckily, my friend Ben put us up in his one room appartment for the weekend. The first morning we went to see one of Ben’s Aikido practices. His local Aikido Dojo is actually the Dojo Steven Segal built while living in Japan, before he became an actor. Now it's run by his beautiful, and powerful, ex-wife, pictured standing next to Ben. Later that day Jane and I watch a Steven Segal movie in Ben’s appartment: The…something Man. The Glimmer Man, I forgot the name for a second, it wasn't very good, but he did finger his Tibetan prayer-beads through the entire film, giving it a kind of spooky quality for me, because whenever I see prayer beads I trained myself to bring attention to the clear nature of mind, so the movie turned into a strange kind of prolonged meditation, back and forth, back and forth, from the drama and action going on in the space of mind to an awareness of the space of mind. We also saw the Osaka Castle and America Town—a shopping district thick with modern Japanese culture (fashion, haircuts, music, and art). America town is a trip. Check it out if you can.
When my cousin Katie arrived we took the overnight Ferry to Niihama. Thankfully Yasu, the Super Friend, was at the port at 8:30 in the morning to pick us up and play all day. He was shining, as usual. And, as usual, his kindness and gentleness caused Jane and Katie to fall into a delightful love, jut like I thought it would. Everyone falls in love with Yasu because he is a real angle.
We ate lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, visited my office and boss (who gave me a hundred bucks in yen and said “Merry Christmas. Use this for drinks!”), the Zen monastery where I sometimes meditate on Sundays, and one of the four waterfalls nestled deep in mountains. Leaving the waterfall we saw a large, red-faced monkey run acros the road.
Little did we know, it would not be our last.
I took them to Matsuyama, saw the castle and onsen, then to Hiroshima, where we ate Okonomiyaki and visited the Peace Park and Museum. One memorable object in the museum was a clump of burnt skin and leftover fingernails once part of a little boy. His mother kept them for his father for when he came back from fighting in the war. It was said that this boy was so thirsty he sucked the puss from his burnt fingers. At the museum I found many stories and pictures about people so thirsty they went to the river and laid down to drink, only to die shortly after, all lying along the banks with their heads in the water. And, the story goes that when the tide came in from the sea, it picked up their burnt bodies and carried them away. Bodies were also found floating in water troughs, ponds, and rice patties. I bought a book of drawings and paintings by Hiroshima survivors. I'll post some of the drawings later. They are quite telling.
Then we went to Miyajima, a sacred island primarily dedicated to the Goddesses. This island, as many of you know, is home to many friendly, free-roaming deer, and some of the most amazing, most beautiful shrines and temples…There is a temple there called Daisho-in, a Shingon Buddhist temple, once visited by Kukai, and, surprisingly, also by the Dalai Lama. I was a bit confused when I saw pictures of His Holiness on the walls of the little gift area inside the entrance, as well as a Tibetan Buddhist teaching throne with his picture propped up on the top of it, signifying the fact that he had actually taught there recently. Also inside the main temple hall was a sand mandala created by Tibetan Monks. Also, all across the island I saw for the first time an almost obsessive ritual of draping prayer beads around some of the Buddhist sculptures. I took many pictures of the beautiful beads wrapped around the gesturing hands, frozen in wood or stone. Each one of the sculptures then had an even more eerie realness, the details so refined. Here are some close-ups.
We then visited Kieran in Himeji, saw the famous Castle there, and then headed over to Kyoto, which I kind of thought would probably be the highlight of the entire trip.
As it turned out, I was right.
Kyoto performed beautifully for us, dancing and singing and revealing her secret passageways and cemeteries deep inside her dark wooden interiors, her polished precious stone breasts, golden fingers, cobblestone legs, and necklaces made from tunnels of orange gates wondering madly into the forests of her moss-covered mind.
After walking through one such tunnel, I tried to start a conversation with Jane: "Isn’t it profound that these are TUNNLES made out of GATES, so that it's as if you are perpetually passing though a gate, from one side or experience to another, endlessly, just like we do in our lives or Bardos?” She was not impressed with my idea.
In fact, traveling with my sister and cousin was very humbling. It was painfully humbling sometimes, because, you know, I have an ego bigger than the sun at times and both my sister and cousin are so much smarter than me and know me well enough to see when I'm full of shit. And not "full of shit" meaning I'm lying or not being totally honest, but full of shit as in full of unnecessary garbage that doesn't need to be said. “David, most of the time you talk just so you can here yourself talking” my cousin told me with a striking authority one day on the train after I had tried to defend the importance of the moral position ascerted by Christian Scientists in a little debate with Kieran. But God, dispite me sounding like a total nerd, we all had great conversations! The whole trip was filled with childhood memories; good conversations, little fights and flurries, early spring winds and biting winter rain, sleeping deer, dogs in sweaters, and stairs in nature. And, icing on the cake was Rick Winfry, who met us at Nijo castle (famouse for the nightengale floors).
Many stories from Kyoto I will reserve for the oral tradition, but I must tell you about Christmas Night when we met a few of my absolutely beautiful friends for a night of dancing to Beatles and Stones music. It was Beatles/Stones night, and the djs played all the best, and we were dancing hard and wild into the dark cold Christmas night. And then, to our surprise, a Beatles cover band appeared and played live music from the soul of the Sixties, songs that acted as collective archetypes pulling us all into an ecstatic embrace of song lyrics, melodies, rhythms, and cross-cultural friendships. The club was called the Metro.
Rick’s last day in Kyoto we went to Monkey Mountain, spent some quality time with our distant relatives. The baby Monkeys were very cute. I wanted play with them, but I was afraid they’d hurt me. We also stumbled upon this temple next to Sanjusangendo famous for the visible blood stains across its ceiling. The temple was built using wood soaked with blood from and ancient castle floor onto when 310 samurai committed ritual suicide. A cute old Japanese lady pointed out to us the dark red outlines of hands, heads, arms and legs. It was creepy and beautiful and worth telling you about, I think. Also, we saw Charlotte’s Web, which was beautiful and made me cry.
Well, that's all for now.
Posted by David at 9:25 PM
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