Our First Five Days In Japan
With a backpack and a suitcase each, we Ubered to the airport. Armond our driver, upon learning of my profession, asked me for advice dealing with his sports injuries. In front of the Bradley Terminal, a group of young protesters with megaphones were shaming Air France and Delta for transporting animals for testing. Their words and their passion evoked tears from my chest, and I couldn't hold them back.
We passed through security, walked to gate 150-B, boarded, and flew northwest just under Alaska then Siberia, and worked our way down the East Coast of Asia. Alan, from Singapore, recommended watching “Interstellar” so we did. It was great, and inspired thoughts of other worlds Charles might visit in my Podcast “The Coffeehouse: An Interdimensional Odyssey.” Alan said, “It was great, but… why would there be a black hole right there?” I speculated based on my limited knowledge of such things – that perhaps the water planet was an outer planet or a moon of an outer planet of a star which had collapsed. He watched “The Prestige.”
We arrived, and took the “Limousine Bus” to Shinjuku Station, and met with Janey’s uncle Guy, who lives there. We stayed up and talked for a while, then retired to his guest room for some much needed sleep.
In the morning, Janey’s young cousin Tano came over, and he is just delightful and fun. We four went to Edo-Tokyo Museum, and saw miniature to-scale models of old Tokyo, when it was called Edo, and absorbed the knowledge there. There was an electric screen depicting the American firebombing of Tokyo, showing where it started, and where and when it spread to which districts. An old Japanese woman was there too. Guy asked her in Japanese, “Do you remember this?” Alas, she did. She was ten years old at the time, and described the experience in detail. She said, “War is war, and back then we were enemies, but now we are not.” We thanked her, and she bowed low. I couldn’t hold back the tears.
Our first meal in Tokyo was Indian food, per Tano and my request. Watching Guy and Tano interact reminded me of my dad and I, a blend of teacher-student and peers laughing and telling inappropriate jokes. I felt right at home.
Toyoko Inn, Otsu
On the morning of our second full day in Japan, we walked around Otsu. It’s refreshingly not a tourist attraction, and we saw people beginning their days in this suburb where I am writing these words currently. Every couple blocks in any direction are Shinto Shrines. There are one or two Buddhist temples here too, and hills with trees I would like to hike through but haven’t yet.
It was late in the day, but we decided to try our hand at taking the train into Kyoto, to see what that was like. We walked a block from the station, and Shoji approached us. He was a bright spirit, and old enough to remember World War II. “Where are you from? …Amercians! Oh good, I love Americans. I don’t like the British. Well, 80% of Americans I like, and 80% of British I don’t like. Americans, most of them, are extroverted; most British are introverted. I also don’t like many Japanese, but I like many other Japanese.” He asked me if I could proof read some of his English writing. I did, and he hugged me and thanked me and called me a genius five times over the course of the conversation. He said, at one point, “The Emperor system killed three million Japanese,” and tears came to his eyes. “We still have an Emperor, but now we have a Congress to keep control.” Between him and the old woman at Edo-Tokyo I found that the national-identity guilt which I carried, and which was imparted to me by my mother and History class, was dissolving. I didn’t know they didn’t blame America, or that they had this perspective on those terrible times. Perhaps these two don’t speak for everyone here, but I felt a healing in my soul, and I didn’t know there was injury there until it was lifted. Immediately Shoji became one of my favorite people.
We walked by Higashi-Honganji Temple, where there are fearless cranes keeping watch without, and cats watching the bats flutter hither and yon.
On the second morning, we decided to get an early start. We went to Sanjusangendo Temple, built by an Emperor and a leader of Samurai 800 years ago. It burned down, and was rebuilt 700 years ago. I hadn’t been in a building so old since the cathedrals in France in 1993. We removed our shoes, and entered the temple. A thousand life sized statues of that goddess or bodhisattva Kannon stood standing with their hands in prayer. Their eyes were closed, and their third eyes were active. They had many hands – a thousand each - though each had only about 30 or so in the symbolic depiction. At the center of the room was a much larger than life statue of the Buddha seated in meditation. They were all guarded by life sized statues of ancient Hindu gods who had transformed as they migrated eastward into Japanese guardians of the Buddha and the goddess of compassion, the thousand thousand-armed Kannons. I wrote down the names of all of the guardians and sketched one of the Kannon statues.
I silently asked if my dad and my dad’s dad were there. I got back something like, “Yes, but this is for you. We had our experiences, similar and different. This is for you now.”
I bought a blank book, cherry-blossom pink, for transcribing the sutras, and the monks there stamped and inscribed words in them, which I will understand better later in life. Janey and I lit candles to offer to the temple, to the Buddha, and to the Kannons. I shook off self-consciousness and let myself stand as the statues stood, and let the connection happen. I’ll be going back there in my thoughts and dreams for the rest of my life.
We took pictures of each other by the cherry trees outside, and I felt that the trip to Japan was now complete – and the remaining 17 days are just bonus.
The woman at the gift shop saw the pink pouch and the Tiger’s Eye Mala Beads and endeavored to correct me, thinking it was a gift. She said, “This is a man’s rosary.” I said it was for me, and I was just a little weird. She laughed.
We had coffee at what is perhaps the coolest little Coffeehouse I’ve ever seen. It’s called Pine Café & Goods, and the theme is Hawaiian. We sat beside a Zen garden, and the barista ground fresh beans each time we asked for a refill.
“Seventy years ago we personally came to know the sadness and stupidity of depriving others of their lives and losing our own lives in war. Since then, we have valued our ‘peace constitution,’ a vow to never again repeat the same mistake… On this occasion, we are holding a ‘Memorial Dharma Service for All War Dead’ to once again remember all people who were deprived of their lives in war, and to vow to never engage in it.”
From there, we took a cab to the Shinto Heian Shrine, not yet ready to confront the subway system, in which there are no English translations. It was big, red, and beautiful – but crowded. They inscribed and stamped page 2 of my pink book. I put a fallen cherry blossom on the page, and took a small rock from the ground, which I recognized as quartz speckled with pyrite.
Today is our fourth full day in Japan, and Janey isn’t feeling well, so we’re laying low and staying here in Otsu. If you’re into prayers, healing work, or energy work, please send some good vibes her way. I’ll let you know in a few days how the next few days go.
Arigato Gozaimas(u), and Namaste,
Post Script: For the rest of the trip, feel free to check out Janey & my 90 minute Podcast episode on our new Podcast entitled: Coffee & Fireworks