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Last night was our last night at the monastery in Mt. Koya. Mt Koya is the center of Shingon Buddhism, a sect introduced to Japan in 805AD by Kukai (also known as Kobo Daishi), one of Japan’s most significant religious figures. Mt. Koya is also the site of Kukai’s mausoleum and the start of Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
We have been staying at a Shukubo (authentic temple lodging and Buddhist monastery) and have a huge tatami room for yoga. It’s not the easiest place to stay, but we have had rich experiences here. The monastery is very spartan. Monk-like living quarters. Very authentic. We sleep on futon mats placed over the tatami mats. Our shared bathrooms are a schlep down the hall. And if you prefer a shared bathroom that has Western-style toilets, and has one room designated for women and the other for men, then it is worth your while to wind your way down two flights of stairs, across long hallways and over an outdoor bridge (in the frigid weather at night) and across long corridors that are not heated and walled in by paper windows. In this special bathroom, you will find a heated toilet seat and all is clean and pleasant. I think it was worth the hike! Bathing is in a sento (one for men and one for women) and the hours for hot water are restricted between 4:30pm and 9pm. Our life here is filled with the monks’ chanting, prayer and fire ceremony in the morning, a walk through the mysterious ancient forested Buddhist cemetery Okunoin, making Buddhist prayer bead bracelets, visiting various temples and shrines, seeing gorgeous autumn leaves. The chanting, prayer, and fire ceremony was a deeply meditative and powerful experience for all of us. Here we experience sunny days that warm the heart and fill your vision with views of brilliant red maple leaves and golden ginko leaves, and cold nights that bring frost over tiled roofs and pine branches.
To counter the purity of vegan meals and the simplicity of sleeping on futon beds spread over tatami mats within a room with paper doors (shoji) and paper screened windows, many of us gather at night to enjoy clandestine sake/whiskey/wine. These furtive parties take place in Kevin’s “abode” or in the Richardson’s tatami “suite”. We sit on cushions piled high. We drink the bootleg from our tea cups. Here on this most sacred Buddhist mountain in the world, it may be 34 degrees Fahrenheit outside at night, but, indoors, we embrace the warmth of our group as well as the warmth from the heater in the corner of the tatami room. Our hearts are full and our spirits rich.
Oh, Japan! You are slipping away too quickly….I hear gongs in the distant night as I pull the covers tight and fall asleep. And again, upon waking, I hear the gongs as the monks gather to chant at 6am.
Six years ago, I wrote a blog post about Peace Park in Seattle. If you blink you will miss this gem of a park because it is so tiny. The park embraces the story of Sadoko, a short term survivor of the Hiroshima bombing. Below is what I wrote six years ago on my blog post:
I have been wanting to go over to Peace Park for a while, so off we went. If you blink, you just might miss Peace Park! It is alongside a busy road, the University bridge, and an on-ramp. I pass this park a few times a week on my way to teach yoga classes at St. Joe’s, but I have never really stopped and visited the park.
“Peace Park was the dream of Dr. Floyd Schmoe, who after winning the Hiroshima Peace Prize in 1998 used the $5,000 prize money to clear a small lot near the University of Washington. From a pile of wrecked cars, garbage, and brush, he worked with community volunteers to build the beautiful Peace Park.”
The main feature of Peace Park is the sculpture, Sadako and the Thousand Cranes, created in 1990 by artist Daryl Smith. The statue is a life-size bronze of Sadako Sasaki, the young Japanese girl who survived the Hiroshima bombing only to die of radiation sickness at age 12. She lived one mile from Ground Zero.
“Sadako Sasaki was a Japanese girl living in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan on August 6, 1945. In 1955, at age 11, Sadako was diagnosed with leukemia, cancer caused by the atomic bomb.
While in the hospital, Sadako started to fold paper cranes. In Japan, there is a belief that if you fold 1000 paper cranes, then your wish will come true. Sadako spent 14 months in the hospital, folding paper cranes with whatever paper she could get. Her wish was that she would get well again. Sadako also wished for an end to all suffering and to attain peace and healing to the victims of the world.
Sadako died on October 25, 1955, she was 12 years old and had folded over 1300 paper cranes. Sadako’s friends and classmates raised money to build a memorial in honor of Sadako and other atomic bomb victims. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial was completed in 1958 and has a statue of Sadako holding a golden crane. At the base is a plaque that says:
This is our cry.
This is our prayer.
Peace in the world.
In Seattle, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Dr. Floyd Schmoe, built a life-size statue of Sadako. The statue was unveiled on August 6, 1990, 45 years after the bombing of Hiroshima. The statue is in the Seattle Peace Park and often has paper cranes draped over it.”
I found Sadako’s story very poignant and moving! Right after the Japan earthquake, there were so many paper cranes covering Sadako that the statue itself was hard to see. I could only see the statue covered by paper cranes from the car, (soggy paper cranes because of the rain!) and I have felt inspired to come to the park on foot ever since. Yesterday, we found Sadako covered with thousands of fresh paper cranes. There were a dozen roses at her feet.
Two days ago, we visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum in Hiroshima, Japan. To see the memorial is necessary. To see it is a punch in the gut. The museum displays clearly show the horror of war and the devastation of the A-Bomb. The mass human suffering is relived as you walk through the galleries.
There were hundreds of school children with their notebooks, observing and taking notes. The presence of children, who are so innocent and who have never experienced war, gave me hope for a more peaceful world. I watched them hover over Sadoko’s photographs, looking at horror at her tattered school uniform, reading her pleas for peace, looking at the display of folded 1000 paper cranes.
- On August 6, 1945, during World War II (1939-45), an American B-29 bomber dropped the world’s first deployed atomic bomb over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The explosion wiped out 90 percent of the city and immediately killed 80,000 people; tens of thousands more would later die of radiation exposure.
- The Gingko Biloba species of tree is 270 million years old. It rarely suffers disease or insect attack and was one of the only living things to survive the Hiroshima nuclear bombing. The trees healed quickly and are still alive today.
- The oleander is the official flower of the city of Hiroshima because it was the first thing to bloom again after the explosion of the atomic bomb in 1945.
- The Flame of Peace in Hiroshima, Japan has burned since 1964 in honor of the victims and will be extinguished only when all nuclear weapons are removed from the world and the Earth is free from nuclear threat.
The peace park was established in 1949 and serves as a symbol of peace. The museum and park were built to remind future generations of the terror of war and the terror brought on by atomic bombings.
A commitment to peace (written by the Survivors of Hiroshima):
We cannot simply wait.
Who will make this world peaceful?
The future, overwhelming with hope and dreams,
Is something that we, every single one of us, shape.
We treasure life and desire peace.
Below are my photos from two days ago:
Rick lived in Himeji for over thirteen months. He spent a lot of time walking around the moat, admiring the castle, photographing it and the surrounding grounds in all seasons. He was hired by the city of Himeji to write all the English signage on the castle grounds and within the castle. That was over thirty years ago, not too long before I met him in Chiba.
Today the signage is different. There are signage warnings with drawings depicting how using selfie sticks can lead to electrocution if the stick hits an electrical wire. There are warnings not to talk and text with drawings that show a texting-walking figure colliding with a wall. Modernization has taken root, but the castle itself remains a preserved beauty.
The city of Himeji was hit by air raids twice during WWII and the town was in ashes. However, the snow-white Himeji Castle was miraculously unharmed by the air raids of WWII. In fact, wars, fires, and natural disasters have left this castle entirely intact and have not affected the structure in any way! Last year the castle was fully renovated, fortified, painted, and earthquake-proofed. Even though yesterday was a national holiday and the castle was absolutely packed with other visitors, we felt so lucky to be able to walk inside and see this incredible structure!
Himeji Castle was build over 600 years ago (the building of the castle started in 1331). This national treasure, also known as the White Heron (some refer to it as a white egret), is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It comes complete with a moat, 21 gates, 32 tall stone curving walls, firing holes, towers, thick latticed lacquered windows, wooden flooring, and incredible tile work on the roof bearing eight different family crests on the ridge end-tiles. Himeji Castle offers unique defenses that many other Japanese castles do not include, such as the path maze leading to the castle:
The path maze to the main keep includes many dead ends, to prevent attackers from entering and allowing those inside to defend much more effectively.
It took us about 45 minutes to walk through the castle. The views from the top were breathtaking. We could not have had a more beautiful day to do this tour.
The best way to see Kyoto’s Bamboo Forest? Cycle your way through. This blog is short…I have about 15 minutes to pack my bags and take off!
I have fallen behind in my blogging! We are no longer in Kyoto, but spent 4 incredible nights there. Below are photos from some of the highlights of our visit to the Gion district of Kyoto. Whenever I go somewhere I love, I always say, “I could live here!” Well, I could live in Kyoto and never grow tired of exploring this fascinating city with all of its rich culture. Gion is the entertainment district of the city. It is also known as the Geisha District.
We took the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Kyoto. This is the high speed train. The average delay of the shinkansen in ONE MINUTE. It basically runs on time! Exactly on time. When it arrives at the station, we have exactly TWO minutes to board. There is no messing around. You get on and the train takes off! The shinkansen bullet train began operating 50 years ago, nine days before the opening ceremony of the first Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo (1964). Since then, the bullet trains have carried 5.6 billion passengers between Tokyo and Osaka. It reaches speeds of 311 mph.
Kyoto was largely untouched by World War II bombing, so many of its gorgeous ancient temples, shrines, and tea houses are perfectly preserved. It is located in a peaceful green alley surrounded by mountains on three sides. 17 of historic monuments of ancient Kyoto are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Kyoto is the cultural and spiritual heart of Japan. Its renowned silk industry dates back to 794. Over 30 million people a year come to soak up the Kyoto experience, to visit more than 2000 temples and marvel at the Zen gardens and bamboo forests. I feel so fortunate to be among the 30 million visitors!
More information on the instrument Shamisen
Ms. Harumi Shimazaki was our professional Koto Player and is pictured above performing for us. We were so lucky to have a private performance by her. Here is her website. It is in Japanese, but there is an English tab you can click to see her bio in English. There are also two video clips on this site where you can see her playing. I was so happy to hear that she does yoga. In fact, she told me that she LOVES yoga. Playing KOTO is very difficult. You have to use your entire body strength to play so she gets great relief and calms her mind with her yoga practice!
If you are squeamish, vegetarian, or vegan, I think this blog post may not be for you.
It is late and I must be up early tomorrow morning for yoga and for another full day of activities here in Japan, so will keep my writing on the short side. I have fallen behind on my blog posts. We went to Tsukiji a few days ago.
The last week has flown by. It was filled with re-discovering Tokyo and meeting up with my Japanese friends. Such an incredible week. And tonight we have our welcome party with a fabulous group of yogi-fellow adventurers gathering from Washington, Oregon, Florida, Toronto (Ontario), and Vancouver (B.C.)!
Below are a few more photos from yesterday…
Snow Lake is special, a perfect hike. Today we hiked 7.2 miles to Snow Lake and gained an altitude of 1,800 feet. The trail goes through old growth forest and there was still snow in some higher areas. A friend went up a few weeks ago and reported there was still much snow on the trail and at the lake. By contrast, my group and I never walked on snow during today’s hike. The trail head is only 53 miles outside of Seattle, so it makes for a very popular hike. The highest point, where we had lunch, is at 4,440 feet. It was quite chilly and windy at the highest point, where we had great views of the mountains and Snow Lake.
Being the 4th of July weekend, the trail was full of other people enjoying the beauty of this hike. It didn’t both me one bit to see so many other people and their dogs hiking up and down the trails. Our own group was large, the largest group I have hiked with in Washington. We were 10 people, including 4 out of town friends.
Enjoy the photos below from today’s hike:
I am back home now, terribly jet lagged, my head swirling with images of India. I still have so much to write about and many photos to post. And yet, my confused mind wonders if it is 7 pm or is it 7am?
I came across this poem by Mary Oliver from her book, A Thousand Mornings, written when she was in India. I read this poem to my group on the bus, as we were heading to the airport on departure day. Though we did not go to Varanasi on this tour, we saw many such images of people living their lives along the river, especially on the day we rode canoes along the backwaters in Kerala.
Mostly I love the last line of the poem below, “Pray God I remember this.” It is also my prayer. I hope to always remember the precious memories of all that I lived and experienced in India:
Early in the morning we crossed the ghat,
where fires were still smoldering,
and gazed, with our Western minds, into the Ganges.
A woman was standing in the river up to her waist;
she was lifting handfuls of water and spilling it
over her body, slowly and many times,
as if until there came some moment
of inner satisfaction between her own life and the river’s.
Then she dipped a vessel she had brought with her
and carried it filled with water back across the ghat,
no doubt to refresh some shrine near where she lives,
for this is the holy city of Shiva, maker
of the world, and this is his river.
I can’t say much more, except that it all happened
in silence and peaceful simplicity, and something that felt
like that bliss of a certainty and a life lived
in accordance with that certainty.
I must remember this, I thought, as we fly back
Pray God I remember this.