Originally Published: June 9, 2013 by remingtoncooney | There’s nothing quite like waking up thinking you’re at home, in your own bed, and that it’s just another day, only to suddenly realize that home is now a not so familiar place and something altogether new has begun. I’m writing this, from my Japanese abode: a fairly modern room in a fairly modern house, in Murasakino, Kyoto. I still have a few familiar comforts: my iPhone, my lap top; a guitar with strings that haven’t been changed in 8 years, which my host-family kindly lent me, when I informed them that I play.
And then there’s the less familiar things: the fact that my host-family can hardly speak English, and I can hardly speak Japanese; that my chopstick skills are still amateur despite having grown up in Singapore; that I can’t read kanji, hiragana, or katakana, so signpost identification consists of matching squiggly lines with other squiggly lines, as if it were some glorified puzzle, etc, etc (however, I’m getting very good at saying arigato and hai).
Most of this first week has been spent getting acquainted with the university (Doshisha university), with the classes that I’m taking (Eastern Religions and Japanese History), and getting to know the other exchange students on this course. And while this is an extremely important part of my trip, there’s also another very different reason that I’m here: to re-acquaint myself with something that I left behind many life times ago; for Kyoto feels eerily more like home than an introductory week would suggest. And I’ve come here with a personal intention of finding what really lies at the heart of my spiritual practice; underneath all these layers of my analytical mind and my old, rigid habits, sits something so very still – an inner kind of magic. It’s label-less and I have every intention of keeping it that way. Perhaps that’s why I came here? To drop my labels that I so enthusiastically plaster onto all my daily ongoings.
Today I woke early: 5.45 am to catch the bus down to Myoshinji – a complex of 27 temples standing proud, side by side. I got lost along the way, walking the backstreets in my sweats and Birkenstocks; knocking on old wooden doors and pointing to my map with flailing hands as sleepy Japanese men directed me down the road.
I arrive at Myoshinji. The time? 7.10 am. I’ve missed morning zazen (seated meditation). But that’s the least of my troubles. There are 27 temples and I have no idea which one I’m signed up for. I walk into Ryosen-an.
“Konichiwa,” I say. A monk eating his breakfast emerges from around the corner. He bows, and says something in Japanese.
“English”, I say, “can you speak English? I want to sit zazen.”
He points to a temple down the path: “Zazen, zazen.” and he nods.
Hastily, I walk down to Shoku-in temple. I see the sign on the gate – the first sign in English that I’ve seen so far – Zazen for english speaking students.
This is it, I think. At long last, I’ve arrived. I knock on the door. Even though I’ve missed the morning meditation, I still plan to introduce myself to the abbot. The door opens and a Japanese man dressed in a red ‘Abercrombie and Fitch’ t-shirt answers.
“Hello,” he says. He has an slightly American-ized accent.
“Hi, I’m here to do zazen with your students.”
“We don’t sit everyday,” he says.
“Oh ok, when will you be sitting next?” I ask.
“You’ll have to check the schedule on our website.”
He points to a poster on the door of the temple – http://www.shunkoin.com – and next to it is a photograph of a bunch of white people sitting in a line, in crossed legged positions.
And it hits me. This is the tourist temple. Great.
Nevertheless, I needed a starting point and this was it. Hopefully, as my Japanese progresses, and my connections increase, I’ll actually meet an abbot in robes, instead of meditating next to a guy in bermuda shorts.
What is this?
Writings from the Summer of 2013 during study abroad in Kyoto, Japan.