Japan Travel – Rotary Group Study Exchange Goes to Japan, Article Twelve

The international organization known as Rotary promotes yearly travel that all people between the ages of 26 and 40, male and female, and of all backgrounds – should know about – because it is a Rotary-funded six week study aboard and anyone can apply to be a part of this significant life experience. If you are this age group – you could enjoy the kind of experience that is described in my notes in this article. To find out more about the program go to the international Rotary website and search for GSE – Group Study Exchange – and contact your local Rotary Club for more information.

Our adventures continued:

May 3rd – Tuesday:

Today was a very rare treat for all of us – it’s fun to have guests visit because you may go places that you wouldn’t in your daily life – and that was the case today – even our Japanese hosts would not be able to have this experience unless it was specially arranged. Mika has known Mr. Ogawa, in the International Department at City Hall, for a long time – and he arranged for us to visit in the Zen Buddhist Temple – where first of all, no women are received, and second where the public is not invited – but we were treated to a very privileged experience. By taxi – we went to the oldest Zen Buddhist Temple in Japan – and we were greeted by Byakuhou Hosokawa, the Zen Master – as he stood in his long robes in the Japanese style Zen garden inside the gate and the walled community. (6-1 Gokusho, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka City 812-0037 Japan).

The master was bald – like Zen masters should be – and had the in-the-moment calm that Zen masters should have – I liked him right away – and felt myself want to stand next to his presence. There were so many questions that I wanted to ask – like what someone would feel at the elbow of a master – and not for the asking at this moment. We parted and down a stone path – entered a traditional Japanese sliding door building – with meditation cushions for us all. This was the Saikouji Temple. I chose a cushion in the corner – and the monk, Genmyou Iso, sat in a full lotus position across from me – to lead in a meditation ceremony. He knew that the Americans would have trouble sitting in mediation – and broke up the sequence – but I fall deeply into mediation and was thankful for the opportunity to be gone for twenty minutes – and didn’t mind that the rest were squirming. Coming out of the meditation – I felt a stinging whack on my shoulder, and then one on the other shoulder – with some kind long flexible sticks – and the monk had whacked my shoulders. He explained that it was part of the process – not only to scold but to encourage students in the process of enlightenment. When asked – Antonio, Harry, Monica, Julia, Mika and Dr. Funakoshi – all accepted the thrashing – as if it would dash away the foolish self.

As I said – this was a most unusual experience that we were blessed with – and we were ushered next through a gate and into the Shoufuku-ji Temple – across the wooden floor corridors to the “Star Gathering Room” – which is a room that no monks-in-training are allowed to enter – only the masters. Here Sokyo Shimura (a lovely Japanese woman in her spring green kimono) – introduced the traditional tea ceremony – and instructed us. Byakuhou Hosokama, the Zen master sat formally on the floor in the front of the square room – and each of us was invited to join around the room. She told us to sit formally also, as the sweet Japanese cakes were presented – three bowls of individually decorated cakes were placed – and we each chose and passed the bowl saying (something like “sorry for taking before you”) in a phrase to our neighbor. I chose a green cake that looked like a leaf – and tasted of sweet bean paste that I ate from the paper with chopsticks. Young women in kimonos came in to prepare the tea – and the Zen master explained that the green tea is the finest and grown by the Temple. Each of us was served tea – and we turned the cup in the traditional style to show the design of the cup to the others – and drink the flavorful tea. Then we bowed to admire the pottery of the cups – graciously.

The Zen Master enjoyed us too – and this was our luck – because we traveled the halls by way of the wooden floors – and to the very special national archives treasure room – where we saw a big wooden hand-carved piece from the emperor of China who certified this temple as the first Zen Temple in Japan. There were books and carved statues – and one artifact that the Master said had a small piece of the bone of the Buddha. In the center of the third room was a large bell that hung at one time in the garden of the Temple – and is a 1000 year old Korean bell – which is rung with a big wooden log – and we enjoyed it’s sounds. The gardens of the Temple were groomed with precision – the pebbles in finely tuned rows and circles – and the trees cut back in Japanese style to a shape. We wanted to linger in the quiet moments of the garden, the nature, the beauty, the order – the history, the philosophy, the spirit, the moment – and the Zen Master watched at the Gate until we were gone in the distance.

We were treated to lunch around the corner and down a side street – at Murata Restaurant – 291-0894 -and handmade soba noodles and tempura. Dr. Funakoshi and I sat at the bar – and the others sat with Mika at the table. We added the paste and shavings to the soy sauce before dipping the soba noodles – and enjoyed the hot tempura – all good. We talked about Dr. Funakoshi’s education in the States – and how many of our hosts have had some U.S. education.

Today is the start of the Dontaku Festival in Fukuoka – and the whole City is alive for the festival that lasts for two days – gathering 30,000 participants and two million people. The streets are lined with festivities as we leave the restaurant – and head to the parade route to see kids and adults parading in this colorful event. Such a full day – and Julia and Monica have new host families again this evening. There will be lots of thanking to do after this trip.

This article is a series — so read on — and many days follow in our splendid adventure!