Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The 2006 School Trip, Day Three

It’s our first morning at the temple. We get to sleep in a bit (thank goodness), and breakfast contains no meat and only a tiny bit of eggs. We're getting off to a very good start.

Okay. It's time for everyone's favorite: open tour day in Kyoto! (Japanese court music fanfare) The kids separate into groups and go off to follow their own individual itineraries. As for the teachers, we have nothing in particular planned for this year. It is suggested that we stick with our official role and go patrol some of the places students are scheduled to visit to make sure they're actually following their itineraries instead of popping off to Universal Studios. I point out that a large number of the student groups are going to Ginkaku-Ji (銀閣寺 - the Silver Pavilion) first and suggest some of us head in that direction. The other teachers think it's a wonderful idea and promptly send me off by myself while they prepare to go somewhere else (purely for their own sightseeing pleasure, of course). I am assigned my own chartered taxi whose driver is authorized to be my guide, assistant, and expense account. So naturally, as soon as I arrive at Ginkaku-Ji I get a call from "home base" telling me to send the taxi back so the other teachers can use it. In short, I've been exiled, hijacked, and left entirely to my own devices (and expense) by my trusted coworkers! Oh, well. At least it's not raining.

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I head up the hill of gift shops to the Silver Pavilion and run into a whole bunch of our students. A few of them are not very pleased to see me (since I can see what they’re doing…or not doing), but some of the others get excited at my being there and happily chat me up, ask for English advice, and have me take their pictures. Then I run around in the temple compound.

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The Silver Pavilion isn't really silver at all. It was originally a country villa/private Zen study built in imitation of the larger and much fancier Kinkakuji (金閣寺 - the Golden Pavilion) by yet another retired shogun, but he ran out of money before he could have the planned silver leaf applied. Therefore, it's plain (old-looking) wood. However, the garden that surrounds it is fantastic! It's a veritable wonderland of moss including a few dozen different varieties (displayed and explained in detail). As with the Golden Pavilion, it was converted to a Zen temple after the retired shogun’s death and continues to serve as such to this day.

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Anyway, I happily hang out there chatting with students and taking their pictures till they leave...and head right for the gift and ice cream shops. I decide to be proper, do my stated job, and report back to "home base", but I get laughed at and told I don't really have to worry about what the students are doing. (For %#$& sake…am I the only one in this group who takes his responsibilities seriously?) So much for the "patrol". I say "fuggit" and take a walk down the nearby "Philosopher's Walk" (哲学の道 - Tetsugaku no Michi) to see two famous and very different temples, Zenrin-Ji and Nanzen-Ji.

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Zenrin-Ji (禅森寺), also known as Eikan-do (永観堂), is NOT a Zen temple. It was originally built in the 9th century as a temple of the Shingon (esoteric Buddhism) sect, but it switched to the Jodo Pure Land form of Buddhism in the 15th century and has remained so ever since. It has several buildings plus a garden, but they are packed in so close together and nestled so snugly among the trees that it's impossible to get a good view of any of the structures except the front gate without standing right next to them. Still, there are many surprises, such as the famous statue of Amida Buddha looking back over his shoulder and a curving (“dragon-shaped”) staircase of fragrant cypress wood climbing the nearby cliff face to a pagoda and the hall where the "Looking-Back Buddha" is usually kept. A steady chanting of the Nenbutsu can be heard from the main hall, making the already eerie atmosphere even more interesting.

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Nanzen-Ji (南禅寺) is quite different. It is a Zen temple, one of the biggest, and its buildings are bold, massive, and right there in plain sight. They are also spread out all over the place. There's not so much in terms of clear, obvious things to see, since Zen focuses more on meditation than praying to images, but, true to Zen form, the gardens are gorgeous...if a bit packed in (making them seem hardly worth the mandatory "donation" to get in. At least they let me into the main one free since I'm a teacher "on patrol"). Nanzen-Ji is also unique in that it has a large, brick, 19th-century aqueduct, which I follow up the hill and soon find myself hiking through forest, then circling a water pump and treatment station, and finally appearing in a park full of parents and children who all stare at me suspiciously until I leave.

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Circling back, I check out a few smaller temples I happen upon along the way and find some beautiful, hidden treasures that aren't crowded. (I also get ripped off once...attracted by a sign saying “special showing”, but after I pay and go inside I find another sign saying the “special showing” costs extra and is by reservation only.) It is past 1:30 when I get back on the Philosopher's Walk, but I don't really feel like eating, so I just have some dango (pounded rice dumplings) and maccha (extra-strong green tea...picture green espresso) before continuing on my way. By the time I arrive back at the Silver Pavilion I have been walking a total of five hours with only a few minor rest stops in between.

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Now I decide to hop a taxi (which winds up costing a lot) and head out to Myoshin-Ji (妙心寺). I tried to go there a couple of years ago, but we went there to find it closed to the public. This time I was a bit luckier. The Myoshin-Ji complex doesn't just include the massive (closed) buildings of Myoshin-Ji itself. It also encompasses dozens of smaller satellite temples established by various temple abbots over the centuries. (The reason is that the Myoshin-Ji branch of Rinzai Zen Buddhism allows priests a lot of freedom to concoct their own methods.) Each little temple has its own treasures, and each is open during a different period of the year. Today I am able to visit four of them before I'm forced to give up, hustle out, and catch a taxi back to the hotel just in the nick of time. Each has its own artwork, architectural features, and Buddhist images, but since it's a Zen complex the main focus is on the various gardens. They are all beautiful in different ways, but, again, sometimes they seem a bit small for the "donation" I'm forced to pay to get in. (I could have joined a guided tour of the main buildings of Myoshin-Ji itself, but, again, time didn't allow it.) I end up leaving the sprawling complex just as a whole army of monks in full regalia comes in. The driver of my taxi, which is an interesting hybrid subcompact, is a very entertaining character, and if I had any doubts about my temple visits being worth the effort and cost, he dispelled them all.

Moody is completely worn out.

Dinner is sukiyaki. Naturally, that means lots of beef, and everything is dipped in raw eggs.
My diet is a disaster, but at least I'm eating well...

…but tonight I drink alone. It’s probably better that way. I’m not so sure I want to associate with the other teachers right now.


  • I haven't read through your journey yet, but I'm already fascinated by your cute students. The girls seem to alwys enjoy posing with that kind of "cute" pose (with either one, or two fingers pointing at their cheeks). The boys seem to prefer the "laid-back" look...

    Looking at them made me realize how young they are and how old I've become... sob sob.. =_=!!

    ok, now i will read your post.

    (hey, my word verification comes out as "wallyzit"...)

    By Blogger YD, at 1:02 AM  

  • Let's try that again...

    If they serve your dango and it is too hot, you can always Fandango.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 5:59 AM  

  • Ah.. day 3!!!

    Sukiyaki.. long time, haven't eaten it again...

    my word verification:
    w hy
    l ife
    a re

    Can you help?

    By Blogger Selba, at 4:59 PM  

  • w hy
    l ife
    r ealities
    a re
    c ruel
    f igures
    n ot
    a nymore

    Naaahhh...that was boring...

    w hy
    l ife
    r ules
    a re
    c oming
    f rom
    n orth
    a merica

    Oops...does that sound political?

    w hy do you always say
    l ife won't be what it may?
    r emember all those trials
    a re here but for a while.
    c hase all those little dreams;
    f orget how bad it seems
    n o matter what you face,
    a lways take it with grace.

    Is that better?

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 9:47 PM  

  • I think I would be interested to look at all the types of mosses. Moss is such a friendly, humble sort of thing.
    Aha, hence you find it in a Zen garden...!?

    It sounds as though Japan sucks money out of you even faster than London does!

    I can't believe the number of trials and tribulations you go through with those teachers. Apart from being a responsible family man married to a local, what keeps you at that school and in Japan?

    I think I will finally give this a go:

    By Blogger Olivia, at 11:05 PM  

  • Hey Minstrel, just been looking at your photos.
    tell me - I use Flickr which I use for all my blog pics. I also have Photobucket but am not that keen on it.

    I see you use Webshots - can you tell me about it? Maybe even persuade me to try and why?

    By Blogger Olivia, at 11:19 PM  

  • Olivia, it's hard for me to make a fair recommendation because I have no experience with either Flickr or Photobucket, and my use of Webshots is largely incidental.

    A number of years ago I saw Webshots Desktop on the computer of one of my coworkers here at the academy. I fell in love with it, so I downloaded and installed it on my home box. Unfortunately, when I started having serious problems with disk space and performance (also related to disk space, apparently) I uninstalled Webshots Desktop, but I kept my account alive (and continued receiving the weekly photo collection mailings) just in case. I doubled the size of my C partition, so space and performance became no longer an issue, but I put off reinstalling WD for a number of reasons.

    Ironically, the day I decided to reinstall Webshots Desktop (after receiving a mailer with some really cool photos I liked) was the same day I received the notice that BloggerBot was being terminated. That's when I realized, "Hey...I've had an active Webshots photo album account languishing on their servers for the past four or so years! Why don't I just use it?" So I called up my account (for the first time ever), uploaded some of my trip photos, and voila!

    Webshots seems to be easy to use, and it has a nice photo-sharing system with lots of members (and most of their albums are free for general use). I also like their pro shots gallery, whose photos I can download for use as my desktop wallpaper with no fuss. However, as I said, I really can't compare it to other services because I know nothing about them.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 1:43 PM  

  • BRAVO!!! you are really good!!! *claps*

    I like them all!!!
    the first, kinda crossed in my mind but I can't put in words,
    the second one is funny though :)
    yup, and the third is a wise one.

    By Blogger Selba, at 1:44 PM  

  • I am reliving our trip to Kyoto in spring 2004 through your posts. We missed Eikando, but liked that whole area around the Philosopher's Walk.
    I remember the gate at Nanzen-ji being huge and coming down from it was a tad scary in stocking feet on the super steep wood stairway, but the view was worth it.

    Myoshin-ji is way across town, but worth it. Like walking through an entire neighborhood.

    Being abandonded to your own devices in Kyoto - there are many worse fates! I'd submit the expenses anyway.

    Thanks for the great narative (as usual).

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 5:23 PM  

  • dipping beef in raw eggs doesn't sound good at all... can't imagine eating such! don't ya worry about eating raw eggs? but hey... lots of ppl do it every morning.

    the teachers sound rude and unfriendly. but at least you had time to yourself and made the most of it. the pics are great. i'd love to see that stuff... it looks very peaceful, especially w/ the chanting in the background. very nice.

    By Blogger tooners, at 8:17 PM  

  • MM, I enjoyed reading all three posts. Thank you for sharing. Nice pictures - all of them. All that greenery sure makes the place look so serene and fresh.

    People can be mean but you can keep your cool.

    Gaijin in Japan
    Doing the best he can.
    Easy to get along
    People don't see anything wrong
    Mangling this poor man.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 11:40 PM  

  • You people are all the greatest! Whoever said internet friendship is meaningless?

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:53 AM  

  • No life is perfect,
    Friendship in internet isn’t perfect;
    No one ever comment your shortcoming,
    Go nut of bootlickers are forthcoming;
    OH, oh, oh!!!!!!!!!!
    What a hypocritical cyber-world!
    Incidentally, why I’v known that gent.
    Easy come, easy go!!!

    By Anonymous L.C_D, at 11:33 AM  

  • L.C_D.


    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 7:48 PM  

  • Suddenly, I became blind and deaf-mute.

    By Anonymous L.C_D, at 3:21 PM  

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