Tag Archives: buddhism

Mt Koya and Nara, Part 3:

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Finally, for the last part of our trip, Nara! If you haven’t read the previous two parts of the Mt Koya and Nara trip, here are the links!

Part 1: https://templejapan.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/mt-koya-and-nara-trip-part-1/

Part 2: https://templejapan.wordpress.com/2014/11/26/mt-koya-and-nara-part-2/

Nara was probably the most anticipated part of the school trip for many students. Nara is known for its abundance of deer, especially in Nara Park. According to legend, Takemikazuchi (considered the Japanese god of thunder and swords) arrived in Nara on a white deer to protect the newly built capital of Heijou-kyou. Since then, deer have been regarded as sacred messengers of the gods who protect the city. The park is home to hundreds of deer.

The deer at Nara Park are tame, so if you bow to the deer, they will bow back!

Angela, excited to feed a deer that bowed to her!

Angela, excited to feed a deer that bowed to her!

Most of the group brought Shikasenbei, a snack to feed to the deer. A couple of us tried taking pictures with the deer!

If you want to be popular with the deer's, having Shikasenbei is a must!

If you want to be popular with the deer, having Shikasenbei is a must!

Slightly north of Nara Park is Todaiji Temple, considered one of the world’s most powerful temples. The temple is still used today as a headquarter for teaching Buddhism. It houses the world’s largest bronze statue of Buddha.

Group picture!

Group picture!

Inside we found a line forming near a pillar. No one is certain why or how the hole in the pillar was formed, but we were told by locals it was a superstition that if you could get through the hole, you can stay healthy and be blessed with enlightenment in your next life.

Our group had to try it out! I wonder if anyone has ever gotten stuck in there before.

Our group had to try it out! I wonder if anyone has ever gotten stuck in there before.

Finally, when it was time to call it a night, we stayed at a youth hostel. Compared to the rest of the trip, it wasn’t anything fancy—I guess the futon isn’t for everyone, but it certainly beats sleeping on the bus.

After breakfast, we went to a mikan field to get some mikans! I was kind of confused about why this was on our itinerary, since our trip was supposed to be about Zen and seeing the more traditional side of Japan. It was fun regardless, and it was a great to give to my host family!

Mikans are kind of similar to oranges, but smaller and sweeter.

Mikans are kind of similar to oranges, but smaller and sweeter. I think it tastes similar to a tangerine (if it isn’t the same thing)….I’ll have to do a side-by-side comparison to know for sure.

Our last destination was to an onsen before returning back to Tokyo. There isn’t much of a difference between an onsen and a hot bath, besides the fact that onsens are bathing facilities located around hot springs. They both follow similar rules of courtesy: absolutely no clothes or towels, shower first, before entering the onsen or bath, and then shower again before putting your clothes back on.  The awkwardness of being naked had already faded away for most of the group.

I think everyone that went on this trip had a great time and it was exactly the kind of break we needed before our final weeks of school! It’s still really hard to believe that in a couple days, I’ll be returning home and my adventure in Japan will be over (or will it?!). I really do miss my family and friends back at home, but at the same time, Japan has been such a wonderful experience for me that I don’t think I ever completely exit the “honeymoon phase”!

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Mt Koya and Nara, Part 2:

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The futons (a traditional Japanese bedding, it’s kind of like a really thick sleeping bag) that Rengejoin Temple provided us was surprisingly comfortable (but then again, after a night sleeping on a bus, the group could probably sleep anywhere!). And at 6:20 AM as promised, we were woken up to attend otsutome (Morning Prayer) as requested by the monks of the temple. After breakfast, we would head to Okunoin, the largest a cemetery and sacred area in Japan with over 200,000 gravestones and memorial pagodas!

To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect, the thought of visiting a cemetery sounded rather depressing, and not quite what I would consider a tourist attraction. While funerals are still depressing, it seems as though Japan follows a more “circle of life” belief.

For instance, along the path in okunoin, we saw many Gorinto (five tier Stupa).

For instance, along the path in okunoin, we saw many Gorinto (five tier Stupa).

Our guide explained to our group that the shapes of the five tiers represents the five elements taught in Buddhism. The cube at the bottom represents earth, the sphere represents water, the pyramid presents fire, the hemisphere represents wind, and finally, the jewel shape at the top represents void. Japanese Buddhists believe that when we die, our bodies are not destroyed, but rather our physical bodies will go back to their original, elemental forms.

In addition, we also saw many little statues wearing bibs. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, so I ask our guide, who explained that they were statues of お地蔵さん (Ojizo-san), who is believed to watch over and protect children in the afterlife.

The bibs are placed by parents who have lost children, with prayers that Ojizo-san would watch over and protect them as a surrogate parent.

The bibs are placed by parents who have lost children, with prayers that Ojizo-san would watch over and protect them as a surrogate parent.

We then stopped by a well to check on our life expectancy.

Apparently, if you don’t see your reflection in this well, you will die within 3 years.

Apparently, if you don’t see your reflection in this well, you will die within 3 years.

Then we entered the Mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, the place where Kobo Daishi is said to remain in eternal meditation.

It is said that Kobo Daishi entered his eternal meditation in 835. Twice a day, monks ritually offer meals to Kobo Daishi at the mausoleum as seen in this picture.

It is said that Kobo Daishi entered his eternal meditation in 835. Twice a day, monks ritually offer meals to Kobo Daishi at the mausoleum as seen in this picture.

This was actually the first museum I’ve ever been to where we were allowed, and encouraged to touch stuff, so I was quite thrilled. There were thousands of lanterns and miniature statues of monks. Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed in the museum. At first, I always thought this was an annoying rule since so many famous places in Japan did not allow photographs, but recently I’ve been embracing it. There is something nice about occasionally disconnecting myself from technology to truly appreciate the moment in front of me, instead of trying to share it with friends via pictures consistently.

On our way out, we tested our strength and connection with Future Buddha! In this little stand, there is a heavy rock, which is said to be as heavy as our sins. Those who are able to lift this rock, and bring it to the second level, will apparently be closer to the Future Buddha, and will be welcomed to his paradise.

Joshua's face of victory as he completes the challenge!

Joshua’s face of victory as he completes the challenge!

I suppose the idea is that if you are a hard worker, it would probably show in your arm strength. Personally, I’m not very superstitious, but it was interesting to hear about superstitions of other cultures.

As we visit more historic sites and hear more about Japan’s culture, superstitions, and religion in person, I realize that our there is so much about Japan that is simply omitted from textbooks. The more I explore Japan, the more I realize how little I know about the country! And the more excited I become to learn more about it!

Mt Koya and Nara Trip, Part 1

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All of us had certain expectations of what Japan might look like before we actually arrived here. I personally envisioned Japan solely as a modern society since I rarely heard anything about traditional Japan. I thought that it was similar to the way Americans don’t talk or really relate to the culture of cowboys or the “Wild West.” However, in Japan, their modern society and traditional society co-exist and complement each other in a very fascinating way. With that said, the trip to Mt Koya and Nara was intended to show students that didn’t get the chance to step outside of Tokyo before, a more traditional side Japan.

I was certain that it would be difficult to get any sleep at all on our long 7 hour bus ride; after all, our journey began right on Halloween night. However, after our guides told us that we would be woke up around 6:40 AM, everyone quickly went to sleep. We arrived at Yoshino Park around 7:00 AM and took a morning walk before meeting with our guides.

We were greeted by the Nio Guardians, and lots of rain!!

We were greeted by the Nio Guardians, and lots of rain!!

Within the entrance of Daimon, were the Nio guardians. Our guide explained to us that, according to Japanese folktales, these guardians traveled with Buddha as bodyguards. Buddhism is normally known for its pacifist traditions; however, the stories of the Nio guardians often justify the use of force to protect cherished values and beliefs against evil.

Agyou is the guardian with an open mouth, wielding a vajra, and is known as a symbol of overt violence.

Agyou is the guardian with an open mouth, wielding a vajra, and is known as a symbol of overt violence.

Ungyou is the guardian with closed mouth, normally barehanded (sometimes with a sword), and is known as a symbol of latent strength.

Ungyou is the guardian with closed mouth, normally barehanded (sometimes with a sword), and is known as a symbol of latent strength.

Our first stop was Konpon Daito, shrine that houses a three-dimensional mandala along with a large statue of Buddha Mahavairochana.

Unfortunately, it was still closed when we arrived, so we only got to see the exterior.

Next, we also explored Miedo. Kobo Daishi (the founder of Shingon Buddhism) used this place for meditation. Kobo Dashi wanted to establish a monastery deep in the mountains, far from worldly distractions, where monks could practice and pray for the peace and welfare of the people. Miedo contains lots of portraits of Kobo Daishi, painted during his lifetime by his disciple. Unfortunately, pictures of the portraits were not allowed in this building.

After a long day with lots of walking, we arrived at Rengejoin Temple where we would meditate with monks and stay the night.

Rengejoin Temple was a very different experience from your typical overnight stay at a hotel!

Rengejoin Temple was a very different experience from your typical overnight stay at a hotel!

While the meditation room was crowded and cramped, it was very relaxing. I attempted to sit seiza style since I notice most of the locals were sitting that way, but after ten minutes I was already at my limit. I wish I could have taken pictures to share a bit of the experience, but I figured it wouldn’t be appropriate to do that while everyone was meditating.

Then, it was finally time for dinner, where we got to experience 精進料理 (Buddhist Vegetarian Cuisine)! In Buddhism, eating any sentient life is wrong, therefore monks live on a vegetarian diet. As a meat-eating-fanatic, I admit to being a bit disappointed when I heard that our meal would not have any. But after I began eating, I was pleasantly surprised! The food was quite delicious! Each dish was based on the concepts of five flavors, five cooking methods, and five colors (it seems that five is a lucky number in Japan!).

There is always a grilled dish, a deep-fried dish, a pickled dish, a tofu dish, and a soup dish!

There is always a grilled dish, a deep-fried dish, a pickled dish, a tofu dish, and a soup dish!

After our meal, everyone returned to their rooms, and chatted with friends while under a こたつ (a table with a blanket over it and a heater underneath). I’ve seen them before, but always thought that it was overrated. However, after experiencing its warmth, I definitely want to have one in the future!

Our rooms at Rengejoin Temple.

Our rooms at Rengejoin Temple.

Kumano Kodo Nature Hiking & Ise Grand Shrine Trip: Part 2

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The top of our first hike was a wonderful treat, for shrines and a large temple are at the peak. The roofs are some of my favorite parts of these buildings.

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 There were impressive spiritual statues as well. This figure was outside of the largest Buddhist temple, looking upon each of the visitors as they passed.

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 In celebration of spring and good future for children, these koinobori (carp flags) are strung up to fly in the wind. They’re adorable and so happy!

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 Continuing through the temples, we spot a beautiful waterfall in the distance. The large pagoda was also a spectacular sight.

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 After walking towards the waterfall, TUJ took a break for some tasty matcha (powdered green tea) soft serve ice cream: a perfect refreshing treat after hiking.

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  Back on the trail, we headed towards the waterfall. The journey was just as fantastic as the final destination, for the amazingly tall cedar trees were a monumental sight!

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 Still, the waterfall was one of the most beautiful scenes I have seen in Japan. It seemed to fall so slowly from the top of the cliff, watching it was hypnotizing.

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 After our first hike, we traveled on to the largest torii gate in Japan. These Shinto gates mark the entrance to a sacred place, symbolically marking the transition from our world into a more spiritual one.

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 It was MASSIVE (note the tiny person on the right)!

Kumano Kodo Nature Hiking & Ise Grand Shrine Trip: Part 1

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Taking the night bus to Mie (approximately 400 miles away from Tokyo), those attending this TUJ trip awoke in the morning to find a lovely beach!

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Even though it was around 5:30AM, the sun and sea was refreshing and energizing (not to say we all didn’t nap after getting back on the coach).

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  After a bit of driving, we arrived at our first hiking site. It was a short trek up the mountain, very enjoyable for an early morning walk.

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  The trees were absolutely incredible, rising far above us but still allowing sun to dance around.

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  We discovered that the cedars were sacred objects themselves, most over 800 years old!

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  As we went further on, we found many other people making the pilgrimage up to the shrine at the peak. White is a traditional color to wear when making this pilgrimage.

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  The weather was perfect for hiking with a cool breeze and warm sun all day.

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  The peak offered a beautiful view of the valley, with cherry blossoms blooming and blue mountains fading into the horizon.

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  There were a surprising amount of people at the peak’s temple! Everyone was thankful to have completed the numerous amount of stairs leading up.

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  Each temple offers a stream of fresh water accompanied with a series of bamboo ladles to cleanse the hands and the spirit. There is a particular ritual of scooping and rinsing the mouth, which left me feeling cool and refreshed.

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TUJ Nikko & Kamakura Trip: Ooya Stone Museum and Ooya Temple

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This past weekend, the TUJ Student Activities office accomplished an amazing trip to one of Japan’s most beautiful northern regions: Nikko.

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After an early bus ride, we arrived at our first destination: The Ooya Stone Museum. While the museum seems like a small space from the outside, entering the building gave us a huge surprise.

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Out of nowhere, a staircase appears. As we stepped down, the temperature and the light level decreased gradually.

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At the end of the stairs we found ourselves in a massive space that was completely overwhelming. The Stone Museum is about 20,000 square meters total: a labyrinth that is the remains of an expansive mining project of Ooya stone, which was halted as concrete became in higher demand in the 1970s.

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There was also a fantastic photo exhibition incorporated into the mine itself.

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After the Museum, we left to visit the nearby shrine. The distinct porous Oya stone was all around the area!

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The natural rock formations around the shrine were breathtaking. We were told that these caverns were inhabited by humans thousands of years ago. More recently (but still extremely old) is the carving of Kannon, the Bodhisattva of Mercy and Compassion.

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There was a lovely garden next to the shrine that looked spectacular in the rain.

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There were smaller shrines and statues all throughout the garden.

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I’m always enchanted by the artful blends of nature and artwork in Japan, it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

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Right around the corner from the shrine is an 88-foot high image of the Kannon. This was carved out of the rock wall after WWII to be dedicated to the lost and for the hope of peace. It was massive!

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We lit a candle to pay our respects to the icon.

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While I wish I could let you experience how huge the work was, hopefully this can give you a better sense of the scale. After climbing the stairs up to the platform, TUJ student Molly Lloyd poses next to Kannon and considers a world as peaceful as the day we’ve had.