Monday, May 29, 2006


Temple News

I was always under the impression that to go to Japan for any amount of time less than 10 days was simply a waste of time. Modern life being what it is, however, it can be very difficult to get that much time away from work. I ended up taking 8 days away from the States, which gave me a full 5 days in Japan with some overlap here and there. And you know what? It was wonderful. When I showed up at the temple, my lovely cousin beamed and said, "Hey! You were just here!"

He's in his priest robes here, leaning over a bridge which connects the main house to the hondo, or the temple hall. One of the danka-san, which loosely means parishionner had come by to talk to him, and I love how candid and cheerful he looks. He confided to me that in my 2 month absence he had grown up a great deal, which means he doesn't tend to dress as ostentatiously as before. He has even sold his hearse and now relies on a compact Toyota.

Certainly he strikes an impressive figure when he reads (sings) sutras and plays the different instruments. I can see why he is so popular with people. He's talented. And we had an interesting talk about how, as time goes by, he understands more and more about the wisdom contained in the sutras, and what he is actually saying. I liked that concept.

The pro, though, is still my mother's cousin who I snapped here as he was putting the finishing touches on my grandmother's funeral. Sempou-san has the most beautiful voice you have ever heard. And when he chants sutras, when he does the little yell to remind the spirit that she is dead, and that it is time for her to part and move on, the hairs on my arms and neck stood up. He told me that every funeral is different, that within the established tradition there is plenty of room for creativity. In this case, he wanted to run a traditional funeral to please my grandfather who, at 93, knows a thing or two about tradition. But he also wanted to make it clear enough for me to understand.

I never quite feel like I've had a complete visit to the temple unless Sempou-san and I have had one of our "talks." Once upon a time I found him difficult to understand because he used so many technical words. But now, things are easier. We stayed up very late, just the two of us, talking about his work and his feelings about Buddhism. Those are the kinds of conversations that stay with you.

My grandfather, not to be outdone, decided to climb into the priest's chair. I think he looks pretty cool. He spent his early years at this temple before he moved on to do other things, and feels quite at home with all the accoutrements. If I may say so, he looks quite pleased to be sitting there.

Now he's sitting with Sempou-san's wife. I don't know why this generation of Japanese finds it so difficult to smile for photos, but I suppose we were there on a sad occasion. Ryoko-oneisan's gorgeous kimono made me wish I had dressed better for the occasion, but I'm never happy with how I look in a kimono. I'm glad that she was able to add such a nice touch of formality since I couldn't.

All in all, I would say that the 8 day trip is completely worth it. I feel as though I've been gone for a long time, but I don't seem to be having the same wrenching adjustment problems I did last time. I think this is because it is comforting to feel that people I love aren't really too far away, that I can go see them any time. This is a relief.

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