Nanzen-ji again; the place of Zen in Japan

So after hanging out at the Amemura Folk Jam last night, with a little help from the owner as translator I booked a slot to play the next time, May 3rd. (The guy who runs it has about as much English as I have Japanese.) The amazing thing is that they're all booked up though June! Not bad for what we'd call an open-mic night back home. But since I'm gone long before then he managed to squeeze me in.


Today, back out to Kyoto, Nanzen-ji again. Saw the gardens at the side temples, nice; went up into the Senmon, tall, good, view. There was some sort of rehearsal for a ritual or event going on in the main temple, which was really cool to see. It seemed to be about or for the benefit of a family of lay practitioners. I stood there for about fifteen minutes watching a priestess(?) teach a little girl how to walk gracefully, while two other priestesses worked out a bow-and-turn routine. A couple of Zen monks goofed off, one stoking another's shaved head and making some sort of joke. They work out their "marks" based off a piece of tape on the carpet. It was as ordinary as a wedding rehearsal back home.

Walked along the aqueduct to see the little hydroelectric plant, then hiked back up into he hills and Nanzen-ji Oku-no-in. Stopped in at Saisho-in on the way up and the way back. On the way back, there was an elderly priest, maybe 90, sitting in the booth there.

By this time, after my earlier visit, I realized I wasn't sure that this place was called Saisho-in; I saw some hiragana for Omiku-ji that made we wonder if I had the name wrong. [Later I looked that up - "omiju-ji" is the name of the strips of paper with your "fortune" on them that you select at random.]

So I gathered up my Nihongo vocabulary and walked up to him. "Sumimasen...koko wa, namae wa nan desu ka?" Excuse me...here, what is the name? Not the best grammar but it got the point across.

He paused, sat back, closed he eyes...probably thinking, "What kid on idiot is this?", he replied, "Saisho-in."

He asked where I was from, and if I was sightseeing. He smiled and warmed up a bit when I said I was here "trying to learn."

Sometimes I kind of wish I had a t-shirt or a sign or something that said "I'm not just here to take pictures." Not that I haven't taken my share as reminders of what I've seen and done here, and to share a bit with he folks at home (though I forgot my camera today, we'll have to see if I can get the photos off my phone).

But I saw one guy today, first at Saisho-in then on the path up to Oku-no-in, with a big old camera around his neck, who seemed to be looking at everything only to see if it would make a good photo. I hope he's getting paid, 'cause otherwise his missing his own vacation in taking pictures of it.

Rather than take a rush hour train back to Osaka, I came back down to Gion, bought omiyage at the Yasska shrine (saw two pampered cats on the shrine grounds, a tabby sitting on one of the small shrines like the balcony of his apartment,and a black near the main shrine being petted and fussed over by a pair of pretty young ladies). Browsed at shops, ate Indian food (again!), now a coffee at "Cafe Bar Cattleya", which promised coffee made with sacred water from the consecrated well of an old shrine that was moved from here to the Yasaka shrine grounds a century ago. How can I turn that down?

So I've been to a couple of Zen temples around Kyoto now. I was able to track them down in my guidebook, but if you were to wander in to a random Buddhist temple in Japan, odds are it wouldn't be a Zen Buddhist Temple. Fact is, various Pure Land sects and esoteric forms like Shingon are much more popular, and have been throughout Buddhism's history in Japan.

Zen didn't arrive in Japan until well after other forms of Buddhism had gotten well established. And it's creed of reaching enlightenment through self-reliant strong effort naturally never held the widespread attractions of sects that promised salvation if you just *believed*, or just repeated the right mantra over and over.

What Zen did have, though, was a very practical attraction for the samurai - the ten percent of the country in charge. Zen's mental training proved a boon to people whose survival depended on being able to keep a clear mind when confronted by someone intent on using a three-foot-long razor blade to give you a shave right down to your neckline.

With an in with the ruling classes, Zen came to have a strong influence on the Japanese mindset and aesthetic during the Shogunate era - even if most of the population identified with other strains of Buddhism.

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