Showing posts from March, 2018

Getting Ready

Well I guess it's about time.

After practicing Zen for 28 years and teaching it for 18, I'm going on my first trip to Japan.  Many thanks to the Puget Sound Zen Center for sponsoring my trip, and to Wes and Sheila Borden for providing my room and board, and for guiding me around Kyoto.

As Wes pointed out my trip is a little like a Catholic priest visiting Rome - a pilgrimmage of sorts.  I'll stop in on a few of the 100s of temples in Kyoto, and visit the two great Rinzai monasteries, Daitoku-ji and Myoshin-ji.  I'll visit with a monk or two I know, and I might even see some cherry blossoms, though due to some cold weather it looks like I'll be a little early.

I leave in a couple of days, on Tuesday, March 20.  I'm only staying a week, I'm spending it all in Kyoto, and I'll be snapping photos and writing a little something each day.   I've never done this travel blogging thing before, but it looks straightforward enough (famous last words...).  It ap…

A Recurring Dream

A few years ago I visited my grandfather in a dream.  He was living in a cabin overlooking a body of water in Japan.  There were the usual dream hijinks surrounding the finding of him - multiple obstructions and misunderstandings - but finally I knocked on the correct door and there he was, and we ate lunch together overlooking the water, watching birds circle.  He was kindly and quiet, as I always remembered him.  Since then I've had a reoccuring dream - my only reoccuring dream in recent years - in which over and over again I miss my plane to Japan.  In one I'm getting a ride down the hill from Mt. Baldy Zen Center and I know I'm going to be late, in another I'm stuck in an airport maze.  And so forth.  I never get there.

Here's a photo of my grandfather, E. Mobray Tate with my grandmother Jo, aboard a Japanese steamer on their way to Bankok from Japan via China, where he was to become a teacher at Bankok Christian College.  It's 1932, and they'll come b…

Wednesday night, March 21 - Arrival

The head baggage loader is on the right
Arrived Wednesday night at the Nene House shortly after midnight, to a smiling Wes. There was snow in Seoul and that delayed my connecting flight enough that I missed the last Huruka (fast train) from the airport to Kyoto by a WHISKER.I was running, the ticket officer had his bullhorn out for last call and as he shooed me in he said – "Just pay cash on the train."I didn’t have cash.First lesson in Japan:have cash on you.  When I went down a level to buy a bus ticket from the automat it also didn’t take a card – only cash.Cash for the taxi too.So now I have cash.
Waiting for the tour bus style bus to Kyoto I watched there were three gentleman whose job it was to load the luggage into the cavern at the bottom of the bus.Once the bus before mine was loaded and everyone was on, the door closed and the head-man bowed deeply to the just-closed door and driver inside, and then the bus pulled away.
During a formal meal with servers, when the …

Thursday - Kiyomizu-dera Temple

OK, it's Friday morning and I've got some catching up to do.  I don't know how these blogs usually go, but I'm going to write four blogposts about yesterday:

Kiyomizu-dera - a Buddhist temple complex nearby, and one of the top tourist spots in Kyoto

Kennin-ji - the first Rinzai Zen temple in Japan

Life on the Kyoto streets

Kodai-ji - a nearby Zen temple, lit up at night.


This is a Hosso Buddhist temple up on a hill five or ten minutes from Nene House.  Part of its charm is its location - it overlooks all pretty well all of Kyoto.  The road up is a narrow shop-lined  cobblestoned pedestrian street that was deserted on the way up and packed with people on the way down.  The photo above one of the entrances, guarded by these two dragons.  Dragons came with Buddhism from China and figure prominently as guardians for temples - I've read because they live in the watery depths and thus prevent fire.  They also have a yin-yang aspect - they rule the heavens a…

Thursday: Kennin-ji, The First Zen Temple in Japan

This is the Sanmon, the "Mountain Gate" that you pass through to enter Kennin-ji, the first Zen temple in Japan.  It was founded by Eisai, who brought Rinzai Zen to Japan in 1202.  To think that Eisai and Dogen walked these grounds gave me a little chill.  Yes, Dogen - he started here under Myozen before leaving to China and losing his way (just kidding, my Soto friends).  
These gates are massive and traditionally house a Buddha figure on the top floor, flanked by the 16 arhats.  We couldn't go up this one, but I found 16 other arhats inside... you'll see.  
I once asked Sasaki Roshi about some kind Mountain Gate for Mt. Baldy Zen Center - even a tiny one.  He suggested two charred logs set to the left and right as you enter.  That was his spare style - sadly we never did get around to it.  
Kennin-ji is a sprawling complex, with sub-temples to the right as you enter, including an active group of training monks.  As we left in the afternoon we heard bells being str…

Thursday: Life on the street

Here's a street near Nene House - the road up to Kiyomizu early in the morning.  Streets like this are lined with shops, mostly selling one thing:  An incense shop, an umbrella shop, a mochi shop, a fan shop.

And after a couple of hours the street looks like this:

There are a lot of pedestrian streets in our neighborhood, dotted with a number of traffic cops whose sole purpose seems to be to get people out of the way when a car needs to get through.  I can give you a few of the sights, but none of the smells, which are all around, and all very good.

The Japanese I've met are very nice, and more open to interaction that I'd imagined (see my last post).  For instance, here are a group of schoolboys who wanted to ask me some scripted questions in English - I believe they had an assignment to.  I took a cute video of them and if I can figure out how to put that up I will.

And here's a couple of young ladies who asked Wes and I if we could pose for a photo with them - clea…