Thirteen Reasons I’ll be Returning

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05/08/2013

Itakakimasu!

kids

I know people who visit England and after a little time spent there, return to the USA speaking with an English Accent. I haven’t acquired an English accent, nor a Japanese one, but I have deliberately acquired the Japanese version of saying Grace before meals.

It’s quick. It’s easy once you’ve said the word 50 or more times. It makes the beginning of a meal a special event! If you’re eating with Japanese friends in Japan it’s polite to join them in saying itadakimasu!  It builds community!  It will elevate your dining experience!

Itakdakimasu. Spoken before eating to acknowledge and be thankful for all that came before the food appeared on a plate in front of you. That includes farmers, organisms, fields, vendors, cooks, etc, not to mention the living plants/animals that have given their lives for this meal. It’s all-encompassing and a meaningful way to focus on what you are about to eat.  A moment of raised consciousness never hurt anyone.   Itadakimasu has no broader religious connotations.   I think it’s not a custom that will cause inner conflicts to arise.  In other words, It’s not like a Jew singing a Christmas carol.

japanese dinner

The Meaning of “Itadakimasu”
いただく (Itadaku) is a phrase that is very polite with the meaning “to take.”

In this sense, the head is bowed with the hands held, palms up, higher than the head to receive an item. It is currently used when eating because you are taking a very precious gift of another organism’s life.

The origins of this are based on Buddhism and the belief that everything has a spirit that guides it. By taking spirits from their origins and using them to replenish yourself, you are giving honor and gratitude to the organisms that originally housed those spirits.

It is very disrespectful to eat someone else’s meal without properly giving thanks to them for making such food. Even if you made the meal yourself, you are still giving respect to the lives used in its creation.  nihongoshark.com

I think saying itadakimasu is a lovely custom. I’ve overcome the awkwardness I originally felt when I first began to say it. It’s become a brief but essential part of meal time now.

Try it, and let me know what you think.

Back to Earth

Why does it still seem so improbable to me that a giant aircraft can lift off from the ground and carry me at speeds I cannot feel across vast oceans, then deposit me back to earth in another land?  Each time I fly, the experience seems remarkable, particularly if it is a trip of several hours, traversing invisible timelines, geography, climates, seasons and cultures!

I noticed this trip to Japan and back that there is a short window after I first land in which my experience of otherness is strongly heightened before it becomes familiar again.  It’s like seeing a place through new eyes when at first everything seems foreign.

The city of Kyoto, while thriving and contemporary, contains the wisdom and legacy of hundreds and hundreds of years within it.  You brush up against it daily in the traditions, the food, in the politeness of interpersonal transactions as well as in the more obvious gardens and architecture.  For me, visiting Kyoto is like entering an ongoing river of time.  I am always altered by it in some way during each visit. For the better! Continue reading “Back to Earth”

The Cat and the Mouse

cat and mouse

I knew we were in for a visual fest when we received an invitation to join our friend Masa to visit a garden at the Daitoku-ji that is only open to the public for a short time in the spring and autumn.  I didn’t know that the visit would prompt a spontaneous game of cat and mouse.

graphic guide to Oubai-in
Japanese maples surrounding the bell tower at Oubai-in

It’s been a glorious few weeks. A streak of fine weather prolonged sakura season and the warmth prompted other spring flowers to swiftly come into bloom. I’m always awed by the urgency of spring. The Japanese maple trees were barren a few short weeks ago when we arrived. Now they all are displaying their bright green new leaves of spring. Pops of azalea blossoms and best- of- all -Chinese peonies are vie for attention too.

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The tiny blossoms of the maple cover an entrance gate of the temple.

 

 

Obaii-in was built in the 1500’s at the direction of a very wealthy family as a memorial to their deceased father.  It’s way  off the beaten tourist path so we had it almost all to ourselves with the exception of a few eagle eyed staff who roamed the grounds, knowing all too well, I’m certain, that people like me pose a real challenge to their rules.

 

I was dismayed to see a very visible “no photography” sign at the entrance of the temple. However, I was unable to restrain myself, nor did I try very hard when inspired, from taking photos of  the splendid buildings and gardens. An attentive  staff member spotted me and my i-phone at one point and walked over to politely but sternly admonish me.  From that point on we played a game of cat and mouse with each other.  She seemed to lurk around every one of the many corners, while I adeptly looked around to see if she was in sight, before quickly taking my photos and cooly slipping my i-phone into my jacket pocket.

I know not to take photos of sacred altars and certain works of art, but my bad-ass teen age self emerged in full power when restricted from taking a photo of the buildings or the gardens. I easily decided to disregard such an admonition and my sweet Japanese friend fortunately did not discourage me. The gardens were practically begging to be photographed. I heard them call to me. Each corner turned revealed a new vision of the spring life force as well as the simple beauty of Japanese design.

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As the Japanese do so well because of the influence of the tea ceremony, the layout of the grounds and gardens are  fashioned  to reveal only small parts of the entire scene at a time.  This slows down visitors and invites them to examine more closely what is immediate as well as to anticipate what surprises and delights might lie around the next bend in the pathway.

Obai-in contains a dry landscape garden covered with moss, designed by the most celebrated tea master Sen-no – Rikyu. The placement of the stones is symbolic.

Jikichu-Tei, dry landscape gatden designed by Den-no-Rikyu

What a wonderful visit. I felt my brain waves realign themselves while in that space. Playing my own little game of cat and mouse heightened my sense of adventure.

Kyoto offers an endless vault of these sort of unexpected experiences for which I will always be grateful. Despite the fact that I’m allergic to cats.

 

Going the Tourist Route (for a few hours)

Today we merged with a few of the thousands of Chinese tourists who come to Kyoto to view the cherry blossoms. There are droves of Chinese tourists who flock here eager to shop and have fun. Young Chinese women dress up in brightly colored garish kimono, taking advantage of dozens of kimono rental businesses that have sprung up recently. These try-on opportunities are not regarded kindly by many Japanese, because,in their opinion, it cheapens and demeans the refined beauty of the kimono. I’ve noted that the women seem quite pleased with their transformation, snapping selfies and obviously oblivious to their host nation’s opinion of the practice. kimono rental Continue reading “Going the Tourist Route (for a few hours)”