Must be Seen (again and again)

You are familiar with the statement, “Must be seen to be believed.” In the case of cherry blossom season, this is not an exaggeration.  It is truly a take – your – breath – away experience to be ingested and savored.

The attachment the Japanese and I have to Sakura cannot be overemphasized.  Weeks before the blossoms appear, forecasts appear, predicting when and where cherry blossom season will begin and spread across this island nation. The color pink appears in hankies and scarfs, cakes, drinks and candies.  Artificial branches of pink cherry blossoms are hung in shopping arcades.  Increasing numbers of kimono-wearing women appear on the street, adding to the sense of anticipation and sense of occasion.

You would be forgiven if you thought that it’s all overblown, or if you’ve seen it one time, you do not need to see it again.  You’d only think that if you had never truly experienced it.


Sakura holds a unique place in the hearts and minds of the Japanese people.  Much has been written about the centuries – long attraction of the blossoms to the Japanese.  Now, 21st c. publicity and travel opportunities have contributed to an influx of tourists from many lands, poised to descend on the most famous places in Japan to view sakura.  At times, in certain places, the crowds of people with camera phones become almost comical, if it weren’t so annoying.  The masses of people can easily distract me from the magnificence of the trees in bloom.

Yesterday, as the blooms intensified across Kyoto, we sought to view the flowers in a quieter location.  I wanted to be sure my family saw what all the fuss was about before they headed for Tokyo.  At the suggestion of a Japanese friend, we took our family inside the gates of the former Imperial Palace. Continue reading “Must be Seen (again and again)”

In Praise of Friendship


As many years as I’ve been coming to Japan, there are experiences to be had here that can only happen with the help of caring friends who have contacts and relationships that open doors that are not  available to the casual visitor.

When our friend Masa invited us to spend the day with him at Daitokuji Temple, I had no idea how memorable a day it would be. Masa, who is from Kyoto, had arranged the meeting for us, as a part of our day at Daitokuji. We were to meet the Abbot of the Zui-ho-in Temple, a sub temple of Daitokuji, to participate in a short tea ceremony the abbot would lead for us .

The visit of Zuiho-in starts with its front garden. To reach the builds from the front gate one has to turn three times, a design that helps the visitor to distance herself between the busy outside world and the quietness of the temple itself.


Spending time with the Abbot was one of those experiences I would have liked to have been able to record. It was one of those experiences when my mind kept repeating to me, “This is amazing.  Pay attention!”

We entered the small humble tea room together, the abbot in his distinguished  white flowing robes, his presence glowing, his eyes knowing all. A small arrangement of the season’s first camellia blossoms and a scroll painting of autumn chrysanthemums on the tokonoma were the only decorative element in the room.


Masa introduced us. My husband and I sat on stools as the Abbot, at age 77,  effortlessly lowered himself to the tatami mat.  He asked us a few questions about us, his eyes seeming to look into our very souls.  Then he began to speak to us about the importance of  breathing practice every day, performed first thing in the morning and before eating.  He gave us a demonstration , as he recited the heart sutra in sanskrit on each exhalation.   His deep baritone voice sounded as if it arose from deep in the earth.  I sat spellbound.

I’ve been flirting with the thought of doing breathing exercises for months, but haven’t been consistent.  I felt as if the Abbot knew that and chose to speak about its importance for this reason.  It was a message and demonstration I needed to witness.

My friend shared with the Abbot that I’ve been coming to Japan for many years.  He told me that my karma for Japan should allow me to go deeply into the culture of tea ceremony or other Japanese cultural practice. I felt grateful for that acknowledgement.

Masa patiently talked us through the ritual of tea ceremony, which I needed, although I’d participated in a longer tea ceremony a few times years ago.  It is a ritual of exquisite etiquette. When to bow, when to drink, when to acknowledge the tea master, how to admire the beauty of the tea bowl, etc.  It was over in just a few minutes, but to be in that space in those moments was an intense experience, a lifetime in a thimble.

” wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful!  and yet again wonderful.”  D.T. Suzuki

Thank you, Masa-san for making these arrangements for us and for sharing the wonders of Daitokuji with us!