#BUDDHABLESSED: An exploration of Buddhism
I have always been fascinated by religions. Maybe it was my Grandma's devout Catholicism or the Baptist Vacation Bible School I once attended as an eight year old. In college, Enna and I both took many Religious Studies courses. We learned about the spectrum of religions, however, we are both pretty drawn to Eastern traditions. Is it because we are both Earth signs? Not to mention, during my last semester at VCU, I took Intro to Buddhism and other religious studies courses to get my minor in the subject. While planning this trip, we were both interested in exploring Buddhism more. The two major religions in Japan are Buddhism and Shinto. I was excited to immerse myself in Japanese Buddhist culture for two weeks.
On our first full day, we traveled to the Bōsō Peninsula and hiked up Mount Nokogiri. The elevation was not super high (1,081 feet) but it was steep as hell. We planned to hike up the mountain and ride the ropeway down, however, it was unreasonably windy and the service had been disabled. We trekked all the way to the top, where we had an incredible view of the Tokyo Bay. We could even see Mount Fuji in the distance! Afterwards, we hopped back on the trail and saw the 1,500 statues that depict 'arhat', or mortals who have attained enlightenment.
We finally made it to the Nihon-ji Temple, where we had the pleasure of viewing the largest stone figure of a Buddha in Japan. I had been referring to the statue as Daibutsu, which literally means 'big Buddha'. The 31 foot granite figure depicts Yakushi Nyorai, the healing Buddha and you should notice the container of medicine in the Buddha's lefthand.
At the temple, I bought incense for 100 yen and began to cleanse myself before I prayed. I also bought corn soup because there was a vending machine and we were starving. A little Japanese lady helped me light the incense because I wasn't really sure what to do. Enna suggested throwing a coin with a 5, as it is a lucky number, possibly because there are 5 precepts? (I can't remember, oops) She also told me to say my name (in my head), so that the Gods knew who was praying.
Hiking to the viewpoint and around the mountain was free, but in order to see the statues it cost 600 yen for an adult. While I wasn't sure my glutes were prepared for hiking Mt. Nokogiri, I am so glad that we spent our first day in nature. The Chiba countryside was so relaxing and I longed for its tranquility once we were in the bustling cities.
While in Kanazawa, we spent a rainy day museum hopping. D.T. Suzuki was a Japanese philsopher whose speciality was in Buddhism, Zen, and Shin. His writings played a major role in the introduction of Zen Buddhism in the West. It costs 300 yen to enter the museum as it is rather quaint and minimal. He spent his career spreading the knowledge of Mahayana Buddhism, while also translating Buddhist books into Japanese. He and his wife dedicated their lives to Zen Buddhism. I was pleasantly surprised to notice that his wife, Beatrice was American. A passage that he wrote after her passing totally made me cry.
There was a reading room where you could get comfortable with many of Suzuki's books. There was a contemplation space that overlooked the Water Mirror Garden. It was lightly raining this day, which made the view even more picturesque. Throughout my Buddhist studies, I had never heard of D.T. Suzuki, so visiting his museum was a great learning experience. He lived a wonderful life and it is honored in the most beautiful way.
Celebrating the New Year is very popular in Japan. At first, I was nervous to travel during this time because this is when many Japanese people are off from work and visiting their own families. Many businesses are closed and sometimes you can't even take money out of an ATM. Luckily, we did not run into these types of issues around New Year festivities.
While the Japanese New Year follows the Gregorian calendar, they also follow the Lunar New Year, which normally falls at the end of January/early February, correlating with the first new moon of the year. 2017 is the Year of the Rooster and the cock was widely represented in many ways around the country.
New Year's Eve in Japan isn't midnight kisses and champagne. When the clock strikes midnight, many Japanese will already be at the temple, ringing the bell 108 times. We rented a beach house on the coast of Chiba, so we could partake in hatsuhinode, the first sunrise of the year. We partied American style and we popped a bottle of sparkling rose on the beach at midnight! We rolled out of bed and were convinced the Sun would be hiding behind clouds the whole day. However, she came thru!!! I couldn't believe we even joked about polar plunging. It was amazing to see the coastline fill up with people who wanted to honor the first sun and it's goddess, Amaterasu.
After barfing fruit all morning, I was pretty certain I was going to turn into dust on the hourish train ride to the temple. I was thankful for vending machines that had Metz (Japanese cola) and festival style food vendors that allowed to us to pick and choose what we ate. My personal favorite was jaga-bata, which is a grilled potato that we lathered in butter and mentaiko mayonnaise. We waited over an hour just to enter the temple, but there were vendors and shops the entire way in. I got black sesame soy milk ice cream, a wooden Buddha charm from the Capsule, and saw a Shiba Inu being carried like a baby. As we entered the temple, I began to fell really emotional. It might've been my waning hangover, but seeing hundreds of orderly people just waiting for their chance to pray was such a beautiful sight. I loved seeing entire families bringing Grandma and their toddlers to continue cultural traditions. We got to go inside of the temple and witness Buddhist priests perform the Goma fire ritual. It was such an uplifting experience!
Fire symbolizes the wisdom of the Buddha and they use wood to symbolize human desires, which they burn as it is the root of suffering. Enna's backpack also got blessed in the the fire ritual too. After the ritual, we bought some talismans for family members and indulged in festival snacks. We ate french fries with nori and squid on a stick!
My appreciation for Buddhism certainly flourished during my trip to Japan. After we hiked Mt. Nokogiri, we experienced a fortunate series of events, which we joked and kept saying #BuddhaBlessed. However, as the trip went on, it felt less like a joke and like actual blessings. I never said I didn't believe, I just wasn't sure what religion I identified with. As life's challenges arise, I am certain Buddha has be on the right path. Each year, I have become more dedicated to personal development, which includes reflection and self-awareness. I want to get more involved with the community and hope to deepen my knowledge of Buddhism here in Richmond.
If anyone is interested in learning alongside me, please let me know !