It never rained when I visited Senso-ji and Todai-ji Temples. I attributed this to good fortune, the Buddha clearing the skies for my visit. The young monk said the Buddha cares nothing for weather, so I should thank the Japan Meteorological Agency although they never seem to give him the weather he truly wants.
By hour six, the plane was just a lumbering beast dividing the sky, halfway from God knows where to nowhere special. His body cried for sleep but he knew he had to deny it. That much he had learned from prior trips. For when he landed, made his way painfully slowly into the city, it would be early evening when he arrived at his hotel. He knew he needed to be on the edge of exhaustion. Only that way could he grab a meal from the 7 Eleven down the block, and finally get to sleep, reasonably fresh in the morning. It would be a long day. Each day in Tokyo was a long day of endless meetings and negotiations. It was mind numbing, but he was paid well to suffer it. And he knew that on his last day in the city he would have time to board the subway for Asakusa. There he would wander slowly down the line of stalls, to the great gate of Senso-ji Temple, its giant lantern shedding no light, and peer at the Buddha Hall in the distance. There would be school children in neat uniforms, always hand in hand, and pigeonss, flocking around them and anyone who looked gaijin, easy marks for photos and handouts. And the orange tiger cat would huddle at the base of the nearby Buddha seeking enlightenment. For that hour or so he was in a different world. The giant city melted away. His thoughts grew placid as he placed his incense into to giant earthenware jokoro then washed its smoke over his face and shoulders. He bowed to the young monk carefully writing the prayer sticks. He stood silent at the foot of the Buddha Hall, a conversation no one could hear, one that everyone here was having simultaneously. Time does not yield, and as it ran thin, he headed back to the subway knowing his fortune without purchasing it for 100 yen. A simple fortune really, a return visit on his next trip to Tokyo and maybe a side trip to Kyoto, and as the icing on his taiyaki, a trip to Nara, to again wander the grounds of Todai-ji and commune with the deer at first light, in the shadow of the Daibutsu. On the flight home he thought of the moments in Buddha’s shadow, the resounding of the great bell. He smiled recalling the red bibbed jizo, knowing they gave up Buddhahood to help those like him, still lost on the path. He is saddened knowing he will soon be back in his world, the daily grind, this trip shortened, as all return trips are. And when he lands, goes through Immigration and customs, when they ask if he has anything to declare, he may say “just a moment of kensho.”
1. From the window of the hotel bus the small, squared fields are a green that only painters achieve, deep, intense, unreal. As the bus inches forward along the Narita–Tokyo expressway the green forms neat rows set off by a shimmer of the gray sky mirror that bathes the young plants.
2. Tokyo is a city of great precision where there are few birds, and even crows are well mannered. At Senso-ji Temple, it is left to the pigeons to give avian life to a sprawling city.
3. There are uncountable cars, trucks in Tokyo, motorcycles dance among them like small children grown bored with the wedding dance. A rainbow of taxis fill the streets, form unending lines, snake around the large hotels and office towers. There are forty taxi companies in Tokyo, each with its fleet, but all of the drivers are male.