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.
Sitting in stillness, the silence is at first shocking, deafening in a way unimagined but there. Within the lack of sound lies a thousand sounds you never heard in the din of life. You hear the young monk at Senso-ji approach the great bell and pull back on the log shu-moku, straining. You hear the laugh of school aged children hand in hand walking through the Temple grounds as pigeons gather. You hear the cat, sitting at the foot of Daibutsudan, staring out and the deer waiting at the gate. You hear your breath and that of a million others as they sit on their cushions sharing what is.
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.”
Some day I need to return to Tokyo and walk its streets listening for the soundtrack that Haruki Murakami requires of the city, bebop jazz in Shinjuku, classical when wandering Asakusa and Senso-ji, and rock on the streets of Shibuya.
I have often been there, but my soundtrack was that of horns and the clatter of a pachinko parlor, or the pitched giggles of young girls walking hand in hand down Omotesando, dreaming of what they could buy in the shops of Aoyama.
10,000 origami cranes floated down over Tokyo each bearing the soul of one gone in nature’s recent fury. Each crane cried freely the tears flowing into the Sumida forming a wave that washes back to the sea, replenishing its loss. We, too, shed our tears and look skyward sad in the knowledge that with each passing day still more cranes will fill the sky more tears seep back to the still angry sea.
It should be easy, my friend said, to imagine yourself a character in a novel you particularly like, like I’ve found myself in any number of Tom Clancy novels, since I can easily become a CIA agent, it fits me.
I know I’d shoot myself in the foot or worse, and I’d keep no secrets if you even threatened to torture me, and the odds of me finding my own Doctor Watson are slim, harder still since I abhor even the thought of opium, and I gave up my pipe years ago when the girls found it odd or disgusting, not the cool I sought.
So I’m left with being a young Japanese woman negotiating life in modern Tokyo, or the countryside, but I’m nit sure Banana Yoshimoto would buy me as her protagonist, so I suppose I could do a quick deep dive into ballet and try and pass for Shimamura, but I know I’d opt for Yoko and that wouldn’t suit Kawabata at all
Come to think of it, I have a hard enough time being myself, and even as my own author, I find that I would never accept myself as my protagonist, so that role is still available if you would care to audition.
Tonight, if all goes well, I will be a monk in a good-sized Buddhist temple. I am hoping it will be in Nara, at Todai-ji perhaps, or Asakusa at Senso-ji, or better still somewhere in Kyoto, although it might well be in the Myanmar jungle or somewhere deep within the Laotian highlands.
One problem with that world is that I have no control over it, which, come to think of it, leaves it like the waking world which has never hewn to my direction.
I’ve had this desire for weeks on end, and I suspect tonight will be no different, and I will spend eight hours sorting files, writing cease and desist letters and trying to convince myself that even that is a form of mindful meditation and abiding kensho will arrive in the next rapid eye movement.
The Japanese invented haiku certain that a painting of great beauty could be completed with only a few strokes of the brush.
The Japanese have no word for what we claim is higher order poetry, academic and pedantic are two other English words which easily apply. And the Japanese are hard put to comprehend so much of what we deem experimental, the result, a friend named Yoshi said, of what seems the odd scraps of a dictionary torn apart by an unexpected tornado.
In Tokyo every tree knows that at least four poems lie within it, each awaiting the appropriate season.