...not really, but I just wanted to give a shout-out to the One Hit Wonder that is The Vapors. That song has been stuck in my head since I got here, mostly because someone always insists on belting it out at karaoke...
But I did have an über Japanese day today, starting off with a nice dose of Zen Buddhism, followed by some serious soba-eating and origami-making, and then rounded out with a jog through the 小夜時雨 (sayoushigure, another fun just-for-fall Japanese word that translates to "a light rain shower on a fall evening").
I visited Eihei-ji Temple with my host mom this morning. Eihei-ji is one of the main centers of Zen Buddhism in Japan - about 150 monks-in-training live there today. The "temple" actually consists of about 70 buildings, and some are open for average secular folks to see a day-in-the-life of a Buddhist priest.
And based what I learned today, the life ain't easy. According to Zen teachings, meditation and discipline are the path to self-enlightenment. This means that they're up at 3:30 a.m., after sleeping only a few hours on a single tatami mat. They bathe only once every five days - when the date contains a 4 or a 9. They follow a strict vegetarian diet, eating nothing but miso soup and rice for breakfast and lunch, with a few vegetables at dinner. And they're unfazed by the cold. While my host mom and I shivered through the tour in the autumn rain, the monks-in-training walked around in bare feet and light robes.
Eihei-ji itself was gorgeous, built up into the side of a mountain and surrounded by ancient pines and colorful fall leaves. Unfortunately, my camera's batteries died at the beginning of the tour, forcing me to take dozens of mental pictures but leaving few to share with you. I did manage to snap the picture above (excuse the glass glare), which shows that the こうよう are still in all of their autumn-colored glory at the temple. My very-prepared host mom brought her camera and had a fellow temple-hopper take the other.
But lest our Eihei-ji experience be too spiritual, my host mom and I were brought back to reality toward the end of the tour. Two older-looking Japanese men walked up to us. One wore a smirk that I recognized as a blend of expressions I'd seen elsewhere in my life: a hey-my-friend-thinks-you're-kinda-cute-and-wants-to-talk-to-you-but-he's-too-shy grin mixed with the half-smile that my elementary school students give me when they're nervous about speaking in English. This guy was the wingman. He got my attention by tapping on my shoulder, and then pointed to his friend, saying "He forget English."
The friend stared at me for a few seconds. Still silent, he took my hand, shook it approximately 512 times, and then flashed a big smile.
"Welcome...to...Japan," he said slowly, enunciating each word carefully.
"Thank you very much," I replied.
The two men looked at each other. They hadn't understood my response. Confused, they walked away before I could open my mouth again.
By this point, my host mom has been with me for a number of these random encounters. She knows that going out with me in public sometimes attracts weird attention. She must've taken extra pity on me this time, because she invited me back to her house for lunch. While were were waiting for the big pot of soba noodles to cook in her kitchen, her daughters taught me how to fold paper to make origami cranes.
Never mind that they were able to create about a dozen each in the time it took me to painstakingly fold and re-fold my piece of paper to create just one. The girls gave me a thunderous round of applause when I triumphantly finished, adding my lopsided bird to their pile of perfectly-formed origami. No, I'm not quite Japanese...
Later in the day, I decided to work off the soba with a nice jog through the rice paddies. It'd been raining all day, but I took advantage of a pause in the downpour to head out. Turns out the 小夜時雨, the "light rain shower on a fall evening," maybe isn't so "light" after all. About 20 minutes into my run, when I was a least 2 or 3 miles from my apartment, the sky opened up, and I got pelted with freezing rain the whole way home.
Nope, I'm definitely not turning Japanese. I'm still not sold on the beauty of this fall weather. Too bad women aren't allowed to become Buddhist monks. I could use some of their discipline when it comes to the cold.