Happy holidays and a very happy new year – a Midorikai interlude

Happy holidays and a very happy new year to one and all!

Floating Torii gate

The holiday vacation allowed all of us here at Midorikai to enjoy four weeks of much needed rest and relaxation. Many people took trips to Tokyo, visited friends or family, and checked off must see Kyoto sites from their lists. The weather has been quite pleasant. Hovering between the 40s and 60s with some intermittent rain. There were a few nights when it dropped below freezing but warmed up again in the sunshine so people felt like venturing out. The leaves have gone from the trees and the berries left behind on some of the shrubs and smaller trees make for nice spots of color against an evergreen or bamboo backdrop. Sparrows are not around as much anymore, which is a real shame since I enjoyed hearing them from my dorm window.

View from Mt. Misen

Vacation with Kevin
Kevin joined me here in Kyoto for Christmas and New Years and we had a nice time sight-seeing. Our main trip was to Miyajima, famous for the floating tori gate there. We stayed for two nights over Christmas and the island was much nicer once the droves of tourists had departed after 5 pm when the shrine and shops had closed. Christmas is for lovers in Japan (similar to our Valentine’s Day), and so we enjoyed a nice dinner together like many other couples. The island was lovely and magical and we enjoyed an impressive hike up Mt Misen. Since we were relatively close by train, we also visited the Hiroshima Peace Park and Memorial. We visited the museum and it was very well done and sympathetic to all nations. The museum made clear how this should never be repeated and what a shame it was for the people that suffered. It was a lot like the Holocaust Museum in DC, if you have ever visited that.

On Miyajima

Once returning to Kyoto, we stayed a week by ourselves at a Homeaway rental at a typical Japanese-style house, which means that when the inside lights are off, you can see through the cracks in the plaster to the sun outside. Saying that, it was fun to sit on the tatami mats and sleep on the futon every night though after a while the fun wore off and we were just cold and our backs hurt. Traditional homes lack modern insulation, so they are cold in the winter and hot in the summer. The bathroom had two plate glass panes that were between you and the mini courtyard, so during those aforementioned freezing cold nights, you did NOT want to visit the toilet because you would freeze to it. On December 31, we visited two Joyogama (or last kettle of the year) chakai. They were both fun and the only similarity between the two was they both served soba. The noodles are meant to symbolize long life, good fortune, etc. On New Years Day, we went to Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavillion) to ring in the New Year per tradition. We went to many of the larger, touristy temples and shrines to ring the bells, gather New Years fortune upon ourselves and take pictures the first four days of the new year. 2017 is the year of the rooster, so there were many cute chicken and rooster things up. There were many, many tourists so we took many breaks from the madness of it all. Kevin left to return to Austin on January 5th and I was very sorry to see him go.

Keiko Hajime (or, “Hatsugama”)
For the first time since after break, all 8 Midorikai students gathered together on January 10th to attend the Urasenke Keiko Hajime along with 9 ICI students. The ICI is the group of students who live and work in Kyoto and attend a once a week class with Urasenke. The group has a better handle of Japanese than most of us because of that and they have been very friendly inviting Midorikai to events and places.

Keiko hajime group

This Keiko hajime literally means “first practice” and is usually a much grander affair called Hatsugama, meaning first kettle. It’s supposed to be fancy and celebratory and everyone wears their fancy, party kimono. Since the death of Okusama’s father in the fall, the Sen family is in mourning and Japanese tradition calls for festive events to be either eliminated, or in this case, toned down and sobered greatly. I didn’t notice a lot of sobering in my limited knowledge of the event, however. The other guests and teachers pointed out the subtle differences between the two. We had a delightful meal and one of our number (Bilyana from Bulgaria) won a shigaraki mizusashi with Daisosho’s kao! She was very excited, as we all were when we saw the beauty of the piece itself. Those level of tea utensils are in a far higher range than most people can ever hope to possess.

On a side note, my Midorikai year will end in late March when I graduate the program, and it’s difficult to not already begin to think about transitioning back to the real world in Austin, Texas, America in that order. Living from day to day, from moment to moment is an admirable Buddhist quality to cultivate. But, it’s difficult in these modern times to not feel distracted and bogged down by the minutiae of email, plans for the future, job applications, etc. Much of our modern technology only bogs us down and much of our modern conveniences, though wonderful and life-enhancing, don’t truly enrich our souls. How poetically hypocritical of me to speak of this via a laptop connected to the Internet. In any case, I’m beginning to view mentally bridging the two cultures (American and Japanese) and seeing what ideas, routines, skills, and life-changes I want to continue to cultivate back home.

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