Once again my basketball team has won another Tibetan Basketball Championship. This year the tournament was held in Seattle, WA and marks the 6th North American Championship my team representing Portland, Oregon has won. Check out the highlight video!!
Well, I’m now back in Japan after a refreshing 2-weeks back home… I could probably write forever about all the things I did, however, I’ll focus on the celebration of the 4th of July for now, America’s Independence Day – the ever-popular holiday that coincided with my trip home this year. This cultural exchange blog is for my Japanese students and friends who have never experienced this American holiday.
America celebrates the 4th of July as Independence Day because it was on July 4th, 1776 that members of the Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and adopted the final draft of the Declaration of Independence – a document officially declaring separation from Great Britain, thus resulting in the birth of the United States of America. Celebrating Independence Day is impossible without fireworks, an American tradition. While back home, I went to the fireworks show at Gasworks Park, the most popular place in Seattle to take part in the festivities. Check out my video below of the fireworks show at Gasworks Park in Seattle!
This past Sunday, I completed my nearly 4-year journey of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage! This journey took me over 1400 km (over 900 miles) to complete and required several visits to the remote corners and mountains of Tokushima, Kochi, Ehime and Kagawa prefectures. It is written in Japanese literature that human beings have always had a fascination with nature, the unknown country and the mystical encounter of a great savior. The people of Japan believe there is no better place where one can travel along the island in such isolation and fulfill these inner curiosities than by visiting the historical temples and following in the footsteps of Kobo Daishi, the founder of 88 Temple Pilgrimage and Japanese Buddhism. For over 1000 years, pilgrims have made this journey around Shikoku Island in hopes of achieving everlasting enlightenment. Embarking on this journey I believe takes you back in time to a more quiet, ancient ambiance of an old country often lost in the modern day image of Japan. There are many reasons why people attempt to do the pilgrimage and can vary depending on one’s individual incentive, desire, and wishes. There are several types of inner motivations involved in the Shikoku pilgrimage: first of all, sightseeing among natural scenic wonders such as whirlpools, the Inland Sea, stalactite caves, deep gorges, soaring mountain cliffs, and panoramic views of the coastline; secondly, praying for the quick recovery from a prolonged illness; thirdly, memorial prayer for the eternal peace of a passed family member; fourthly, liberation from the bondage of family and business struggles; fifthly, seeking enlightenment through the knowledge of the Shingon esoteric tradition. My personal motivation includes some of these elements, but moreover, I believe my placement on this island was more than just random luck. Being a Tibetan-American and placed on an island, home to the most famous Japanese buddhist pilgrimage – this was a sign I felt necessary to appreciate. Although I have completed my visit to all 88 Temples, the journey is unfulfilled until a visit is made to Okunoin Temple on Mt. Koya in Wakayama. This is the place where Kobo Daishi went into eternal meditation and where all pilgrims are required to pay respect before concluding their pilgrimage. I plan to make this trip this summer. Until then, this chapter in MY LIFE AND TIMES IN JAPAN is not fully concluded…
Note: Picture of me standing in front of Okuboji Temple, number 88 – the last temple on the pilgrimage.
This next blog is dedicated to Udon, one of my favorite Japanese foods because of its simplicity and taste. The popular wheat based noodle is served in many different ways, both hot and cold. There is no where in Japan more famous for its udon then in Kagawa. Located north of Tokushima and also on the island of Shikoku – Kagawa was once known as Sanuki. Thus, the old name of the province stuck with the locally made udon. Ironically, the origin of udon is credited to none other than Kobo Daishi. According to historians, the founder of the 88 Temple Pilgrimage traveled to China in the 9th century to study buddhism. When he returned, he also brought back the knowledge of udon to his farming neighbors in the Sanuki region of Japan. As experts in refining imported culture, udon has come to be recognized in the world as Japanese food today. In recent year’s the popularity of the food has even inspired the making of a Japanese movie about Sanuki Udon shot in Kagawa ken – appropriately titled, Udon. On my recent trips to Kagawa to visit the 88 Temples in its prefecture, I’ve made a conscious effort to consume as much Sanuki Udon as I can. With over 1000 Sanuki Udon restaurants in the prefecture, I’ve avoided all chain establishments and have tried to visit only the “mom and pop shops.” Let me tell you… there’s nothing more satisfying than granny bringing a home-made bowl of udon to your table after a long day of temple visiting. It’s like she knows you’ve earned it… Check out my gallery below of Sanuki Udon restaurants I’ve visited in Kagawa.
Yesterday I returned from an exhausting day on the 88 Temple Pilgrimage in which I visited temples 72-82. This day trip to 11 temples included three meals of Sanuki udon, the local udon of Kagawa ken which is famous in Japan. I plan to write a blog specifically devoted to these noodles that I have come to love another time, but for now let me update you where I officially stand on my pilgrimage journey. Having completed all the temples in Tokushima, Kochi and Ehime; I am now circling back east in Kagawa towards the end of my nearly four year journey. Kagawa is located north of Tokushima and my day’s starting point from temple 72 took about 1 and half hours to reach by car yesterday morning. In order to complete the pilgrimage, it will require one more day trip, which I plan to do soon! Yesterday’s trip was highlighted by a visit to Zentsuji Temple (The Temple of Right Path), number 75 on the pilgrimage. Zentsuji marks the birth place of Kobo Daishi, the founder of Japanese Buddhism and the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. Born June 15, 774 A.D. to the son of the local ruler, the temple’s name derives from his father’s name, Yoshimichi, which literally means Right Path. Zentsuji is the largest and biggest temple on Shikoku Island.
Note: Picture of me standing in front of Zetsuji Temple.
Last Sunday morning, I participated in my second Tokushima International Charity Fun Run with my co-workers and students. This year’s event took place at the beautiful new Tsukimigaoka Park in Matsushige, Tokushima. Located along the beach, this park is ideal for barbecuing and provides a scenic route for running. The annual charity marathon requires each runner to pay a 2000 yen entrance fee (approximately 20.00 USD); the proceeds will be donated to an underprivileged children’s school in Vietnam. Participants are able to choose from either a 3, 6, or 10 kilometer run. This year I ran the 10K course (about 6.2 miles) with little improvement in my time from two years ago, a dismal 1-hour and 5 minutes. However… I did barely edge Japan’s 2x Gold Medalist at the wire, check out the proof on my video!… Besides being for a good cause, I like this summer “marathon” because it helps my conditioning for the Tibetan basketball tournaments I play in annually. This year my team will be gunning for our 6th Tibetan basketball championship in Seattle! For the information of my friends and family, I will be arriving in Seattle on June 28th and returning to Japan on July 10th. See you all soon!
Note: Check out my video from the Tokushima International Charity Marathon below! Also, I made the cover of the town newsletter!
This past week in Japan was Golden Week, a string of Japanese national holidays from April 28th to May 6th. Last Thursday I made my way back on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage, continuing from temple no. 52 in Ehime prefecture. Ehime prefecture is home to 31 of the Shikoku 88 Temples and is known as The Dojo/Land of Enlightenment, the third of four phases on the pilgrimage. By the end of this Golden Week, I completed all the temples in Ehime prefecture and began The Dojo of Entering Nirvana, the name of the final phase of the pilgrimage. The Dojo of Entering Nirvana in Kagawa prefecture begins with Upenji Temple (No. 66), the highest elevated temple on the pilgrimage at 916 meters above sea level (over 3000 feet). Having woven through the remote towns and mountains of Tokushima, Kochi, and Ehime prefectures, I have now completed temples 1-71, which leaves me 17 temples short of completing Japan’s most famous Buddhist pilgrimage. To celebrate this last phase, I will be making three volumes of videos allowing you join me as I travel around Kagawa prefecture and ultimately end with a visit to Mt. Koya in Wakayama prefecture, where Kobo Daishi was buried. The first installment is now complete and includes video of temples 66 to 71. Check out Vol. 1 below! But before I end this blog, let me reflect upon my most memorable temples in Ehime prefecture:
- No. 45: Iwayaji Temple (The Temple of Rocky Cave) – This temple is located on a rocky mountain, surrounded by a huge bluff and gorges. Why I remember this temple is because the necessity for all pilgrims to walk up sharply sloping steps for 30-minutes. Although some temples require minimal walking even with a car, this temple was clearly the biggest challenge for those not anticipating having to do any serious hiking. I still remember the tour bus folks with big proud smiles on their faces, saying “konichiwa” to by passers, and I believe thinking privately, “Look at me… I’m really doing it now…” 🙂
- No. 51: Ishiteji Temple (The Temple of the Stone Hand) – Located in Matsuyama City, the largest populated city on Shikoku, this temple is located near the famous Dogo Onsen (hot spring), Japan’s oldest and most historic onsen. In addition to the temple itself, the grounds include a temple museum, various booths displaying/selling gift items, a memorial monument of Haiku poems, and much more.
- No. 60: Yokomineji Temple (The Temple of Side Summit/Peak) – at 700 meters (2340 feet), this temple is the third highest elevated temple on the pilgrimage. Like myself, most people drive up the mountain to the isolated temple, however, there are those with the time and energy to walk up the mountain which takes approximately 3-hours round-trip. Yokomineji is considered the most difficult temple to reach if walking, because of its perilous, unpaved steep path. Several pilgrims have died attempting to reach this temple.
This past Saturday was the graduation ceremony at the kindergarten I teach at. In previous years, I’ve attended elementary school and junior high school graduations, however, this was my first full year of experience at the kindergarten level. Teaching the same 47 students each week, as opposed to twice a month or sometimes less as Assistant Language Teacher(ALT) has been a more rewarding experience. To educate kindergarten students and see the growth in their learning each week was truly amazing. It’s hard to explain the difference, other than I felt more responsible for their education. As an ALT on the JET Program, I taught at an elementary school once a week, while team-teaching at the junior high school level was my primary responsibility. These past weekly elementary school visits usually required teaching three classes a day from first to sixth graders. This past infrequency of not being able to teach the same students each week made educating challenging. As I’ve previously written about, English is not a formal subject at the elementary school level. ALTs are often teaching different lessons without the aid of a formal curriculum. While some good teachers are thinking progressively about each lesson they teach, others are simply teaching with no method, or don’t see the need for a system due to the infrequency of their visits. Having no formal guidelines has its benefits though, it means complete control in what you think should be taught… With this level of freedom to teach and the regularity of my visits to the same students each week, made this graduation an extra special day.
Note: (Video link) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lV9litlfJOo
This past Saturday was an important day in Tibetan history, 48 years ago on March 10, 1959, thousands of Tibetans stood up and protested the illegal occupation of their country. And as a result, they were brutally killed by the Chinese military. This day has now come to be remembered as “Tibetan Uprising Day.” On March 10th, Tibetans and its supporters from around the world gather to commemorate the lives of the over 87,000 who died voicing their opposition to Chinese forced assimilation. On this day, we remember the brutal atrocities of the past, while protesting the ongoing human rights violations and cultural genocide of the present. Over 1.2 million Tibetans have died as a direct result of China’s illegal occupation. With massive government assisted Chinese migration into Tibet, Tibetans have become a minority in many parts of their own country today. There continues to be restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly, press and religion. Tibetan opposition to Chinese authority today, results in imprisonment and torture. There are over 250 known Tibetan political prisoners in China today, many of whom were detained for simply having a picture of the Dalai Lama. The reality today is China has yet to take any responsibility for its atrocities of the past and continues to past judgment on free democratic nations such as Japan. Living in Japan, I have to come learn firsthand about the strained relationship between China and Japan as result of its second war between 1937-1945. The 1937 events in Nanking is where the Chinese have taken particular issue with. Japan’s occupation of Nanking, resulted in several war-time atrocities that continues to be a point of contention and controversy in relations between the two countries. I understand the brutality which occurred in Nanking cannot be dismissed just to make a point, it was no doubt tragic and sad. However, the Japanese have paid dearly for its war time aggressions and I believe have taken appropriate responsibility for its actions of the past. In 1995, Prime Minister Murayama of Japan apologized for Japan’s war-time aggressions and in 2005, Prime Minister Koizumi also conveyed Japan’s deep remorse. However, China continues to demand apologies year after year, with no intent of ever accepting any of them. For over 48 years, China has never once apologized to Tibetans for its atrocities of the past while continuing to fabricate lies covering up the killing of innocent Tibetans today. To me this is the absolute height of hypocrisy and the basis for a presentation I recently did commemorating Tibetan Uprising Day in Japan.
Note: If you would like to see this video translated in Japanese. Click this link: COMMEMORATING “TIBETAN UPRISING DAY” IN JAPAN (IN JAPANESE)