Students reflected on their experience in journals. When people write in journals they process their experience, and this includes a wide range including mundane observations, moments of boredom or frustration, and discovery of some more profound insights. Here are a few examples from this group:
On our first day in Japan:
I absolutely cannot believe that I am in Japan! Today was amazing and everything was outrageously beautiful. The farthest Iíve been from home is Europe, where Americans stand out, but here I feel like a spectacle. I feel huge and pasty with odd features. I donít really even feel like a girl, I just feel like a whitey. Itís alright though.
It took us forever to find something to eat today, and I was a little bit worried about the whole vegetarian thing, but the food was wonderful. I had soba noodles in a dipping sauce. I thought that I knew what Japanese food was, but I have never seen anything like that at home. Hopefully my chopsticks skills will improve by the end of the trip, but I was proud of myself for getting most of my food into my mouth today.
We saw three temples today. I learned that the orange all over them is actually vermillion, which is from the Chinese tradition. Iím seeing lots of peace signs in pictures, which is very fun. The vegetation everywhere is gorgeous. The last temple we went to was surrounded by trees that were just breathtaking.
We shot out of bed this morning but I was worn out by the time we got back to the hotel. Iím incredibly out of shape because the walking today was a bit intense for me. I thought that my shoes were broken in, but I can feel like blisters sprouting. Itís a small price to pay.
The hotel is cute. I love the people at the front desk. The room is a little small, but totally livable. There are beans in my pillow, which I find to be a bit odd. We have the strangest artwork on our wall. Itís like a piece of cloth that got tie dyed, then bleached, then mounted on our wall behind some glass with a torn-off piece stuck to the wall towards the entrance of the room.
Last night we went to the circle K to get food after arriving late from our long trip, but we ended up crashing the minute we got back to the room. I got edemame chips and a bowl of noodles with tofu on the top. The chips are good but I think Iím going to hold out on the soup.
I donít really know whatís in store for tomorrow, but Iím insanely excited!
On the relation between gardens and Zen temples:
Lawry and I talked to the head priest here at Daisen-in. When we asked him about meditation and its connection to the garden, he gave me an indirect answer. He said that nature along with people make up the universe, but each person is just a small part. The gardens are meant to help us understand that we are just a small part of nature; our individual identity or status is unimportant. There was also a sign there that said: "Scrubbing, sweeping, pulling weed, wood-chopping - Daisen-in will accept your labor of love if you wish to have a taste of practical Zen."
On experiencing a garden with your senses rather than your camera:
At the rock garden of Daisen-in Temple there were no pictures allowed, so I tried to quickly sketch how it looked. It is a very simple garden that outlines the entire complex. I especially liked how it blended nicely with the natural outside trees. There are two hedges of different heights outlining the sand garden with many taller trees outside of it. When viewed from the steps in front of the room [in the building the garden surrounds] the rooftop cuts off the picture and the outside trees fit perfectly in the composition. With the wind blowing the trees were swaying slightly and the birds were singing. I was disappointed that I was unable to take pictures, yet now that I think more about it I understand that I viewed this garden differently because I was not photographing it. I focused more on the little details that made it unique. I was able to capture the garden by listening more carefully, absorbing the smells and sounds as well as the view. I noticed other aspects such as the unique pruning of the tree in the upper right corner and the images the raked sand created. The sand was raked to represent water with two large swirls incorporated in the image. It was a hot day, but I could almost feel the cool water whirling around. All my senses were engaged in a way that they hadn't been when I was concentrating on getting the best photo, and I was less anxious and more able to just experience what was before me.
Journals and diaries are excellent places for lists, a well-known habit of the 11th century Japanese writer, Sei Shonagon, author of The Pillow Book
. Sometimes a good list is very satisfying:
What I'll Miss Now That I am Home:
- Japanese style shower/bathroom, especially heated toilet seats
- new foods: udon, soba, Japanese curry, rice balls, togarashi, potato croquettes...
- using chopsticks all the time (by the end, I could do it all the time!)
- friendly Junior High kids who talked to us on buses and trains
- but most of all, my host family who welcomed me as part of their family
What I Won't Miss:
- bikes on the sidewalk that almost mow you down (I heard a "ding" behind me yesterday and started to jump out of the way)
- crowded buses - standing room only
- foods I didn't like: bamboo shoots, uncooked eggs, the nasty green pepper thing
- gettting sick on the plane
On being surprised and coming to respect your grandmother in a new way:
Today, we traveled to Nara. Upon exiting the subway/train we were walking when all of a sudden these deer started to appear on the sidewalks and in the park next to the sidewalk. It was quite possibly one of the strangest things Iíve ever seen.
I had no idea that such a thing existed until my grandmother told me to go to the deer park and feed the deer. Honestly, my parents and I were of the non-believing type. We thought that this was another one of her crazy and wacky non-true stories but now I have proof. So the crazy thing was, was that the deer were not just in one area. They were prevalent up until the temple we were visiting for that day.
Another student encounters deer:
Our visit to Nara was one of my favorite excursions on the trip. The city had a unique feeling to it Ė a sort of warmth that I did not feel in Kyoto. There were masses of people walking along the boulevards, especially families due to the plentitude of food venders, toy carts, and of course, the deer! Nara is famous for the deer which roam the streets and parks, seeking generous tourists with deer crackers bought from nearby carts. The deer are protected by law, and are thus very comfortable with humans and quite bold when approaching them. One deer took a bite out of my t-shirt when I gingerly tried to feed him and his colleagues some deer crackers. I enjoyed the feeling of cooling deer slobber against my skin for a half hour.
On spending time just by yourself:
So today was a free day. Free of templing, free of shrining, and free of gardening. It couldnít have come at a better time. We all took time to see the Aoi festival on the grounds of the former Imperial Palace and then from there we all went our separate ways. Everybody but Lawry and me went to the monkey park. I was ready to spend some time away from the group. So I packed my backpack with everything I needed for the day including my iPod, and I began my journey through a city I was becoming more and more comfortable in. I walked on my own around Kyoto and around Teramachi Street. I was in search of some okonomi-yaki and a Japan National Soccer Jersey. I was successful on both accounts. I was also able to escape the rain since it didnít rain today. What a relief! The day altogether was very peaceful and was something I needed. I ended the day with a terrific bowl of instant ramen.
On experiencing a slice of Japanese life with a host family:
My host family (I have not met Dad yet) is very nice. I adore the 5 year old, Kensue. He talks to me incessantly in Japanese and doesn't seem to mind that I don't really answer. We played "memory" all afternoon so I learned some animal names in Japanese. The other child (Yasue) does not talk to me because he knows I don't understand. He is a nice kid though. They both like the gifts I brought them. The family had dinner without the father our first night. I'm guessing this is normal for them. Dad works long hours and comes home late. Mom is very kind but worries a lot. (Next day:) This morning Kensue came running into my room naked. Just out of the shower. He is very excited about the host family association party today, and even now at the end of the day (after the party is over) I say "is" because he keeps talking about it...Yasue discovered that he can talk to me by drawing pictures, so he did that all evening on dinner napkins at the Italian restaurant.
On finding your favorite garden:
Tofuku-ji - This may be my favorite garden yet. Shigemori [Shigemori Mirei was a 20th century garden designer who redsigned some of the gardens at Tofukuji in the 1930s] was truly a master of his art. And I have to say this may be his best work even though it was his first. It is the ultimate mix of the old world style and the new world style. The checker pattern on the west and north sides seem reminiscent of the walls in older tea houses. [There is a photo of the checkerboard pattern in the Photo section.] Itís raining today and Iím thankful for it because I couldnít imagine a better way to view this specific garden. This massive temple with smaller contained gardens makes the temple look even more massive.
Our trip ended with a visit to Hiroshima, where we had the opportunity to speak with a woman who experienced the dropping of the atomic bomb on her city and the loss of family and friends when she was a small child. Here is one student's response to that experience:
Today was amazing. I really had no idea that there was this huge peace movement in Hiroshima. The museum was incredible. I found it to be very informative and moving without harboring hate. I was completely blown away by the survivor that we listened to. She has been through unimaginable pain and suffering that was caused by America and she was one of the kindest, most loving people Iíve encountered. Even though the individuals in our group had nothing to do with the A-bomb, I would completely understand if she hated us. She even learned English after all of that!
Hiroshima is one of those places that Iíd always heard about but never really thought of as a real place, especially not one that I would ever visit. Iím glad I got to see it. I still cannot even imagine what being there when the A-bomb hit would be like. Iím embarrassed that we as people are capable of such things. Maybe the message of peace will hit a chord with some people before we blow the whole world up.