Week 1: The Zen Retreat & Spring Cycling “Camp”

•May 8, 2017 • 2 Comments
 This is the first of our three weeks at a Zen retreat in a rural village on the island of Kyushu, Japan. 
 
Even though we struggle to stay awake until 9pm, the 5am chime on my phone still comes far too early.  We then get ready to settle into our cushions in the temple at 5:25 when the monk arrives for his 30 minutes of chanting.  Then it’s 30 minutes of zazen (sitting meditation), a few minutes of kinhan (walking meditation), and 30 more minutes of zazen.  Tea time is 7:05.
 
There’s no breakfast as the monk says, “breakfast is poison”. No doubt a bit of Zen hyperbole. We sneak some fruit from the stash in our room. I’ll take a bit of poison, arigato gozaimasu.  
 
Alison and I have coffee, then I do 30-45 minutes of yoga, sometimes in the temple, sometimes in my room by following a series of videos on the iPad, which brings us to Samu (service to the temple).  Samu is often simply weeding, but sometimes digging up the vegetable garden or raking leaves on the path in the bamboo forest. The first and latter items are perpetual chores, the point of which is very Zen, in that there’s obviously no point. 
 
Then lunch. Mostly it’s stuff from the garden, plus maybe miso soup, marinated mackerel, and gohan (rice) or soba noodles.  No meat yet. One day I helped make handmade udon noodles, which were oii-shi (delicious).  Jiho, our monk host, says we should only “eat to 80%”.  It’s hard to measure, but we definitely aren’t eating anywhere close to Thanksgiving Day fullness.  
 
 
For everyone else, the afternoons are either personal times or excursions with Jiho in his car.  So far these have included trips to a local onsen, or a historical site.  I’ve joined them to the onsen, but my afternoons everyday include a bike ride.  
 
The roads within a 30 mile radius are very small, very hilly, and have few cars. Some roads turn into paved cycling paths deep in the forest, some simply disappear.  My touring bike is perfect for this type of riding. 
 
 Typical road in the area, and below a woodland cycle route…
 
 
The bees must be a serious problem to warrant a road sign!
 
 
And of course, there’s the tunnels…
 
(Speaking of Jiho in the car. I think he’s a reincarnated Formula One race car driver.  Riding with him is not for the faint of heart.)
 
Dinnertime is a Leasure World Early Bird Special, normally 5pm, but Alison has gotten him to almost 5:30. 6:00 is clearly out of the question.  Like the rest of Japan meals, dinner looks a lot like lunch, and breakfast too, if we ate it. 
 
Then it’s hanging out, reading, socializing with the other guests (max 4) and forcing ourselves to stay awake till 9:00, ‘cause that 5:00 phone chime will be right around the corner. 
 
Those two spots are where Alison and I sit in the temple. 
And that’s Fabian, the Italian Bhuddist, doing some martial art thing.
 

 

 
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A Zen Retreat, and my “Cycle Training Camp”

•April 24, 2017 • 2 Comments

We’re in Japan for 5 weeks; three of them are at a Zen Retreat on Kyushu.

untitled shoot_20-Sep-15_042-Edit-EditOur typical daily schedule includes waking up at 5:00 for 30 minutes of chanting, followed by an hour of meditation, then tea time, and an hour of Yoga. Then, a few hours of “Samu”, or service to the temple, taking us up to lunchtime.

The afternoons are mostly free, with Alison doing a daily art project, calligraphy with the monk, and hikes to the beach or the village. 

I’m bringing my bike, and plan to do a daily bike ride up into the tiny, twisty, quiet roads into the hills.  My Spring Training.

There’s internet, but we will be on a self-imposed 3 week total news blackout.  No politics. No news.  Just doing the Zen thing and me cycling as much as possible. 
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An Indigo Master, & a Pottery Village

•October 19, 2016 • Leave a Comment

The Little Indigo Museum in the small village of Miyama, north of Kyoto.  We took a subway, two trains, and a bus…but it was well worth it.

 

11.jpgHiroyuki Shindo has been using Indigo since he was a young man.

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The pottery village of Shigaraki

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1.jpgThere were art installations around the village, this one inside a kiln

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Images of Japan at night (mostly)

•October 15, 2016 • 2 Comments

Some photos of Nagano, Obuse, Matsushiro, and Takayama…

 

In front of Zenkoji temple in Nagano

 These are of a procession in Nagano, going between a small temple and the enormous Zenkoji, which takes place at night for a few weeks each year

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 Takayama 

 Fire buckets are everywhere in Japan, usually red, but these must be faded 

 Obuse is known for its chestnuts.  The town has footpaths paved with blocks of chestnut tree wood  

 Shot through a window covered with a spotted UV pattern

 A steep path leading to a beautiful shrine outside Obuse

 Castle ruins in Matsushiro, a 10 mile bike ride from Nagano

Young Monks repairing a torn shoji screen 

Alison and I were cycling around Takayama…photo not taken by me

 

 

Images of Japan – Post Cycling Travels

•October 10, 2016 • 5 Comments

A Soba making demo…

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The precision of the cutting was something 

 

The D.T. Suzuki Museum in Kanazawa…

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At the Contemporary Art Museum, Kanazawa…

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At a wasabi farm…

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Just some random shots… 

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Soaking feet in tubs with apples…don’t ask…

 

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Phones…

 

 

To Nagano

•October 6, 2016 • 3 Comments

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My bike on a local train.  A few stops after I took this photo, the train started filling up, so I moved my bike to the front where there were no seats.  There was more than 4′ of unoccupied bench next to me, and only a few tiny spaces here and there in my car.  This was a local line…not a tourist route.  At further stops, more people boarded than departed, but no one took the space near me, they just squeezed into the other spaces.  I didn’t take it personally.  

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I’m not sure this is even physically possible

05.jpgI cycled through that half tunnel 

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A festival in a town I cycled through 

  

These wrapped ears of corn are displayed all around.  Must be a autumn thing. 

Rainy days

•September 30, 2016 • 3 Comments

It’s been raining off and on the last few days.  Fortunately, I’ve been mostly on very small mountain roads so the rain hasn’t been a huge issue.  Plus it’s been pretty light and reasonably warm. 

 

 Setting out in the rain 

 Taking a break to get dry for a while 

サラダ says “Sarada” or salad, but Salad Road?

 The only other place in the world I’ve seen wood so neatly stacked was Switzerland 

 Primping for the camera in front of Kumamoto castle 

 The menu at the restaurant last night.  I can read Hiragana and Katakana pretty well but I can read absolutely zero Kanji, so this was mostly useless for me 

A bike shop.  It was open for business if you could make it through the mess

 

 

 
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