November 15th and 16th was surely a memorable weekend for me. I went to Zen Zemi in Takikawa, about 1.5 hour away from Sapporo by car. We stayed in a temple, Kozenji Temple, to learn about Zen, and experience Japanese cultures.
We got there at 10 in the morning then we had brief overview about Zen, the head Monk of the temple also taught us several basic Zen postures like gassho, hokkai-join, and also the lotus posture. Zen itself means meditation in Japanese, or Buddhism meditation to be specific.
During our first day there, we played drum circle, tried zen for the first time and went to onsen. Drum circle means playing drums and other percussion instruments in a circle. Everyone was asked to choose whatever they wanted to play (I chose a weird looking instrument, it looks like small human with its body made of pieces of wood and to play you just gotta shake its feet.) and play it however they wanted. Interestingly even though we played with no rules at all, our instruments formed a beautiful melody.
After lunch, we had several discussions about Japanese culture, we were free to express our thoughts, the barrier we feel as international students in Japan and how actually Japanese students think about us. It was really insightful, from 30 people 75% of them were international students and the rest are Japanese. We learned that Japanese are actually really shy, they’re afraid to talk to gaijins. They’re also shy to speak in English because they don’t like making mistakes. I personally couldn’t relate to their feelings since I’m a really open person, but I do try to understand especially when Miyuki told us she actually afraid to talk to us unless we talk to her first because she’s afraid of bothering us. Kyuu, a Chinese student from my Japanese communication class also told me he feels a bit frustrated because he thinks his English is not good enough to let him be able to express himself freely while his Japanese is still poor he finds it hard to communicate with everyone but Chinese. I couldn’t stress enough how wrong I think he is, his English is really good and we always talked a lot during class. His Japanese skill also better than anyone else in our class so I don’t get why he thinks that way. Probably it’s a Eastern Asia culture? But I wouldn’t say it that way either.
In the end of discussion, my group Ikasumi (Japanese word for Squid Ink) came up with the Treasure Hunt project. We’ll play Treasure Hunt in Hokkudai area with Japanese students. This is going to be super fun!
After discussion, we had dinner. Meals were really delicious, mostly Japanese vegetarian dishes but they also served us prawn and fried fish on the second day.
I can’t explain how happy I am to eat complete meals without the fuss of cooking! Lol
After dinner, we went to Onsen. Onsen is Japanese public hot bath. It’s also a part of Japanese culture, almost every Japanese like going to Onsen especially in this snowy weather. There are rules before you go to Onsen: First, you have to strip naked. No clothes are allowed in the pools but no worries, they separate the rooms for men and women. Second, before you dip in the pool(s), you should take shower and clean yourself. Going to onsen without cleaning yourself is considered taboo, you could get kicked out of the bath house if you did this. Third, you could bring a small towel with you but make sure not to soak them while you’re in the pool. Most Onsen has both outdoor and indoor pools. It wasn’t my first time in Onsen but it was my first time trying outdoor onsen with snow all around us. It was as if I unlocked two achievements at once: Skinny dipping and naked in the snow. Yayyy!!! Onsen also always make me relaxed and help me to sleep better.
Next morning, we joined morning ceremony. We stood and listened to the head Monk reading Sutra to us. The head Monk, Genchan, is really humble and funny! I am surprised, I thought monks are supposed to be stiff and old and boring but monks in Kozenji temple were not (Genchan is obviously old but he doesn’t look like it at all!)
The altar where morning ceremony took place
Next we participated in tea ceremony. Too bad we didn’t get to wear kimonos during the tea ceremony but I enjoyed it still! We even went to see a secret tea room inside the temple, it was really small and has short entrance too! People literally have to crawl to get inside the room.
The lady serves us tea and fruit jelly. I want to wear such pretty kimono!!! She showed us how to make tea then she taught us how to hold the cup, what to say before you take your snacks and drink your tea.
I finally taste the real green tea lol
After tea ceremony we had our second Zazen session. During the first Zazen (Zen meditation) session, I feel peaceful. It was really easy to focus my mind and enter the blank. First meditation was 15 minutes but it felt like 5 minutes. Second session was harder…. There were SO. MANY. THINGS. in my mind. I tried to focus but it was so hard. My mind was full of thoughts I didn’t even know they exist. Some things I tried so hard to forget, they were rushing back in all at once. It was awful, we were meditating for 20 minutes but it feels like I’ve been sitting there for hours.
Genchan later told us, time is a strange concept. When you’re focused on something good, something peaceful, you’ll feel it pass by so fast but when you lost your focus, it will feel so long despite the fact I sat there only for 5 minutes longer than the first session. The more you do this Zazen, it will only get harder because it makes you more aware of your thoughts, of yourself and you can never escape from it, only when in the silent you can hear how much battle you have inside, and the only way to become better person is to find peace within yourself. That’s why meditation helps, that is how meditation helps us. Considering the fact I just had a not-so-easy-to-deal-with experience and still trying to cope with it, I definitely want to explore more about this Zazen.
Thanks Genchan and Kozenji temple family, I will definitely come back later!
P.S: Pictures are courtesy of me but the first and last pictures were taken from Zen Zemi facebook page.