Noilly Prattle: September 2015

Monday, September 28, 2015

Harvest Moon

       Cactus flowers in full bloom at the same time as the full moon of September. Good timing since they bloom at night and last only one day. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Equinox - お彼岸 [O-HIGAN]

ripening rice grain

     It's been a more eventful summer than we either anticipated or would have wished for. I mean who would look forward to a collision in the middle of a road trip? It's just that kind of thing that stands out in your travel memories, though. Anyway, seasons come and seasons go and our summer of discombobulation is starting to pass quietly into Autumn. We also expect the return of our repaired automobile by the end of the month—hopefully a good omen for the upcoming Fall season.
       With the coming of Fall the high heat and humidity of summer changes into drier air and more clear blue skies that entice you into the countryside for walking and immersing yourself in a landscape that while still summery is showing early signs of summer's end: the bright red Amaryllis known in Japan as the Equinox Flower お彼岸花 borders ripening rice paddies with their golden grain; early maples are tinged with orange and crimson; bush clover line the walking path around a clear spring-fed reservoir; pampas grass is still the color of ochre before it dries up and blows away like dandelion puffs.

bush clover
pampas grass

spring fed reservoir

wind spinners made from aluminum cans
main temple of Ryusenji in early fall
       We decided to revisit the Temple of the Dragon Waterfall 龍泉寺where I had a singular experience recently standing under the fall accompanied by two younger guys and a Buddhist monk in a Buddhist ceremony. Today there weren't any people on the path around the reservoir and the waterfall grotto was quiet, except for the splashing of the fall, so we pretty much had the temple grounds to enjoy all to ourselves.

the dragon waterfall

Muscat Matsuri (festival)
walking path near airport park
       O-higan signals the beginning of the rice harvesting season and harvest festivals. Our area is renowned for Muscat grapes and the local agricultural cooperative held its annual Muscat Matsuri (Muscat Grape Festival. The festival was held in a large park near Okayama Airport about a 20-minute drive from our home. The area has many walking and hiking paths that we often use for exercise, so we decided to kill two birds with one stone and attended the festival for an hour or so.

Okayama Airport runway
I wanna be a policeman when I grow up

the little drummer girl

on the midway

       We've been busy driving to our favorite haunts while we still have a rented car. After tomorrow and until our Mazda is shipped from the repair shop in Hokkaido we will be without wheels. We had leased the rented car out of our own pocket because the insurance company wouldn't pay for it. Since we hope to have our own car by the end of the month, we decided not to pay any additional money for a rental car. So we are going cold turkey until our car is shipped back. If you have an accident in your home area, the repair shop will loan you a replacement car, as long as you return it to the same shop. Since our accident occurred 1300 miles from home and we obviously couldn't return the replacement car to the same shop (unless we wanted to drive [at considerable expense for tolls and ferry boats] the1300 miles to Hokkaido [again!] and drive our own car back), the insurance company wouldn't pay for it. I guess you have to plan your accidents so that they happen in a location convenient to your home!

we should have planned our accident in the parking lot of the supermarket downhill from our home

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Under the Dragon Fall

     Today, completely by chance, I had one of the most unique experiences of my life.

Ryusenji main temple with its beautiful tile roof
       Last autumn, I posted a blog on a visit to a Nishiren Buddhist sect temple called Ryusenji [龍泉寺] (Dragon Fountain Temple) about a 15 or 20 minute drive from home. The temple complex is perfect for walking in a natural setting and we have been in the habit of going there from time to time to walk. Today we were returning from picking up our plants from Road Buddy's family home when I suggested stopping by at Ryusenji, which is on the way, to walk a bit.

dragon figure ceramic on main temple roof
       Towards the end of our walk on the way to the parking lot we noticed several Buddhist monks in white robes in front of the temple office. As we were walking by one of the monks addressed me in excellent English and asked if I was interested in Japanese temples. I said that I was and, indeed, that I thought—pointing it out—the main temple building was one of the most beautiful I had seen (and I have seen many). The dragon motif of the glossy tile roof absolutely shimmers in brown tones with a touch of aqua for some beautifully stylized waves and several charming dragon figures decorating the roof.

       He then began to talk about the temple and mentioned the dragon waterfall for which the temple is well known. I told him that I had visited the temple before and knew about and had seen the waterfall and thought it fascinating. He then asked me if I would be interesting in experiencing it first hand. At first, I thought no, but then I remember thinking, when I first saw the spout, that it would be interesting to try that. The invitation was sincere, so I said that yes, I would like to try it, but what should I wear? Would nude be OK? He said yes, so I said OK, why not. It turned out, that “nude” didn't mean nothing, but a Japanese “fundoshi”--a traditional male undergarment. He said the temple would loan me one.

the grotto
the dragon fall
        A couple of other young men were coming who wanted to be initiated and he invited me to join them. When they arrived we were all given our fundoshi and led down to the waterfall, where we all changed from our street clothes to our ceremonial fundoshi. A master monk then took us in hand and explained the procedures of the ceremony. He purified the pool and waterfall by throwing sake and salt into them while saying some prayers. He then instructed us to first splash ourselves with water, then, for purification, to present first the left shoulder, then the right shoulder into the fall, followed by the left leg and the right leg—left side first because it is the side of the heart. Then, one by one, we backed into the waterfall, letting the stream fall on the back of the neck and shoulders. The stream was unexpectedly strong and you had to brace yourself to keep from being toppled over. We stood, one by one, hands in prayer at chest level, facing the monk who chanted mantras over us. We each had two turns under the waterfall.

under the dragon fall
        You experience a feeling of connection, fellowship with the monk and the other initiates and a wonderful feeling of relaxation and a kind of friendly kinship with the natural world that surrounds us—the spirit of animism, perhaps. If the spirit of “god” exists anywhere, it is more in such a simple natural setting than in a great cathedral.

        As a bonus, a temple attendant told us that now that we were initiated we could come and use the dragon fall any time we liked in any season and at no cost. Our master monk said that he practices this ritual every day of the year.  I think I would have to pass on doing that in winter, though.