Tag Archives: Present Moment

Baby Bodhas

The first Japanese temple I visited was a block from my hotel and was called Zojoji.  I didn’t have a sense at the time whether this was a “typical” temple or not.

As I wrote in a previous post, there are thousands of shrines, large and small, everywhere in Japan.  Zojoji, in retrospect, was an “average” sized temple, with a dozen buildings scattered over what seemed to be a couple acres, and Tokyo Tower looming in the background.

I just learned on Wikipedia—after making my annual very modest donation to support them—that Zojoji is the “head temple of the Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhism in the Kanto Region.”  That’s kind of like saying I am “the greatest travel and prison blogger who lives on the east side of St. Paul.”  I would see a lot of descriptors like this in the weeks to come.

But it was still pretty cool, it being my first.

Most of Zojoji’s current buildings are recent reconstructions except for the main entrance gate, the Sangedatsumon, which has survived many fires, earthquakes and wars and dates from 1622.

1622!  Here’s the gate:

As I also wrote previously, I was in Japan in the off season.  This was thanks to school holidays not having yet commenced and to it being the rainy season.  The downside, of course: rain.  The upside: hardly any tourists.

It had just rained and the buildings were closed, so it was just me and a handful of other people in the complex.  Normally I would be snapping away with my phone, but I was phoneless for now.  I had wondered: would I be able to enjoy this atmospheric moment without capturing it?  (I took these photos later, once I’d got a new charger).

I was pleased to note I felt at peace.

I came across these “baby bodhisattvas”—hundreds of foot-tall stone statues of bodhisattvas.  I’ve found various definitions of bodhisattva online.  The most generic is something like: one who is on the path to nirvana and has compassion for all beings.  Kind of an apprentice Buddha.

I felt a physical urge to reach for my phone to take photos, then relaxed when I remembered my dead phone was back in my room.

This was the explanation of the bodhisattvas:

These are “care guardian deities of children.”  They are dedicated for the safety growth of children and grandchildren, as well as for the memorial service for still birth or miscarried children.  To protect and keep warm their heads, “red hat” “red apron” and “windmill”, were dedicated to the guardian deity of children image.  Please refrain from touching.

I felt a pang of sadness, knowing some of these must represent babies that died. I have four friends or relations whose babies died, and it’s got to be one of life’s worst experiences. I “lost” a baby through adoption, so I like to think I have strong empathy for how it would feel.

Just then a powerful gong sounded nearby and reverberated for 20 seconds before sounding again. It made me jump internally then a calm descended over me.

This was happening just the way it was meant to.  If my phone had still been functional, I might have been hunched on my hotel room bed scrolling though social media to learn that my second cousin’s oldest kid had just graduated from college in Nebraska, or how a guy I met in grad school 17 years ago will look when he’s 100, thanks to a hot new “aging” app.

I gave thanks for my phone being dead—at least for now.

Walking toward the sound I found a monk—yes, with a shaved head and long flowing robe—using a long, thick rope to propel an enormous weight forward into a bell the size of a Volkswagon Beetle.

Why he was doing this—was it a call to prayer?  The “closing” bell? Was he ushering in nightfall?  It didn’t matter.

I crossed back over the road and wondered about this little gem tucked in between hideous concrete high-rises.

I stopped at Family Mart, a ubiquitous convenience store, for some cheap eats before crashing for 10 hours—my first of 26 nights in Japan.

Being There

I had an hour before I would meet Heidi and there were swarms of people on the streets but nowhere to sit and have a cup of tea.  Normally I would have gone for a walk to see what I could stumble upon, but the rain hadn’t let up and I just wasn’t in the mood to get splashed by taxis and spend the rest of the day with wet pant legs and shoes.

Then I noticed a modest structure across from Parliament with a sign out front and wandered over to have a look.  It turned out to be what was left of the original Royal Palace of Westminster, the Jewel Tower.

Before I paid my five quid or whatever it cost, I asked the guy at the till, “Will I be able to see it all in an hour?”

He laughed a little.  “Oh yes.  It’s smaller on the inside than what you see on the outside.  No one’s been in all day,” he said.  “You’ll have the place to yourself.”

“It’s weird there are thousands of people standing in line for a tour of Parliament, just steps away across the street, but no one in here.”

“I know.  This place isn’t on any of the Top 10 lists. It’s the kind of place people visit the fifth time they come.”

Erm…that would be me.  I hadn’t known of the Jewel Tower’s existence until now, as I began climbing the steep, winding, stone steps to the top floor.

The Jewel Tower was built around 1365 to hold the treasure of King Edward III.  It was used as a store house for special-occasion clothing, public records, and jewels—as you might expect.  In the late 18th Century it was turned into the office of Weights and Measures—exciting stuff!  There were displays in the small rooms of some of the objects stored or measured there, but the best part was the views of Parliament from inside the tower.  None of my photos turned out, but trust me; it was very atmospheric to see Victoria Tower in the rain through the wavy, hundreds-of-years-old window glass.

I was done in 15 minutes but felt like the guy downstairs might be offended if I popped down too soon, so I sat on a window ledge and enjoyed the views, including the forever queuing tourists.  It was warm and cozy in here. After a few minutes I traipsed down the steps and bought a cup of tea in the tiny café area.  The ceiling was only maybe 12×12 feet, but richly adorned.  My friend was busy with two new guests, so I gazed up and around between sips and killed a half hour.

How often are we forced to do nothing?  Rarely.  And I have to be forced.  I can’t do it on my own.  After 15 minutes I began to notice things I wouldn’t have if I’d given the place the usual cursory once over. Differences in colors where a wall must have been repaired.  Was that from the great fire?  There was a lion’s head—was it carved in stone, or wood?  How was it attached to the ceiling?

Looking straight on, my view was a little display of souvenirs and a freezer full of ice cream treats.  Ice cream treats!  This is one regard in which the Brits are eternally optimistic.  There might be that one warm day when an ice cream treat wouldn’t freeze off your already cold cockles.

I realize I’m writing about a lot of nothing here, but that’s my point.  I had nothing to do, nowhere to go.  I wasn’t in any hurry, and there wasn’t a lot to see but what there was, I really saw that day.

I realize I’m writing about a lot of nothing here, but that’s my point.  I had nothing to do, nowhere to go.  I wasn’t in any hurry, and there wasn’t a lot to see but what there was, I really saw that day.

I was kind of impressed with myself that I wasn’t ruminating about my dad, after feeling the shock of recognition in Victoria Park.  I didn’t think about shopping, or work, or paying my bills, or how I was going to lose 10 pounds, or what time I needed to catch the train to get back to Windsor by sunset.

I was just there, off leash.  This only happens when I’m traveling.