Crows and things....からす座
Updated: May 27
(2th Nov. 2022)
My bedroom is still dark when I wake up. 目が覚めたら部屋がまだ暗い. Something is wrong. It is too quiet. It is indeed very quiet. My brain grudgingly accepts the reality. I am back in Langen, Germany. ドイツのランゲンに戻ってきました. Last night I collapsed into my flat after a 14 and a half hour flight from Tokyo. 14 1/2 hours? Yes, because we had to fly around the north of Russia and approach Europe via Greenland. And what is wrong? そして何が正しくないのか. Well, there are no crows and squawking shrikes outside.うーん、外にはカラスがいない. They greet you when you wake up in Yokohama. The crows have loud, mocking cries and are huge. But useful. It is surprising how few rats or mice you see in this metropolis - the crows do the rodent control. Here's a nice specimen sitting on a lantern in front of a temple. お寺のカラス.
Welcome back to my blog!
I've spent the last 3 weeks in Japan, and now would like to try and write about some of my impressions and experiences. I wanted to go to the country because I am learning its language. But I didn't want to go as a tourist. So why not as a volunteer? You know, the sort of thing students do. I am a student - a student of life. So I found a way of helping out at a Buddhist temple down in the south (Kyushu).
Free board and lodging in exchange for daily jobs to keep the show running. Will write about that later. I followed it by a few days as a tourist in the regional capital, Kumamoto. And before returning to Germany I spent 5 days in Yokohama, my favourite Japanese city (that's where I heard all the crows).
It's November 2nd, and I've arrived in Tokyo Haneda airport. The atmosphere is lively and the staff are rather agitated. It has been just over 2 weeks ago that Japan, after 3 years, had at last fully opened its borders to foreigners. 雰囲気は活気があり、スタッフはかなり動揺しています。 日本が 3 年を経て、ようやく国境を完全に外国人に開放したのは 2 週間ほど前のことです。Smart, efficient-looking ladies clutching clipboards direct you to the right queue. But they are friendly and welcoming. I wave my phone, displaying the immigration app.📲 It is blue - the right colour (phew!). A recorded message is playing on a loop in bad English. It is trying to explain something about the customs declaration form, but lacks a vital sentence. This could be "Yes, even though you have put all possible information on your app. we still want you to take this pen here and declare that you are not a criminal etc. etc....." Well I have to laugh. Here I am back in this crazy country. ここで私はこの狂った国に戻ってきました. From now on I must ask no more "Western" questions and just go with the flow. It's time to change terminals and board the local flight to Kumamoto.
But oh! there is a problem. The check-in system refuses to recognise my baggage. Consternation and worry on the face of another smartly dressed ANA employee. She leads me (insisting on taking my suitcase herself) to the booking office. There she leaves me with the booking clerk, who, after some serious monitor-checking, explains to me what has happened. I don't understand a word. The flight to Kumamoto begins to recede into the distance......
During my last lesson, before I left, my teacher Miki-san uttered these words: "If you ever have a question or need help just call me...I'll be in Osaka." 「質問がある場合や助けが必要な場合は、私に電話してください...私は大阪にいます。」OK, Miki-san...... here goes.... I call her and simply hand the phone over to the ANA clerk. They talk a lot. Apparently I have booked a seat as a 5-yr old 🤣 Wow. How did I do that? What next? The girl at the desk seems to regard this as a sort of challenge. Within 20 mins she has booked me onto a later flight, getting me a cheaper ticket because I am 65 years old!
And I get the difference refunded. I thank her profusely with words and bowing, making sure that this is in earshot of her superior.
An emergency snack is necessary at this point - welcome to Japanese fast food!
A few hours later I am gazing down at the hilly countryside of Kanagawa..... 神奈川県
Is that Enoshima island?
... just grazing the top of Mount Fuji....富士山
......... following the cities and coast down to the south.....
....and being served onion soup by the cabin crew. Just right. ちょうどいい......Arrival in Kumamoto.....
My ultimate destination is a small village deep in Miyazaki prefecture. It is near a town called Takachiho. 目的地は宮崎県の奥深くにある小さな村。 高千穂という町の近くです。
From the regional capital Kumamoto there is no train and only one bus a day. So I have to spend one night in Kumamoto. This gives me a chance to take a breather and revise some kanji. The hotel toilet is a good starting point. These two kanji mean "big" and "small"....I leave the rest to your imagination....
....however the bathtub has a translation......
This is how to survive in Japan. Accept, bow and smile..........then move on to the next challenge. It was only at the end of the next day that I finally arrived at Shonenji temple, my home for the next week or so. The chief priest of the temple, Junsho-san, picked me up in his car, お寺の住職、順照さんが車で迎えに来てくれて, and, leaving the city behind us, headed up into the Kyushu hills. Along the way his phone 📞rang......every second word seemed to be "Hai....Hai.....Hai.....Wakarimasu!....." (yes, .....yes....yes....got it!).....when he put the phone down he said it was another funeral to arrange, and that he would have to check in his calendar if he, his wife, or his son had time to take it (they are also priests). But we were not going straight to the temple. Oh no. My friendly, merry companion had other ideas. The road took us through the gigantic cauldera of Aso-san, one of Japan's active volcanoes.
Had I ever been to an Onsen? he asked me. No. He grinned. 温泉に行ったことがありますか？ 彼は私に尋ねました。 いいえ、彼はニヤリと笑った。Now although this was my fourth trip to Japan I had never been to a thermal spring. I was uncertain of the procedures and customs. Go with the flow man! even if it means stripping naked and submerging yourself in bubbly volcanic water. I rested my head on a rock and let all the strains and stresses of the journey slip away. We were outside. Over the steaming water, drenched in the warm glow of the evening sun, rose the peaks of the Aso cauldera. Mount Nakadake 高岳 - 中岳 in all its glory. No words needed. Just sublime.
Just a word about the temple where I was heading for. Before you get the wrong idea, this is not a "holier than thou art"sort of place with tonsured monks practising zen meditation in flowing robes. And I am not on a Buddhism trip - I couldn't cope with all the chanting anyway. But I do know that, whatever religion you meet in this wide world, you must show respect for it, for it is important for those involved. This place is a pragmatic, vital and busy focal point for a small, rural community. It is a member of the Hongwanji Pure Land Buddhism Sect, one of the main schools in Japan.
The temple itself was founded in the 16thc, and Jonshu Yoshimura (my driver) is the 17th generation head priest. It's probably easiest just to redirect you with this link (in English) https://shonenjitemplelodge.com/en/aboutus/ or in Japanese....https://shonenjitemplelodge.com/aboutus/ On arrival at the temple it was family meal time....with Kai-chan and his little sister Mi-chan, Junsho-san's grandchildren.....
.....I was thrown in the deep end, but was made to feel very welcome.....
....and was given a humble room in an outhouse with my own modern bathroom suite. Heaven.
I even had my own personal cat (as long as I fed it)....
and a peaceful view...
More next week. And thank you for reading. I send out this blog pretty randomly to whoever I think might be interested. Some of you have subscribed (if you are on your mobile then open the menu at the start), which means you get a deluxe notification via email. Thank you! Some of you though have not been receiving the notification emails. Could be they have ended up in your spam folder. If you don't want to be sent this blog, don't hesitate to tell me and I shall take you off the list (well, there is no list as such!). No problem.
この投稿を読んでいただきありがとうございます。 新しい投稿のお知らせを受け取りたい場合は、上部の購読フォームに記入してください。 ありがとう！Nigel.😊