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Showing posts from May, 2015

Sōji-ji, the centre of Zen in eastern Japan

Sōji-ji is a bit of an odd duck, but it's a very calm, cheerful, wood-chopping, water-carrying duck.
It is, after all, one of Japan's two main Sōtō Zen temples. The famous one is Eihei-ji, which has everything one would expect: remote mountain location, mysterious forests, deep snow. Sōji-ji, on the other hand, is smack-bang in the middle of Tsurumi near Yokohama. It's an industrialized zone with identical apartment buildings and big companies like Toshiba, Nissan, Kirin and Asahi Glass. Not exactly conducive to shikantaza.

That's why I was a bit skeptical when I visited it, but … it won me over very quickly. It's a training temple, and monks carry on with their duties despite a steady stream of visitors. I'm used to Zen temples and monks who ignore you – vow of silence and ascetic seclusion and what-not – but not this bunch! Every one of them greeted me with a cheerful "konnichi wa" and a wide grin: the guys working in the garden, the guys sweeping…

Hanging out with Enma, the king of hell

It was an experiment. Science, sacrifice, success.
I can't go hiking with a backpack anymore, since an old injury is causing too many complications. Even my Canon EOS is a tad hefty for this wonky support system called the cervical spine. (It's really not a particularly efficient design: there's too much stuff happening in too narrow a space.)
So I opted for minimalism.
I can't hike in mountains? Fine, I'll walk in my neighbourhood. Can't carry a backpack or even a bag? OK, I'll take my camera, cash and my front door key. That's it. Not even a smartphone. I defy any Tokyo woman to go for a 3-hour walk with nothing but a camera, cash and a front door key. I can think of two who'd accept that challenge: a friend who's an anthropology professor who's gadded about in deserts for months on end, and Kaori, who's a barbarian from Okinawa.

I walked from Asakusa to Monzen-Nakachō to say hello to the king of hell. He's been ruling my life lat…

Daien-ji, the temple that stops headaches

I've mentioned before that my life can be a pain in the neck. Literally: an old injury, sustained in a car accident, still causes severe headaches. It's called occipital neuralgia, a fairly rare …
What? You didn’t expect me to go for a dead-ordinary garden-variety problem, did you? Oh ye of little faith.
It's a fairly rare neurological condition in which the occipital nerves – the nerves that run from the top three vertebrae up through the scalp – are inflamed or injured, and the end-result is a headache that's a bit not good. When it gets really bad, you can't see, lose your balance, retch violently. It feels as if you're carrying something very, very, very heavy on your head.

I've learned to manage it with physio and neck exercises, but earlier this year it went to hell in a handbasket, and since then I've been struggling to control it.
I was getting so grumpy that I jumped onto websites that list genze riyaku (現世利益) or goriyaku (ご利益) – “this-wordly …