Wednesday, December 12, 2012

(for babies and winning)

Temples 24 and 23, Nakayama-dera and Katsuo-ji

When we last left our pilgrim, she was driving away the good people of Kyoto with her odoriferous funk.

Let us briefly consider the temples visited on this glorious, if funkfied, day.

It was August 21st when I rolled out, armed with knowledge grated to me by the good grace of the folks at Rocky House, who looked up the Takarazuka local bus schedule for me (where on the internet is this stuff. Where?). I hopped the highway bus to Takarazuka, then managed to get a bus headed right for the Nakayamadera temple area.

Nakayamadera, it turns out, is really nice and pretty fancy. Their main deal is prayers for pregnancy and babies, so the main stairways are equipped with escalators. There is also a kofun on site, and not off on some other side of the mountain - this ancient tomb is tucked right up under part of the main front area.

Oh ancient tombs, I do love thee.

I found the sunny garden while I was looking for my real quest, which was the path to the okunoin. There was supposed to be a sacred spring up there, coming from a rock that cracked open when a sacred bird landed on it after flying out from a tomb lower down the mountain... or something like that.

Things like this along the path.
I was really thirsty by the time I got there. I was under a time limit and had booked it up the mountain in pretty good time. I was also totally disgusting, but I didn't meet too many other people on the path so it didn't seem like a problem. I was counting on refilling my water at the sacred spring, and was a little worried when I saw it all caged up and flanked with signs.

But then this lady started filling up bottle after bottle and I figured the signs just said "don't stick your face on the spring" and "don't use our buckets and cups to drink the water." Actually drinking of the water was a-OK. Mountain water tastes good anytime, but especially when you're that thirsty.

Back down the mountain, a brief rest, and on to Katsuo-ji, the temple of winner's luck. The bus schedule for this place was so limited that their website just says "take a cab." As our bus wound its way up the mountain, I was extremely grateful again to be on it, instead of trekking up the mountainside.

We want the blue column furthest to the right. Three buses a day? YES.

If you were walking the temples in order, this is the way you would have come in.
Despite its more remote location compared to Nakayama-dera, Katsuo-ji seemed like a well-funded temple in its own right. Seems like winners want to keep winning, so they make sure to give a little back. The temple is famously connected to Daruma dolls, those little wooden guys who always return to standing position no matter how many times you knock them over and onto which you paint one eye when you set a goal and the other eye when you achieve it.

Winner darumae
"Achievement" darumae are often dedicated at this temple. They also quite naturally sell the dolls in various sizes, to serve your various-sized goals.

The landscaping was immaculately kept, with the added oddity of there being little darumae in every nook in cranny, on every ledge, inside tree hollows, just everywhere! Many of them, I noticed, were just the ones that housed the omikuji, or fortune slips, you could buy, but their presence too made the place seem full of winning.

I did the 'wisdom stone walk' after seeing a father take his kid through it. It was a nice place on a nice day.

Follow the instructions to gain wisdom. Step one, walk in toward the center, following the spiral. Step two, spiral out. Step three, sit on that rock bench off to one side (I kid you not). 
As you may have already heard, I ended the day in Kyoto, catching one of the last city buses to Miriam's apartment. By then, in addition to smelling like gym socks, my phone had died.

I actually took this photo so I could then check and see the time stamp on it to know what time it was.

Still, the day was a win.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

How to Maintain Personal Space

(even on a crowded bus)


In Japan, personal space is often at a premium. People are pretty polite about it, but they do spend a lot of time in your bubble, so here is one way I discovered, somewhat inadvertently, for dealing with it.

It starts with your clothes. Since you live in Japan, you know about the rainy season. You also know about the way that drying your clothes is done by hanging them outside. While clothes dry quickly in hot dry August and take a freezing forever in the depth of January, the combination of heat and humidity you experience throughout June creates the perfect condition for the production of a 'lying shirt.'

A lying shirt is one which, when dry, looks and smells just fine. It also smells just fine when it is still wet but fresh out of the washing machine, laden as it is at that time with the smells of detergent and softener. But get it wet under any other conditions, and it will give off a muted but pervasive funk that will make you wrinkle your nose and look around, wondering if it could possibly be you.

It takes a while to figure out if what you have on your hands is a lying shirt, but once you have one (and by June's end, you should, and after two Junes you definitely should), it will hold true for you even when dried under the August sun. Since August is the hottest, it is also the time when it's nicest to have personal space.

Now, make sure you have all day clear, and get your stuff together for a weekend or overnight trip. Carry all this stuff preferably in a backpack, so you get nice and sweaty. You can leave the backpack in a train locker for this next step.

Find a mountain. I used the hike from Nakayama-dera to its Okunoin, which was described as being a one-hour walk. If you use a one-hour walk, give yourself exactly two hours to complete the round trip and you should be good. This will impel you to book it up the mountain and also back down again. Do this at midday for maximum levels of disgusting; if there aren't white traces of salt on your shirt as it dries, you aren't really trying. Make sure, of course, to stay hydrated -- keep buying those water bottles and Pocari Sweats (I prefer Aquarius, but whatever).

After you return from this endeavor, you should be pretty soaked. Allow yourself to dry off as you move on to your next destination - I used Katsuo-ji in northern Osaka. You get extra points if you work up another sweat, but at this point it isn't really necessary, because your lying shirt should be doing the work for you.

By the time the temples all close at five and you are on your way to stay at a friend's house, you will actually have people moving out of the seat next to you on the bus into seats some distance away. Congratulations!

"Miriam, for the first time since I became homeless, I actually smell like I am." - not the most PC thing I ever said. (She laughed at me because I had thrown my clothes outside onto the balcony and leaped into the shower almost as soon as she opened the door.)

As a side note, I was really tempted to see if a run in a good old American household dryer would cure my shirt of its lyin' ways, but in the end I just couldn't take it anymore and stuffed it in a trashcan in a bathroom somewhere in Miyagi prefecture. True story. Sometimes I still miss it. But not its lies.

Monday, November 26, 2012

start recalculating

Hi there Eastern Edge-rs.

Welp, I've gone and started a new blog. You knew I had to. I live nowhere near the eastern edge of anything anymore, and all that fraudulence was making me feel a bit uneasy.

I do intend to post stories about my last few adventures here, once the JLPT is over. Look forward to my how-to on maintaining personal space even in a crowded bus!

But until then, check out the next best thing (or two):

A Postcard Problem is the tumblr I started when I began having blog withdrawals. I'll be posting... post cards, until I run out of them anyway. That will take me a while, as I had a tendency to buy more than I sent, and I tried to buy them everywhere. It's a habit!

Recalculating is the new blog. Not much there yet, but you know how these things go. See you all over the place!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


I know I've been away! I've been busy. If you believe that. There's all kinds of sorting still happening, and of course, albeit in parts and phases, the Repatriation Roadtrip is also at hand.

I'm also at a bit of a loss as to whether to continue with this blog beyond the Japan adventures I naturally need to get around to writing about. I mean, should I go on into the Reptatriation Roadtrip saga, and beyond that into the Next Adventure that is Life in This, The Wide Country? Or should I start another blog for that (my interest is partly archival, in preserving the look of this blog despite wanting to keep its image current, as it has been changing little by little to reflect my surroundings there in Japan)? I mean, I don't really live on the eastern edge anymore.. I kind of never did..! Though that's neither here nor there. And I no longer teach English in Japan... I fight the urge to correct the inaccuracies of this blog in my current situation, but as you can see, I already removed the time/date thingy because that isn't what the time/date is for me anymore..!

 But in the meantime, studying for the JLPT is attempting to consume me and sapping most of my mental energy. There's a limit to how much Japanese you can cram into your head in a given day, and this week, I intend to find out what mine is.

Maybe after I'm caught up (lies. we are never caught up), I will be free again to... to..

Don't worry. I can't not write for long.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Kagoshima and Ibusuki

It seems like every town in Japan worth a dot on the map has its own special thing. Ibusuki, down at the bottom of Kagoshima prefecture, has a couple.

Ibusuki is about an hour south of Kagoshima city, so when we went in August, we decided to make it a daytrip. I have a driver's license, so we decided to rent a car to go tooling around. I appreciate my fellow American's perspective, that roads and driving are not, in fact, scarier or in some way worse than doing battle with a small town bus schedule.
This was pretty much the nicest car I had driven in years.
I had looked up the tides the night before, and it turned out we were there during a spring tide (those are full or new moon tides, stronger than other times) and that low tide was to be at 11:45 or so. This meant we could walk out along this sandbar to Chiringa-jima, an island described as one of the most fragrant islands in Japan.

There's the island! 
All we have to do is walk across this little isthmus.
 It was a beautiful day to be at the beach, if you had like a swimsuit or that kind of stuff. Unfortunately, the sunny heat of a beach day makes for a pretty sad sand-hike if you only have 'real shoes' and clothes on. I seriously considered going for a dip clothes and all because I figured I was going to be approximately as soaked with my own sweat. The fact that the little fish looked like puffer fish and no one else was touching the water (not even the kids) is all that kept me out.

It's a beautiful scorching near-noon here on the hot sands.
We never made it to Chiringa-jima. It was too hot and we had plans to be bathed in sweat later. We moved on toward another of Ibusuki's wonders, the swirling somen restaurant.

Naturally, being around lunchtime, we were not the only people with this idea. There was a long line to get in to the restaurant which kept us waiting about 15 or 20 minutes despite the massive number of tables the restaurant seemed to contain.

The place is called Tosenkyo, and it's built in a valley blessed with a cold spring. Using the flow of cool water, every table has a water flow where the noodles swirl around so you can snag them and eat them. It also keeps the air down there relatively cool under the shade of the trees.

There are also lots of fish in the water. These fish are on the menu; always fresh!

After lunch, we headed toward Mt. Kaimon and Ikeda Lake. Ikeda is a caldera lake, and is home to giant eels. Mt. Kaimon is a volcanic peak.

The giant eels on display were just sad. 
Lake and Kaimon!
From there we drove down to Nagasakibana, where there is a shrine and a lighthouse.

The Ryugu shrine is connected to the legend of Urashima Taro. 
Urashima Taro is the turtle dude who opened the gift box containing "the span of a life." If that doesn't sound familiar, check it out here

Aaaand there's the lighthouse.
The lighthouse area was really beautiful, and is the southernmost point of... this part.. of this prefecture. Or something.

This is the pamphlet we were using to figure out where to go; there's no way we could have gone to as many things without driving. But the main draw of Ibusuki is its hot sand baths, which are famous as a beauty treatment and for cleaning the blood. It's also supposed to help with circulation and various other maladies, basically whatever is helped by being buried in hot sand (and the subsequent sweating you tend to do). Also it's just really fun -- who doesn't like being buried in sand?

The sand is hot because it's heated from below by the volcanic powers of the island which in this particular area tend to come up just under the beach.

I don't have any photos from our actual burial because you strip down as for any public bath/hot springs experience and emerge clad only in the provided cotton cloth yukata. Then you lie down in a shallow pit with your minitowel wrapped around your head so the staff can throw sand over you with their shovels. They were very no-nonsense about it; I felt like a giddy little kid.

We were up underneath that wooden thing in the background.  (photo cred)
As soon as you are buried, you can feel your heartbeat in you whole body. You're just throbbing from head to foot under the weight of hot sand. It's awesome. The other thing I tried was digging down just a little bit with my hands. Like a centimeter. The sand felt way hotter underneath.

Afterward you feel totally refreshed and look totally beautiful. (photo)
Just kidding. After ten minutes, maybe fifteen if you want extra baking, your yukata is sticking to you with sweat and you emerge, dust off, and go back up to the building for a regular water-type onsen bathing experience.

The hot sand is pretty much the main reason we went to Ibusuki, so once we were done there, we pretty much returned the car and took the train home to Mandi's house.

This is the view from her apartment of Sakurajima. And there it goes.
The next day, we were joined by Laureno just before I had to leave, so we used that time to visit a cat cafe (for my first time) and eat pastries for dinner (which was one of the worst decisions of that month).

I still maintain I would prefer a dog cafe. It would be way more relaxing (for me)!

How I felt on the train and for the next couple days. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012


It's been almost two weeks since I got back to the U.S., and although I have more Japan stories to tell, I really wanted to tell about Miyagi next, because I went directly (directly) from meditation retreat (on the eleventh day, you still get up at 4, but after the morning stuff and some cleaning, you may go along) to the northeast region to reach the Habitat for Humanity base by 6 pm. The distance between Kyoto and Sendai is pretty big, and had me driving (30 min or so) to a train station, where it was another 45 minute local train ride into Kyoto city, and from there a 2.5 hour shinkansen ride to Tokyo where I switched Shink lines (and bought a handy-dandy tourist pass called "East Pass") and then took another two or so hours to Sendai.

But because of a stupid move on my part, I don't have the photos yet for Miyagi in my camera. I do have the photos I managed to take with my phone (and upload before surrendering that phone's use) on the first day, which are pretty intense on their own, so I'm going to probably do what I can with those while I (or, my friends) work on getting my camera back to me here in the U.S.

So that should be the next entry, maybe.

Suffice to say that I was traveling a lot, and made it back to Shiso just in time to pack up, hit sports day (and its attached drinking party), and have a pretty good last weekend in town, capping off six weeks of living at friends' houses and traveling all the time.

I suppose if I want an explanation for my almost total lack of drive to do much other than unpack, study, read, sleep, sort things, watch TV, and attend Welcome Home soirees thrown in classic style by my parents, I need look no further than the calendar. Hitting the road for six weeks will take it out of you. Seriously. I just wanna hang out. I don't even really want to be entertained, and so if compared to my usual "two weeks to see everyone in Georgia" summer trips, my repatriation looks really dull and hermitlike.

But I assure you, so far, it's pretty awesome. I have a lot to do, and even though I feel like I now have nothing but time, I also still don't see enough hours in the day to do all the things.

I don't have any answers yet, my old room is a complex assortment of stuff I brought or shipped back, stuff I left for myself, and stuff that just sort of got left behind. I've got gifts that people gave me, and gifts I got for others, along with a bunch of other stuff that ended up in here after they moved it from the other rooms that underwent new occupations or major flooring changes in the last year. It's a process, and I'm taking my sweet time.

The Repatriation Roadtrip is about to be underway, in parts. I'm going to the Northwest first, via Denver, catching a ride with the (in)famous Kyle up in a zig-zag pattern through Utah and Yellowstone to Pullman, WA, where I will borrow his car and proceed west and north to meet more folks. I'm looking forward to my travels but it's hard to believe they're already upon me.

Kyle, circa 1999.

Aaaand circa 2009.
I'll be back October 22nd for a break, then hopefully it's off to do the Eastern Loop, Roadtrip Phase II which I am putting together.. But not very quickly. Cause you know, other stuff too. Like walking dogs and clothes shopping for the first time in over a year (yes really; I received so much last summer from departing JET Caito that I saw no reason to spend the money or dedicate the packing/shipping space to clothing I clearly didn't need), and excavating the closet, and stuff.

Oh, and my parents found me a car. (If I had a camera, I'd show you) ... I think I'm going to keep it. I think it might be named the Brave Little Toaster, if I do.

I had to convince my mother that this is a thing.

Apparently this is also a thing.

Culture shock hasn't been too hard, because it's been well expected. I kind of like freaking out at the grocery store and the feeling of wearing tank tops in public (scandalous!). Other aspects of things are weird, but they aren't quite getting the best of me. The best of me is like.. sleeping, or playing SimCity, or meditating, or vacuuming the floor.

Friday, September 14, 2012

no itch is eternal

I disappeared for ten days to attend a meditation retreat in the upper reaches of Kyoto prefecture.

So how was it? What was it like? What did you do?

Even as I was perpetually writing this blog post in my head for ten days, I’m not sure how to begin to answer those questions. Was it mind-boggling? Was it hard? Did you find enlightenment or answers or inner peace?

Well, yeah. Kind of!

Basic ground rules were things like total segregation of the sexes – so I lived, ate, and meditated only with the women in the women’s half of the center, walked in the women’s garden, and saw the men only in their side of the meditation hall and from across the driveway that separated our garden from theirs. Noble silence – that is, not talking, nor communicating with gestures – with the other mediators (you can talk to the staff if you need anything or to the teachers if you have a question, naturally). No lying, stealing, or killing (this includes eating meat, incidentally, so all the food provided was vegetarian).

For me, this was no big deal, and was actually kind of a plus. I rather like simple, healthy food – rich and/or highly processed stuff sort of overwhelms me anyway. The eating situation is kind of like being a kid again; there is what there is, and if you don’t like it, that’s just too bad. I think in itself this is a humbling technique. Also, we had fruit for dinner (not dinner.. teatime.. but it was at 5pm and was the last ‘meal’ of the day) which was sort of delightful. I’ve heard that it’s healthier for you not to eat after 6pm; I think I might’ve lost a little bit of weight!

Our days started at an hour I still consider pretty nuts.. but there and then it seems just like part of the lifestyle of the center, however temporary, you kind of get used to it.
Every morning, we’d be woken by the bell at 4am, chiming and chiming again to rouse us from sleep. From 4:30 to 6:30, we were to meditate either in the meditation hall upstairs or in our own rooms. 6:30 was breakfast, and a break until 8, when we would have an hour long group sitting session, meaning everyone would meditate together for an hour. At 9, we would get our morning instructions, and then meditate until 11 which was lunchtime.
At 1, we would begin to meditate on our own again, and then at 2:30 we’d start the afternoon group sitting. At 3:30, we would receive afternoon instructions and meditate until 5, which was tea time. During tea time, new students (me!) could have fruit, while old students (who had undertaken not to eat after noon) could have only tea or coffee or water.
At 6, we’d gather for the third and final group sitting of the day, followed at 7 by the discourse, for English speakers a video (for non-English, audio only) in which the teacher (S.N. Goenka, in India) would explain particulars, answer questions I was considering asking at question time, and in general provide a context for what we were practicing. After this, we’d return to the hall, meditate for a little while (the Japanese discourse usually took a bit longer than the English one, so I would have a break to brush teeth and otherwise prepare for bed) until 9, and then that was question time, or else bedtime if you had no questions. Lights out was 9:30, which seems early but ISN’T if you get up at FOUR.

If you’ve been counting, that’s about ten hours of meditation each day. You’re doing it constantly, like it’s your job, and for these ten days it basically is. During breaks, I was mostly walking in the garden, stretching, or napping. I started showering at 4 in an effort to be more awake for the 4:30 - 6:30 time slot.

And while it seems like being unplugged and not speaking would be difficult, I actually did not have so much trouble with that, personally. Occasionally I would wish to tell someone something, and more often I would think of some question I wanted to ask someone regarding my future travels or plans. In my usual life, when thoughts like that come up, I either make a note or address it immediately (send an email, etc.), but during the course I had no pen, I had no notepad, I had no email. So things had to wait.

How I felt about the meditation changed from day to day. Some days I felt great, I was feeling it, everything was going just as I wanted it to – I was alert, engaged, attentive, focused. Other days I sucked at meditation. I couldn’t stay awake, I couldn’t stop daydreaming or narrating or spinning my wheels, I couldn’t feel anything on my body. Sometimes I couldn’t have removed the serene smile from my face with a prybar, other times tears would be streaming down my face for no pinpoint-able reason.

And when I went to the assistant teacher at afternoon question time about day seven to say “Why can’t I get it to work today if I could do it yesterday?” The answer was this isn’t about getting it to work, this is about facing reality.

This isn’t about getting it to work. Contrary to my previous ideas on what meditation must be, what it must be for (sharper vision, clarity, quieting the mental noise, becoming more centered), this course is different. All those things are ancillary benefits and almost prerequisites to the real core of what Vipassana is supposed to be about, and what it’s really supposed to do for you.

Although it’s not religious or sectarian, the philosophy behind the technique is deeply grounded in Buddhist thinking. As we learned in high school lit and history classes, the basic tenets of Buddhism hold that life is suffering because of human desire – specifically in craving and aversion – which stands between humans and their freedom.

But how not to feel and act with craving for the wonderful things in life? How not to feel and act with aversion for life’s pains? “You have to go to the root level of these things,” they said. I pictured each person carrying varying sizes of mountains of personal baggage, I imagined the kind of time it would take to peel all those layers back (some much longer than others) to get to the ‘root level’ underneath it all. How could any person uncover or even hope to glimpse this so-called root simply and within the span of ten days?

The simplicity of the answer to that still makes me laugh a little – I am seeing this root as buried beneath the issues of a person (therefore inaccessible without removal of said issues), but it becomes clearer to me that it can be accessed fairly simply because it is the first level of understanding, the most basic level of reaction in a person’s experience – the sensations of the body.

So what the technique teaches is, to become aware of sensations on the body, both pleasant and unpleasant, and to not react to them. To feel an itch, to observe it, to not seek its immediate undoing but rather “Let me see how long it lasts.. well, because no itch is eternal.”

And by so doing, to understand at the level of physical experience that which everyone already knows intellectually, that nothing lasts forever. That every feeling which arises also passes away, that every thing which lives also dies, that every object crafted or built must eventually, eventually decay and fall away. And if nothing is permanent, then why get so upset, why get so attached?

It makes sense; we all know that this is naturally so. Build something out of stone and it will last longer, but even that is not forever. Everything good needs replacing. Change is all there is. We know it, we know it. So why do we still get all bent out of shape?

The message behind the meditation is there is this huge gap between knowing something intellectually and understanding it in a way that really sinks in and applies to your life. This gap is the difference between hearing about something, reading about it, knowing about it, thinking about it .. and experiencing it for yourself.

The endgame being something like, being able to enjoy good things without reacting to them with clinging and craving, and to endure the unpleasant things without panic and aversion, to maintain equanimity at all times with the understanding that this too shall pass.

I can say that personally in my own life, I recognize a heck of a lot of examples of particularly clinging-reaction behavior. I have always been loath to let a good thing go (and my life has been above-averagely full of good things, so while it’s ironic to think that these good things could cause me suffering, well there you are). But as I look ahead to the changes that are coming (goodness, is it four days left in Japan now?), the unknowns that characterize the road ahead, I feel really okay about it. People ask how I am doing and I say good, and I really mean that. Maybe this was supremely well-timed.

During the course, various people would pop into mind, people I thought should look into it, people I thought should try it. I wanted to say, this is for everyone, and it is! But it’s also not for everyone. I don’t know. It’s hard. It’s a little out there compared to the normal everyday life of myself and most of the people I am close to. I loved it, but I also hated it; I wanted to run away, I wanted it to be over. I hesitate to recommend something that was painful to do.

And when I say painful, I kind of mean physically. Sam has been trying to work with me on the muscles of my core, how to properly distribute the work of holding the body up. My back pretty much hated me most of the time I was there; I fell asleep lying on a golf ball (self-massage, trigger point style) more than once during lunch breaks. During the sittings of ‘strong determination’ (about the second half of the course, the one-hour group sittings become attempts to sit for the entire hour without changing your position) I understood the poetic description ‘singing with pain.’ Hips, knees, feet, legs all in rebellion, back and shoulders going on strike. Parts of you falling asleep, or worse yet, coming awake. I want to tell people, it’s so great, but I also don’t want them to think that’s all it is. It is great, but at times it also sucks. It’s like medicine, it’s like exercise: you don’t always do it because it’s enjoyable in the moment. You do it because it does something for you.

Basically, to really understand it, you have to do it yourself! That was another message that was emphasized there… no one can give you this understanding, you have to find out for yourself. And you shouldn’t just take someone’s word for it, you should pass your own judgment based on your own experience!

Look at this website, see where the centers are, read all the things, and decide for yourself!

If my sojourns to temples is something like Buddhism light, this stuff is Buddhism pure – kind of at that depth of level where religion isn’t really religion because you’ve stripped it of all the rituals and rules and what’s left is just help for self, help for others, and love.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I've been blogging my best in the down time I've had to try and get the temples (are you tired of them yet?) and other adventures covered before I "run out of time" and then somehow never get around to writing them, which knowing me is a likely scenario.

Those in the know may be aware that I'm back to the US in mid-September, which if you're counting, is still like three weeks away, so I should therefore have plenty of time to 1, finish all 33 temples, 2, blog about them, and 3, see and spend time with all the friends I've yet to properly do farewell activities with.

And that would be true, but for the way this is all booked up. In a good way, and in important ways, of course.

I think I've been trying to blog the temples now because I think my perspective on them will be different on the 'other side' of the next excursion, is all. I mean, I did keep a little notebook of impressions from each temple visit, and the website where I got all my info will still be accessible (seriously, are you not tired of them yet?).. the only thing that could possibly change is my point of view.

There's just too many temples and other adventures to write about before tomorrow evening, though, so I doubt I'll make it, and we'll have to be content with whatever I manage either tomorrow morning amongst the other duties, or whatever I can come up with once I've finished my next adventure.

I guess also it's possible that the next adventure will take up a pretty significant chunk of attention.

Starting tomorrow evening, I'll be joining a Vipassana course for the first time. I almost don't know what to expect, except I've read JET accounts, and heard from and about those who have done it..

I first heard about the course from Yut while we were in Cambodia, having out wonderful sunset talk (which I refer to mentally as the 'sermon on the mount' .. yeah I know I'm out of hand) which led to our incredible nighttime bike ride (and my plowing straight into a mountain of gravel, woo!), and it was immediately a thing that sounded like it lay in the direction of my alley.

Since then, I looked it up online and realized that in order to have ten straight days of free time, I would have to wait til after my contract, or else once I was back in the US. I preferred to do it in Japan, though, because it just felt like a more.. Buddhist place, I guess, than say, south Georgia. I wanted to try this for the first time in the setting of the place I was preparing to leave. Later, it will maybe be fitting to do it in the place I am going back to.

So what I'm trying to say is, I'm going to go tomorrow to a meditation center in Kyoto (when I say Kyoto, it sounds like a fancy Japanese temple in the old capital.. but what I mean is Kyoto prefecture, an area just over the border with north Hyogo, and probably in a mountainous countryside inaka hideaway just as remote as any inaka I've been to), where I'll hand in my cell phone and books and notebooks (what?! No note-taking?! How will I manage?) and try sitting still and listening inward and not speaking to anyone for ten full days.

When it's over, I'll tell you all about it, or as much as I can, because I get the feeling that it's something you can't explain so well as do (not that I think the doing is easy, mind you).

Once that's over I will head directly to Tohoku to commence a short volunteer project with Habitat for Humanity. This might be a terrible idea just after mediation, or might be really perfect; I've yet to figure it out and probably won't know til I'm there. After spending a few days in Miyagi and then Akita (Akita not disaster zone, just a friend visit), I'll head back to Shiso just in time for my final weekend.

So in many real ways, heading into meditation is the beginning of the end for me.

I still have a list of things I want to blog (performing arts in Kyoto, Daigo-ji and Sanjusangen-do [temples], the wervs visit to Kagoshima and Ibusuki, Nakayama-dera and Katsuo-ji, Soji-ji and Fujii-dera [temples], Wakayama and couchsurfing, Kokawa-dera and Kimiidera [temples again... no but really I bet you're sick of it]) but they will have to wait.

Because for all that I run around and want to do everything, for all that there's never a dull moment, I think it will be really good to slow down, really important to be quiet.

So when you can't get ahold of me for the next two weeks, now you know why.