I recently made a trip to Japan. It was not my first. The Japanese country, their people and their culture fascinate me for a long time. I had the chance to travel to Japan together with my spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy several times and each journey was very special and very inspiring.
When I had my first encounter with Japan in 1992 spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy was planting a tree in the garden of the famous Daibutsu Buddha sculpture in Kamakura, not far from Toyko. Kamakura was the former capital of Japan and is full of buddhist temples and shrines. The big bronzen Daibutsu sculpture is more than 700 years old and is the most accurate embodiment of the great Buddha. For me personally it is a very familiar feeling to be near this monument. Perhaps I had some connection with Buddha in a previous incarnation.
It was therefore with great pleasure that I returned to Kamakura in July of 2006 for a whole week. Three times I visited the immense Buddha, once to take some still shots, a second time to get some good video footage and a third time to assist and film a unique concert of Sri Chinmoy just in front of the sculpture. To have a great master of the past and a great master of the present in the form of Sri Chinmoy together was an experience I will never forget. Sri Chinmoy played several of his classical instruments as well as very modern ones like a Gong sampler, specially built by two of his German students. For me it’s always amazing to witness Maestro Sri Chinmoy improvising on the synthesizer, the piano or the pipe organ because the power and dynamism of the these performances cannot be compared with any other musician.
Kamakura is not only a strong and powerful spiritual place, it also fascinates with its many cultural activities and groups. I was lucky to learn about an ancient but still very widely practiced art of archery, called Kyudo. I could make an interview with a student that practices Kyudo for only 2 years, but being an English teacher, she could explain me the secrets behind Kyudo. “Kyudo is not a sport, it’s a kind of martial art”, she said, “we practice Kyudo to train our body and the mental health. After we have practiced Kyudo and developed our skills we can apply these skills and our new way of thinking to our daily life. It means: through training we can make our life better. Kyudo is very difficult; it’s not easy to be perfect. We should practice at least 30 years to attain some kind of perfection. I have been practicing Kyudo for about 2 years, so I am still a beginner. Already my grandfather was an archery teacher and I therefore was interested in Kyudo since my childhood.”
I learned about the Kyudo archery from a friend of mine in Kamakura whose wife practices this martial art in the premises of one of the major Shrines in town. I was more than happy to assist two groups during their daily practice which impressed me a lot. The atmosphere in the training hall was a mixture of concentration and willingness with a devotional love for this artform, alive in Japan for more than 900 years. Although it was a “mere” training and not a performance, all students were in traditional costums, some of them worked on wood horses. In their quiver arows were ready to be used. In some cases the students had to aim their arrows while the “horse” was turned. Amazing was not only the perfefection of marksmanship, but also the sincerity of each movement. Another group was practicing in rows of four people aiming their arrows one by one, finishing by bowing down to a shrine. I had also the opportunity to film their Kyudo practice which is featured in a special episode of LIFE Voices, a monthly interview series, published on varous internet video sites.
Another unforgettable experience was the discovery of the Kencho-ji Temple, the first of the five great Zen temples of Kamakura and the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan. It was constructed by order of the Emperor Gofukakusa during the regency of Hojo Tokiyori (1227-63). Work was completed in the fifth year of the Kencho Era (1253), from which the name of the temple is taken. I enjoyed every step in the buildings and gardens of this traditional holy place. I didn’t get the permission to film in the monastery, but I had the privilege to meet one young monk who told me some of the major principles of their life. I learned that a strict disciplined life incorporated an early meditation at 3 am, followed by a breakfast. Then the daily work in the garden or elswhere starts. Asked about their preferred diet, the monk answered that “if you lead a completely devoted life, there is no more desire or question on what to eat. You gladly accept what you get from the monastery”.
For me this recent visit to Japan was again a milestone in the collection of memorable trips around the world, most of them I could do together with my master Sri Chinmoy. If you want to see more of my photos on Japan you can visit my album.