Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Taste of Buddism

I was excited to visit the Middle School because I wanted to see students who were closer to my age. Our day at the MS started a little later then the elementary school, because we would not watch them arrive. The MS in Japan is grade 6-9th and all the students wear uniforms. However, I noticed that a lot of them just wore their gym outfits instead of dressing in the formal uniforms.

Arriving at the MS, we got the same celebrity treatment as the elementary (no autographs, though…darn it!). The kids were excited and anxious to see us. We got to tour the teacher’s lounge where I was glad to see stacks of papers! I took pictures as proof that I am not the only one with MASSIVE amounts of grading every night. Ha! The day was a lot like the elementary school, where we were free to roam the school and observe what we wanted to see.

I observed a cooking class that was pretty interesting. The kids were making miso soup and there was little involvement by the teacher. I am still surprised by the lack of teacher interaction; I don’t know how the kids know what to do! I also watched a literature class, but it was hard to tell what they were doing since they didn’t speak in English. I kind of concluded that they were diagramming sentences or doing something with grammar, instead of reading. I also found a computer and e-mailed a bit (score!).

I ate lunch with the sixth graders and they were very excited to have me. Some of the boys got their English workbooks out and were asking me phrases in English. They kept laughing every time I would answer…hmmm! I got asked some thought provoking questions such as, “Do I like music?”, “What age am I?” and “Do I ski?” Something tells me they are learning the basics in their class! Lunch was a little more manageable. There were no silvery fishes! We had croquettes, which I didn’t eat because they had red meat in them, but there was a really good rice dish, and we all know I heart rice! The kids cleaned like mad again after lunch and made their school spotless. It’s crazy!

After the junior high visit, we hurried back to the hotel to change b/c some of us had asked to do a Buddhist meditation. Wow, this was a truly incredible experience! We got to go into the temple first, which house the large Buddha in Japan. It is over 13 meters tall and GIANT! There were also 1221 Buddha statues in the temple, also. It was very spiritual. We got to enter and walk around, reflect and examine the area. There were candles and incense burning and we had the choice to pray to Buddha and ring the gong by him.

We moved on to a separate room in the monastery that a monk led us to. There were sat on pillows and prepared for a mediation. Traditionally, Buddhist pray for an hour or more at a time, but we were only doing fifteen minutes. I have to admit that I was a little upset. With all the yoga that I do, I have learned a lot about this religion and I felt like I wanted and could do the whole experience. Regardless, it was very moving when we did the meditation. The monk rang bells and clapped his hands to begin and end. We were suppose to clear our minds of all thoughts. When we finished, we drank green tea as an offering for the experience.

I opted to walk back to our hotel (about two miles) with Renee, Scott and our guide, Aiko and interpreter, Maturyano. We stopped at a soba noodle restaurant and had a great dinner! I made sure that mine had no moving fish on it, although Aiko had little fish eggs all over hers! Blah! I need to brag a bit more about my chopstick skills; they rock! Our translator was from Hiroshima so she told us some really interesting stories about the city now and the aftermath from the bomb. She is working with HBO as their translator for a documentary that they are filming about Hiroshima. She told us some very moving things. Again, I thought about how lucky I am to have this opportunity. I took a step back after dinner and thought about the magnitude of this trip. The fact that three Americans were in Japan talking to two Japanese citizens, one who was affected by Hiroshima, about the event. I set out on this trip with the hopes that I would learn more about this culture, their ideas and views on the impact America had on them, and I have learned so much more. I am so thankful to be here.


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