At the beginning of the year I undertook a commitment to take my Buddhist learning to the next level by becoming an upāsaka, or “lay devotee.” Last fall I applied to and was accepted into the upāsikā program at Birken, the Thai Forest Monastery near Kamloops where I have attended a couple of different meditation retreats (for example see this and this ). It has been six months into the commitment, so I thought I would share a bit about the program here at the halfway point.
Such a glorious day today in #kyoto 😁 Hope you all had a lovely Tanabata 🎋
Cross-posting the greeting from this month’s edition of my newsletter, since it is of personal significance.
The last day of June. A Real Feel™️ of 42 degrees celsius. Not even summer yet. But things started to settle down this month. We took the kids to Universal Studios Japan. Summer Camp started. Screen time decreased. I went out for coffees with friends, old and new, after a couple months of just being in the house with the kids. There was barely a rainy season and the heat and humidity started to crank up. It was still “crisis mode,” but with a modicum of control.
Yesterday it all changed.
A morning txt and my wife was off on her bike to my father-in-law’s apartment, a five minute ride away. Upon arrival she called the ambulance then messaged me instructions to get the hospital bag. I grabbed the kit and headed out into the sweltering heat, searching frantically for a taxi. It was 11:59 when I arrived at the hospital entrance, only to be told to stay outside. They called it at 12:02.
Done. There. The thing we had come to do, packing up and moving across the ocean to spend the remaining months and moments of his life together — we did it. It is over.
Now comes the next chapter. Last night he laid in state while we stayed up through the night at the funeral home ensuring that the candle which lights the way to the other side stayed lit. Japanese funerals are a lengthy affair, so this process will take over our life for the next few days. Then we move into taking care of the estate, a process that will take at least a few months.
The doctors said we could expect only a couple more months maximum. He had a bad heart, a stent in his brain, and the creeping stage 4 stomach cancer. No one could predict which of those time bombs would go first. But I think he had a good few last weeks. And he passed quickly, which is what he wanted.
It was a cloudless, azure sky.
南無阿弥陀仏 🙏 Namu Amida Butsu
My neighbourhood has a lot of Buddhist craftspeople. They make altar fittings, carve statues, etc. One warehouse is used for cleaning parts of temples. I pass by every day and there is some new chunk of a temple that has been hauled over to be cleaned and repaired, before it is sent back to be re-installed!
Although we live in downtown Kyoto, we are somehow still within the precinct of Fushimi Inari, the mountain shrine south of the city with all the torii gates (some photos from our hike up there a couple years ago →). The other day, to my surprise, an envelope arrived unbidden from that famous shrine. It contained instructions for participating in a purification ritual.
At the end of June shrines all over the country have a mid-summer 大祓 ōharai. The instructions that arrived in our mailbox told us to take the paper doll out of the envelope, write down our names and ages, then blow on it, thereby attaching our transgressions to the paper doll. Once returned to the envelope, — and sealed in another envelope (this is Japan) — all the dolls from the neighbourhood houses are gathered up by the president of the neighborhood association（町内会） and sent back to the shrine. There they will be opened by the appropriate shrine staff and at the end of the month ritually put into a stream to wash away all our sins. Hooray!
This particular purification ritual from Fushimi Inari dates back to the Heian Period (794 to 1185). If you can read the Japanese above you can see that there is a 100 yen fee per person. However, the fee is covered by the neighbourhood association!
In the rain today I walked to Bukkō-ji 佛光寺, an important temple in the centre of Kyoto for Shinran, the founder of Shin Buddhism. I am not a temple member, but this is the neighborhood temple. In a famously gridded city, its grounds are the local shortcut. Every day we walk diagonally through Bukko-ji to get destinations — and out of the muggy Kyoto heat — faster. This is where neighbours ring the bell for New Years. These gravelly temple grounds are where I taught my daughter to skip rope. To me, it is more than an historical destination.
Taking a break from work I pensively walked past azaleas and other flowers heavy with drops of rain. The temple grounds were empty except an attendant sweeping the wooden walkways. Sliding open a door I let myself into the darkened, humid halls. First, the main hall housing a statue of Shinran. Next, the Amida-dō, a golden display of the Pure Land. Kneeling and bowing three times, I recited the Homage to the Buddha and the Triple Gem. The rain gently pattered on the roofing tiles above, to my back the sound of sweeping outside, and to the front I am faced with the Amida Buddha himself, he who helped me exactly one year ago today: the day I sat beside my dying father.
One year ago today, across the world in the parched Okanagan Valley, I said goodbye. I still think about that experience often, recalling the crisp night sky adorned with twinkling stars as I stayed up with Dad in his ER room. While I have previously written that I was lucky, it does not mean it wasn’t traumatic. Before that afternoon of rapid decisions and lack of sleep, before sitting alone with him, hearing his drawn out breaths slowly, slowly, slowly give way to silence, before all that I thought I was strong enough to accompany someone to death’s door and see them off. I was wrong. I still feel very sorry. A year later I am not healed.
Yet somehow I made it through without breaking down. Chanting Amida’s name helped. So I wanted to come here, to this temple which I have been connected to for more than 20 years, to pay homage, give thanks, and reflect.
A year later I realize how big a presence my father was in my life, underscored by his lack of being here. I lived far away for so many years, so I had no idea how much support he was actually providing. The scars from that day were really just the beginning.
But as the sutta says:
What’s past is left behind;
the future has not arrived;
Today’s the day to keenly work—
who knows, tomorrow may bring death!
For there is no bargain to be struck
with Death and his mighty hordes.
So I light a candle and a stick of incense. And enjoy the flowers on my walk back to work.
After arriving in Kyoto I considered how I should journal daily life here. For the month of May I experimented with the indie Micro.blog service, posting pics, videos, and short updates at everydaykyoto.micro.blog. The service is pretty straightforward, with a simple non-surveillance capitalist business model. The community is really nice too. So I can recommend it for sure.
However, I figured I should be getting more use out of my main real estate on the internet: chadkohalyk.com! So I moved all the posts over here and filed them under the tag #everydaykyoto. You will note that I have updated this blog to take advantage of WordPress’s post formats. This is all part of making the transition to POSSE, which I will discuss in a future post, once I have things fully set up.
I plan to post more actively on this blog, capturing more of the everyday in Japan, so I thought I should re-share my introductory post on Micro.blog below. The experiment will continue, it will be just be here on this site.
Kyoto is the first place I lived in Japan between 1999-2004. My wife is and my second daughter were born here. When we lived in Nagoya we would often ride the 45 minute Shinkansen to spend time in Kyoto with friends and family. Every year we lived in Canada from 2010-2020 we would return for a few weeks during spring, summer, or winter break. And when we moved to Japan in 2020 for our Iki adventure, we used Kyoto as our base of operations.
Kyoto is my “hometown” in Japan. I have watched it change significantly over the past two decades. I think it is one of the most unique and historically interesting cities in the world, and I never tire of exploring it’s alleyways, temples, and shrines.
Now, after nearly twenty years, we have relocated to Kyoto for the foreseeable future. As I mentioned in my April 2022 newsletter, I am not sure how long we will be here this time, but I want to use this microblog to capture everyday interactions while living life here.
This is a new media experiment for me and will evolve as the months progress and we settle into daily life here. I imagine it to be part journal, part travelogue. Through the photos and comments I post I hope you can gain some insight into this city, and appreciate its special qualities as I do.
On the Nordic Asia podcast this week Dr Satoko Naito interviewed Dr Kanako Kuramitsu about her research on an unseen population: children of consensual relationships between Japanese fathers and Chinese mothers in the war years. The emphasis on the word “consensual” is mine, meant to underscore that this is not the most commonly heard narrative coming out of the region in those years. This research is part of the Children Born of War (CBOW) project. The short podcast was pretty eye-opening for me and it also introduced a short film that Dr Kuramitsu helped develop to bring these stories to a wider audience. It highlights the love those relationships had, and the challenges that the mothers and children faced during the Cultural Revolution, forcing them to burn all records of their fathers, making “repatriation” to Japan very difficult after relations normalized in 1972. You can watch this short film below, and learn more on the project website →
Walking down Shijō, above the crowd is the sound of practice: they are getting ready for Gion Matsuri at the Naginata-hoko! 🔊