One Taste

When the waters of the mind entrusting to Other Power enter

The ocean waters of Amida’s Vow of wisdom,

Then in accord with the nature of the true and real fulfilled land,

Blind passions and enlightenment come to be of one taste.

Hymns on the Right, Semblance, and Last Dharma Ages

I just returned from a quick five-day trip to Kyoto.  Japan as a country is a particular mix of tradition and a very modern high tech culture.  Kyoto station is a good example, extremely modern design, yet only a few blocks from Higashi and Nishi Hongwanji.  I decided to stay at the Granvia Hotel in Kyoto station because it was very convenient.  I ate around the station and went to our Mother temple Hongwanji for services and meetings.  Within a two block radius of Kyoto Station, there must be a hundreds of restaurants.  However, a ten minute walk and I get to Hongwanji and it is as though I have been transported back in time.  However, the pace of living is very fast whether in modern or traditional Japan.  I kind of feel bad because whenever we are taken around Hongwanji, my slow walking must drive our escorts crazy.

The meetings at Hongwanji are very different from meetings in the United States.  It’s very interesting to see Americans with little understanding of the Japanese way, attend these meetings.  The Japanese way is that you basically listen to whatever the leaders have to say and you don’t really comment other than nod your head in agreement, unless it is very obvious.  Most issues are worked out behind the scenes.  On the surface it may seem like a business type meeting, but the manners of the people are very structured between the status of those involved.  There are always leaders from BCA, Hawaii or Canada, that want to put in their personal opinions.  However, the Japanese just say, “Thank you for your input” and do as they plan to do.  The meetings are very tiring, listening to the governors and other Hongwanji officials explain what they would like to happen in the foreign districts like BCA, Hawaii, Canada, without having been to these countries or temples.  We thank them for their guidance and then we do what needs to be done in our western culture.  However, the one I don’t mind going to Japan, is because of the food.

For example, in this basically four-day trip, I had a list of things I wanted to eat.  Tonkatsu from a restaurant at Kyoto station called Katsukura.  Various sandwiches from a bakery chain in Kyoto called Shizuya.  Gyoza, fried rice and chicken karaage from a restaurant called Osho’s.  Okonomiyaki, Curry and udon from where ever smelled or looked good.  I also looked forward to the buffet breakfasts at the hotel. Most of the things I wanted to eat are not very fancy.  They are the equivalent of wanting to have a good pizza, burrito or cheeseburger and fries.  They were the foods I ate when I was a student here almost 40 years ago.  I know that most of these things are available in the United States.  However, there is something very different in the taste.  Although white rice, should be white rice it tastes very different in Japan. I was constantly full on this trip.  Before each meal, I had to figure out how much space I had left in my stomach, for the next meal.  Luckily in Japan you walk a lot and the heat makes you sweat. So I may have only gained five or ten pounds in these five days.

Before going, I asked Taylor and Kacie if there was something they wanted. They asked me to get them snacks.  Japanese flavored Kit Kats have become internationally famous.  I don't know why, but there are so many types, grape, sake, cranberry, apple, banana, matcha, white chocolate etc. It is kind of mind boggling to see how many types of snacks and drink flavors there are.  There are usually three vending machines next to each other with various types of hot and cold drinks, from juices, sodas, energy drinks, coffee flavors, tea flavors, at least 20 or 30 choices.  I think one of the more interesting flavors I tried was a banana latte flavored cold coffee. There was also bacon cheese burger flavored Doritos in a pink bag.  Even the traditional Japanese snacks such as manju, come in a variety of flavors.  The food and the snacks look very similar to our American snacks, but with a huge variety.  However, in this slightly bizarre world, there is one thing that always brings me home.

When I go to Hongwanji, although the scale of the buildings are much larger than our BCA temples, when we chant Juseige, Sanbutsuge, Shoshinge and I smell the incense burning, it is exactly the same as our temples.  The nembutsu maybe spreading to a variety of cultures, but the flavor is the same, wherever you may be.  When we all say the nembutsu in these services, although a part of me knows I am in a foreign country, I also feel I am home. The nembutsu is my true and real home. There’s no place like home.  It’s good to be home. Namo Amida Butsu.

-J.K. Hirano