Shakuhachi pilgrimages : Cambodia /pt 1

 

Have flute, will travel: Siem Reap pt-1

One of the places I wanted to visit was Siem Reap, Cambodia. The once largest city in the world, Angkor Wat always seemed interesting from a historical standpoint. I loved history in school except remembering dates for a test. I digress
Later I found out about the Buddhist aspect of the place, and I grew a larger interest. From a photography viewpoint as well, always was interesting. 
In our conversations about travel, my wife and I agreed on Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia. For me it is a nice thought, but for she makes it real. We went to Vietnam Nam, now it was arranged and we were off to Cambodia. She says we are getting older, we need to do this now while we can. She is right, as are all women, all the time!
Continuing, we set off for a five-day adventure. We were booked at one hotel for two days another for three nights. She had a deal going. My focus on the trip was the Angkor Wat complex and some food. Her’s was food and chilling. I would do the temple exploring on my own.
We traveled on Vietnam air. It was a pleasant flight and got served food and drinks, like in the old days of flying. The only problem we had, was changing flights. There was no clear marker for changing flights in Vietnam. So we just followed the sign that said all passengers this way. We end up at immigration. My wife was able to get entry, but I was not without a visit, being a US passport holder. This caused some issue being understood I did not want I into Vietnam. My wife was already cleared and stamped. She had to get that canceled. Then we were told to go to another window, that line was slow, my was becoming antsy and asked someone else. We were again in the wrong line, just go through these doors and up the steps. Ok, we rushed. Now at security, again. Wife starts to panic, tells some official, person we will miss our plane, not our fault, blah blah, we get sent to the front of the line and mark the plane easy. Whew, now we (she) can relax.
Day 1
We arrived early evening at the hotel, after checking in, I take a walk around the hood to explore. and scout. Mission successful I return with a good Idea of where we are and how to get around to the main drag. Then settled in for the night. There was some couple of hours difference in time from Japan, which is later.
Day 2 
I mostly I stayed in the room, after a brief outing of hunting and gathering after renting a bike. I stayed on our balcony, ate happy pizza and played shakuhachi with the birds. Perhaps the second coolest part of the trip. I was surprised at the variety of different bird songs. I record some of the sound of them singing. I tried to copy, or ad-lib with them. The weather was perfect! For some reason no mosquitos! Perfect! Our balcony was perfect, private, yet I could see. It was a small pleasure yet held great joy and gratitude…Amitoufo
Day 3
For a large part of the day, at least the morning, again after the breakfast buffet, I stayed and practiced on the balcony. We were supposed to change hotels at noon and I was to be picked up for a horseback ride. This I just happened to find online. The ride was a three-hour tour. LoL. Through the countryside and a few villages, and up to a temple.
A tuk-tuk driver sent by the stables picked me up at the hotel. Handy. After a small mixup about who and where I was, we were off. I arrived at the stable after a short ride through the countryside. The driver aid he would come back for me. Great I said.
I went to the office and checked in. The stables were large and clean. As I was filling out my paperwork, some other people showed up. I thought they were coming to be with me. However, once I checked in, I got a guide and a horse, and we were off, after asking if I was comfortable he saw I knew how to ride. My horse was named Mexico. He did not want to go. He had to be pulled at first. My guide said, Mexico is lazy but he is a good horse. I laughed. We started pretty slow. The guide wanting to chat some as we rode. Which has hard because of the distance. Mexico had his own pace and distance he wanted.
We rode through the rice fields, along with lotus ponds and through several small villages. Poor people but seemed happy. The kids, if one yelled hello, they all would copy when they saw me. Houses on poles, sometimes you could see beds outside beneath the house, Kids, fishing in dirty water. It was kind of sad. I had a lot of imagined thoughts of being in the war there and Vietnam. Sad, scary, and blessed I did not have to go, even with no bone spurs. However, right now, I was blessed to ride a horse through the countryside with no worries about bullets or bombs, or traps… Amitoufo.
I was there taking pictures with my smartphone from horseback. I had a little hand camera but I’d not think to use it at the time. Oh well. I would have like to have gotten a shot of the villagers that looked amazed to see someone as dark as them riding horseback through the village. They waved and pointed. I gave them the traditional Buddhist gassho. They got a thrill from that, laughing and returned the bow. I wish I had a photo shot of them. Overall the trip through the villages remind me of deep Mexico, but greener. One thing I noticed in Mexico different was the number of musicians, there was a lot! Not in Cambodia. I only saw a couple. More on that later. Another common thing I noticed beside the poor factor that was in Mexico if they play recorded music at home, It is usually loud. Some of there’s house in the countryside was like that. LOUD music. I do not know if it was because of the festival, holiday, that was just ending or what? I saw some stores in town that sold A LOT of BIG speakers. I thought they were for clubs, but they are home use!
 
Back to the ride. So my impression of the countryside was it is like all poor places. Hawaii, Mexico, Malaysia, Vietnam, American Native reservations, poor is poor. Everyone does what they need to live, with what they are dealt. People are people. Even with torn or no clothes, the children play. The kids on the route were cute. The farmlands were nice to ride through, although the waterways are filled with dark water in many places. It was not as “jungle” as I thought. I would call the wooded landscape more forest like than jungle.
 
We arrive at a temple. It could not enter because I had no pass. However, I did get a few pictures outside of the temple. For my shakuhachi pilgrimage photo collection.
We returned to the stable just at dark. It was well time, there were a few times we brought the horses up to a trot. It was hard on my privates, the bouncing. I was ok just at a walking pace, but we needed to get back, I guess on time.
My TukTuk driver was waiting. He was a good guy and his English was good. I made arrangements with him to give us a ride the next day, to the massage place my wife wanted to visit. Also to a vegetarian restaurant I want to visit. The food was only so-so. Tawain rules as far a veggie food go! Another reason to return for me. There is a Kyudo seminar there. If I could return to Taiwan for a Kyudo, Chan, Eating, jam session Iw ould be quite pleased. But I digress.
Day 4
For the most part, I hung out in the room and practiced. That to me was fun and pleasure. My wife spent most of the day poolside. Later we went to get a Khmer massage. The woman I got was strong, bigger than some of the others I saw. She asked if I wanted soft, med or hard. I said hard thinking, she was not to be that strong. I was wrong. It was quite painful! She knew how to use her weight and bones. Reminds me of a Kyudo saying ” shooting is done not with the hands, but with the bones.” At least on my legs, painful! My back and shoulders were fine, but man she brought pain to my legs. The next day I was sore from her treatment. I had a spot to practice TaiChi and some Fu, boy oh boy, some stances hurt hurt hurt from her. I rolled with the pain while under her hands, thinking, ok this is training. I am Shaolin. Yosh!
Day 5
Ankour Wat …to be continued.
Advertisements

弓道 – The arrow flew…

I learned a lot or realized a lot over the last 3 – 6 mos of Kyudo practice than I did over the last 2 years or three however long it has been since I passed Sandan. Maybe three yrs, it seems like longer. Anyway, things have clicked in more now and I feel more confident. I still have a long ways to go, but at least I feel like I am improving. For a long, I felt stalled. The other day at practice I was surprised Yamashita came by after I arrived and gave, later on, gave me some more pointers. You are close to level up he says. He said the other time as well, I feel it more. My hits are not improving a lot, but my next to each other shots are. Anyway, my point to my self is, I am improving. getting, understanding, maintaining the crosses is paramount in how the arrow flies.

Update

yesterday was the shinza. I had to get an early start, and it was going to be a long day for me. There was the Shinsa, and all day affair, then I had a band gig. There was no time to return home and unload my stuff change and re-go, so I had to take all I needed in one trip. Yuk.

I packed the night before, I went to practice yesterday as well. Just for a couple of hours and something light. I closed the poor day with two hits in a row. I felt, hmmm I got a 50/50 chance of pulling this off. My hits are still few in between as of late. Oh well. I was not going make a big deal out of it. I figured out a way to carry everything using one of my handcarts, and also had a free hand for my bow and arrows, yet nothing hang off my pack. So I was fairly good. and off I went.

Yesterday I had a really nice Indian lunch. I had not been to my friend’s place in a while. So I went over to the restaurant. I got a custom order which he said he made a little ‘Hotter” than my usual medium because it was getting colder, it would help warm me. It was good a the time. The next day not so much. it made for a somewhat uncomfortable ride over to the test location and a large part of the day. I spent way too much thought on how weird my stomach felt and should I/do I need to “go”???

I met up with my group just as the building doors opened. One of my friends saw my load and suggested she take my kyudo stuff back to the dojo the next day since she was driving. Wow, A big help. I had thought about asking her, but she beat me to it!.

There was a group of us about 5 or 6 in total, plus another woman from the Shrine school that hangs with us at these things. I have tested with her two other times for Yondan. Once we were allowed to go to our starting room we all went up and found a spot. The next step was to get our spots and numbers, then check in. Oh so helpful to have others helping me figure out times and places.  Big big help. My path was to be. written test at 10:40 am, then shooting at about 4:30pm. ( long wait 😦 ) . I got my place in the lineup. At first, I was to be #4 in my group of 5. I thought ok good. I can settle into the spot and all eyes will not be on me at first. Then as people did not show up, I was told I was #2. Still ok. I thought maybe better.

The written test went fairly smooth. I am used to the drill now. They say the question, which is drawn from a closed envelope. They do not even know beforehand. This day I was able to understand the first question but not the second. So I got clarification on that and started. I always feel like I should fill up more of the paper but it is not about that. I felt ok with the answers. I waited for the person next to me to finish so I could get by and leave. That part was done.

I went to lunch with the ladies, we found a sitting spot then just hung out. Once in a while getting to watch a couple of our lower ranks shoot. One did ok, I thought, but not her. The other woman not so well. She was trying for San dan but could not hit her one shot needed.

Finally after what seemed like forever, and I took a little sitting up in lotus nap, it was my turn. I got in line to find out I am Omae, yet again! Not number two, number 1. Yuk. In a place, I dislike because of the footwork in and out. Sigh. oh well. It was not in my hands, not a good sign though. We started. I did not think about being the only Gaijin, I thought about which foot to step with first. I made my step onto the floor. Ok, but then messed up my timing bow. ok, a small thing. My steps, placement, and ending went ok this time. The group was in alignment on Honza and Shai. Ok the first arrow, thinking step by step…miss!! Oh well, it’s done. I make a step to close my feet, then realize I am not supposed to do that! I try to act natural and cover, but it was a big error. Which, one of my sensei’s called me on as soon as he saw me afterward. We laughed at my goof up!
Back to the shoot. Next arrow was no better than the first another miss. I could not tell if I was high or low or anywhere. I could not see where it hit. The black arrows, black/brown feathers look cool, but they suck like that, Hard to see at the target and in travel. My increasing bad eyes does not help. However, I can see well enough to hit at times when I have “things” as they should be and hold them in place. Seeing the details of the lines separating the colors in the Mato will not help me to hit the Mato. I still just suck at that :-). I was able to leave the floor without any more goofs. No victory dance tonight.

Ok well, another time, another day, more training is now. No one in my group except maybe one shodan passed that day. Nor did another of the other people I knew there testing. it was that kind of day.

I asked my sort of new friend from the Shrine Dojo. How many times has she tested for Yondan? She said she did not know or remember something like that. She said she just keeps doing it. I understand now why when another acquaintance from Banpaku, my first school, she cried when she passed the Yondan exam!

I know there were celebrations in some camps, but not in ours. We spoke only more training and had some laughs at our errors and hide private tears. So we parted for the day saying our goodbyes and see ya in class, ganbarimashos.

As for me. I know I gave it that extra effort practiced daily, even when not feeling it trips to the dojo. Oh well. I learned stuff as I said at the beginning of this. No Effort is a fail if you learn something. I had given some thought to going to one of those big seminars for training and testing in English. However this has shown me, I am not doing badly as there are others with the same time invested and still facing the struggle and they speak the language. Yeah, so for me, it is back to just blending all I got into a reliable unit. I will not plan on testing in spring. I will just work and practice may be the summer session…although I would like to go to the seminar in Taiwan. English speakers, vegetarian food, my Chan Shifu there, a couple of friends to Jam with. yeah, it could be a cool trip. however. No funds…on my radar.

As I told other classmates ( and myself), the Shinsa is just another nothing, you train hard before Shinsa, you train hard after shinza. It is like the Zen saying…” before enlightenment, you chop wood and carry water, after enlightenment, you chop wood and carry water”…Amitoufo

 

弓道 – As the arrow flies : A well dressed man

There is no Ebay here in Japan. I heard there was at one point but, it was not popular. Culture differences. There is a Yahoo auction though. Which is basically the same. Small differences, but overall the same. I get stuff from time to time there. Not too long ago I finally found a Kimono that would fit. It is a fairly heavy silk with lining. I wanted wool, but I could not find the size in the price I wanted. The Kimono I got is dark blue, heavy silk and lined. it also came with a Houle jacket. ( outer jacket). I had my tailor make some adjustments so I could use it for Kyudo. I have a Black linen Kimono, but I wanted something for the winter. Now I am good. It is not for a formal shinza, because it is blue, not Black. Only mostly for class, training, those formal Rae-Kai and Tai-Kais.
I wore it to class the other week. It was spotted right away and I had a small group of my “buds” surround me checking it out. It was kind of funny!. I got the approval after I said the sleeves still needed a bit more adjusting. The tailor opened them, however, she opened them too much much. That was one of the things that my friend spotted right off and came over to inspect which brought others.

One thing I had to adjust on the fly was the length. I had asked the tailor about it being shorter and was told, It is usually adjusted via the Obi. Yeah really, it is a bit weird but it does work. When wearing it with no Hakama the length is good. I like it, but with the hakama, it hangs too low.  I got it worked out now after a couple of wears. I do not want to cut it I may wear it one day to something else other than Kyudo, like a Shakuhachi recital.

Otosan’s Haole @ Taikai

One of my goals on coming to Japan and Studying Kyudo was to get 4th dan so I could wear my father-in-law’s Kimono jacket. In the states, it is a big deal to wear the kimono and one in the “federation” can wear it only after reaching 4th. In Japan, not so much.
Once we arrived in Japan some of my kyudo stuff vanished. The kimono was put away to be safe. Yup, you know how that goes. Well, it was safe just lost, for years. Until just last month! I have since then found out it is not a real kimono, even though expensive, it is the jacket that is worn over the Kimono. It is also short in the sleeves for me, therefore, can not be worn with my Kimono. Yeah, so that was a bummer, so much for that little “honor my father in law” fantasy. However I did figure out that I still can wear it on those cool days at the dojo, when I wear the dogi but I am not shooting all the time. Like at Rae-Kai and Tai Kai’s. I need some extra body cover but want to be kyudo stylish. 🙂

I ended up doing just that this past weekend, it worked well at the Tai Kai. Even though it got warmed up by the afternoon, I still wanted to wear it because I was fighting a cold and wanted to stay warm. Since I had spent the last two days in the house sleeping so to wage war on the attacking virus. It helped, I won, Friday I was yukky, Sat still so-so but better. By Sunday I was ready to go to the Tai Kai.

So how did I do you ask?

Not bad, not great but ok. Yamashita Sensei said I did well after hitting my first 3 of 4. opening round. I only hit one of the second, Hmmmm, still good enough to pre-final, which I failed but, I was not expecting to get there. It helped me feel better about the upcoming shinza on Sunday.

Winter dress rehearsal

In a few times in the past, because I had seen people wear turtlenecks and/or long-sleeved undershirts at the Dojo when practicing. I figured it was ok, it is. However I had carried that thought over to a Tai Kai with Kimno wearing, maybe some first of the year thing last year.

The Sensei who rarely smiles says quietly to me; You do not wear that combination. eh?? I am thinking! a Dogi with kimono is ok for an adult, he says, but not the whatever I was wearing with the kimono. That was a no. I thanked him, and gave some thought to translating what he said and then went “ahh sou ka!” I got it. Ok, I also filed that away for later use, under a red flag.

Now that it is getting cooler and I have my winter kimono and expect to be doing more, I asked one of the Senseis. Is it ok, should one wear a Dogi with a Kimono and Juban or just the Dogi and kimono?

He told me something, I did not quite get, but sort of understood. I heard him speaking with another afterward and came back to me and said, ignore what I said I am not sure. There was some talk I could find the answer on the homepage for the school. Later that evening he sent me a link.

My next visit to the dojo I was approached by a sempai who spoke of something while pointing at a sheet of paper, that took a couple of people to help me understand, to what she was referring. It was about wearing an undergarment with Kimono, the question I asked another sempai/Sensei. They spoke in terms of numbers ok. So I was sort of understanding after some thought. Layers they are referring to not names. Yes, a Dogi with kimono is ok and Juban. Ok, I got it, I should make a mental note of what others wear and judge. Doing, understanding for myself, most times works. I started checking out those at today’s event.
I notice later Yamashita sensei was wearing Dogi, Juban, and Kimono. My next encounter with him in passing. I spoke with him for clarification. He gave me what I needed to hear.

The next kimono class I wore the threesome, it worked well. So when it gets really cold I can wear this setup and a sleeveless undershirt and maintain some warmth. Like at the Shrine New Years shoot. I am still not sure about at a Shinsa, it may be ok, I will check out who does what on Sunday. I can deal with the temp for a short time shirtless, in my Linen Kimono, rather than make an error, and lose face, but be warm for a short time. Discomfort It is good training! …Amitoufo

尺八 – The blessing…

In the broad Cha’n sense, every day is a blessing, Gohan Shifu says every day is good. Narrowing it down though to a smaller scope here I am referring to a blessing pilgrimage of sorts I took. Hmmm thinking on it more, it would be better called a purifying pilgrimage. I went just before going to Myoanji, the last trip.

While practicing some songs on different flutes to determine some sound differences. I got carried away on playing with my “A” shakuhachi. 2.0 , that Oota-san from the Shakuhachi society gifted me. I had not thought of it in my Takuhatsu practice, but it could be used. This thought came when I could play some high notes on it but not the 2.5. Also about taking it to Moriji next time and use in an offering at the temple.

I also wanted at some point to go to the nearby bamboo grove and get some bamboo for a new project, several in fact. One of which was a simple as stakes for the tomatoes and anything else. Instead of buying tomatoe racks. This grove was on or next to my favorite local Buddhist temple. I have gone there before and sat and played. Most times it is very very quiet. The thought was born to take the 2.0 to the local temple and give it my own purification ritual.

So now with the need for bamboo and the thought of taking my 2.0 flute and do a purifying ceremony. The next day was chosen, the weather was excellent. A lovely autumn day I mounted my bike and peddled off to the temple. I gave inner thanks for the beauty, peace, and blessing of riding my bike to the local temple in Japan to play my flute and do some Tai Chi. Also, grab a few photos. I am still a stutter bug. I do not get off on taking photos of myself but I am a handy model whilst out and about.

It is a fairly easy trip to the temple, other than the last bit, where it is easier to walk the bike up the hill or leave the bike at the bottom and take the steps. There is some kind of tradition to the steps. I think it is 100 steps. If you use the stone steps one gets a blessing or merit or something, a wish filled…? Usually, I take the steps just because, I can. However not today I walked the road outside and around the temple grounds to another entrance. I wanted my bike there. and I had to go to the bamboo grove just across the road, the lot, something. Anyway, nearby and still needing to climb the hill. From that side of the temple, one must also go to the highest point around for quite a ways. One has a great view of the countryside.

From the other side of the grounds, one can see to the bay. That is the side of the grounds where the 100 steps are and the old main gate with the two stone guards. Next to that is the cemetery.

So I guess technically I enter from the back side of the temple. No matter. I had some concern about where I had parked my bike but, unwarranted concern. I enter the grounds and felt the spiritual presence of the area and again gratitude for being there. I went to the main temple urn, and found insense burning. I took out my flute and passed it through the smoke and bowed. Then played a single Ro note. I did this also at the main temple steps.

Once done there I went to the front side of the temple to where the great bell is located. There I played more. Maybe Cho Shi and/or Tamuki. I do not recall. Afterward, I did some Taiji, to bring my physical vibe up speed. Balance out, it a good thought. Sort of like doing walking meditation after doing sitting.

 

I left this spot after a while and went to another of my favorites. It is next to a pagoda just behind a sand and rock garden. I can climb up on the rock and hang out. There I settled in an do some playing. A group of people came onto the grounds, they were heading for the great bell and one of the other smaller pagodas. I kept playing at one time I would have stopped, or tried to play softer, now I am Komuso and I play for others. On Buddhist temple grounds and people coming to pay respects or homage to their departed loved one, it felt appropriate…Amitoufo

 

 

 

Return to Myoanji

This maybe a boring post if you are not into Shakuhachi…

Today there was a Shkuhachi concert at Myoanji temple. in Kyoto. Myoanji is the home temple of the Komuso SuiZen sect. It is now also my home temple. It is hard to believe it has been a year since I was there, listening to the same concert. It is some kind of event, but I do not know what.

I did realize it had been a year until I saw the leaves starting to color today. I am aware of that because I want to go to Muroji soon. I am trying to work out when is the best time. Next week is sort of early I am thinking. I want colors still on the trees mostly, and not too cold. So I am on tree watch for the color changes, today I noticed it starting in Kyoto. So the tree in the temple yard today gave me notice and I recalled it was like this last time I was there.

Not only did I go because I am now a member, but mostly because my Shakuhachi group had players there. I wanted to support them and get some shots for the group’s FB page. Last time I got there after it started. This time I was almost right on time. It had just started when I arrived. They started with chanting the Heart Sutra. Then played “Cho Shi”. I was sort of surprised to hear them chanting, but it was a good lead into Cho Shi.

After that and a few brief words, the players started. Almost all of my group was playing in the morning, including the group leader who I had never met. Only one of the group was scheduled for the afternoon. He was number 45, I would miss him. I had no plans to hang there all day.

I was surprised how chilly it was in the hall. Cold in fact. I was glad I dressed as I did and wished I had a something else, like a heavier coat or another sweater.

 

One thing that came to my attention was the different colors and patterns of the Buddhist neck wear…the Rakusu (O-kuwara (大掛絡) for Komuso). I do not know if it is just a Komuso thing or what. In the states I always thought, Plain solid blue was for Novices or the like. Black was for Priest, Brown was for teachers. I found out later Purple is for “Masters”. Here I heard any Buddhist wears them. The colors, hmmm unknown about that I will have to research, seems like it does not matter. Here at least I noticed with the Komuso they have other colors and patterns. I am wearing my black one, that my Abbot gave me. Which gives it some personal significance. Other Komuso wear more colorful ones. It does not matter really, it is just a “thing”. Sort of egoish to desire something more than my functional black. I do get twang of fashion desire when I see the other Komuso “feathers”. I saw a cool purple one with a nice pattern. Yeah, I love purple and it was a dark purple. Nice, I had a moment of lust. It passed 🙂

 

It was good to listen to other players. Hear their phrasing on songs that I knew. Listening to the quality of their notes and the sound of their flute. My ear has changed. It rolled along smoothly. At one point there was a fairly large number of people in attendance listening. I was surprised.

After my group had played. I got to met the head guy, said my good-byes and took off. I was invited to stay for lunch but, I chose to hit the road. I did stop at a local “Indian” restaurant before catching the train home. Last time I was there the guys asked me if I was from India, this time another guy asked if I was from Brazil.

The wrap, it was a good day, listening, learning, the visuals. It was on the chilly side but bearable. I am pleased I went. It was a good day trip…Amitoufo

.