The Shared Bath and my Faux Pas
That night I made a fool of myself, unfamiliar as I was with Japanese bathing customs. The girls invited me to bathe with them, but I was too shy. It was all right, they told me, I could bathe alone before they did.
The bath surprised me. It was a huge structure of shining metal filled with warm, greenish water. I was very impressed. All this, for me, and rather deep too. The depth made me nervous. I couldn’t swim, and when I had finished bathing, what a waste of all that water it would be!
It was only later that Akira laughingly told me the water had been meant for all of the girls, and I had let it out! They would shower first and then jump into the bath to get warm. I was embarrassed, and apologised profusely. The girls only laughed. I was amazed by the way the girls bathed together, not heeding their nakedness. But this was Japan where communal nudity did not seem to be forbidden.
Only later was I to discover that the chemical added to the water of Japanese public baths will turn your body purple if you pee into it!
In the Home of Tanaka Sensei
Buddhist shrine in Tanaka Sensei's home
The elderly Tanaka Sensei who has a roaring tea business gifted us with various types of tea and dot pens all of which were later handed to us by Zennin as was the custom. Tanaka Sensei took us to the grand Nagoya castle with its many pagoda roofs, but we did not go inside. Sensei’s home (like another Sensei’s home we visited) had an exquisite ancestral shrine to Shakyamuni Buddha. He said he respected us Indians for belonging to the land of The Buddha.
“You are our teachers,” he told us.
On his large and ornate wooden altar to the Maitreya stood three huge clear crystal balls, one with veins of gold running through it. I had seen such crystals at Mackie Sensei’s home and having dabbled in crystal healing, wondered what they were meant for. Did they amplify the divine energy of the altar and the prayers offered? When I asked about them, I was told the crystals were simply “accessories” and didn’t believe it. Perhaps it was a secret. I longed for a crystal Maitreya and it seemed as though Mackie Sensei knew, because he gifted us each a lovely crystal Maitreya.
Festival in Nagoya
Festival Band, Nagoya
The main square in Nagoya. It was cold and windy on that morning of the festival. We joined the massive crowds to watch the spectacle of women in short white pleated skirts marching, swinging batons, women in red minis and white boots beating on drums, men and women in white navy uniforms playing saxophones, trombones, banging cymbals.
I wore my orange Versace jeans and a tight high collared animal print top but no jacket.
The band was followed by colourful floats carrying shoguns in traditional costume, with their women in rich kimonos, long hair piled up on their heads in the elaborate styles of an older Japan. Ladies-in-Waiting sat dutifully behind these wives of the shoguns that had united Japan.
“Many of the shoguns attained bodhisattva status because of their devotion to their country,” Akira san told us.
“But they killed so many people. How could they become bodhisattvas?” I asked.
Festival float with shogun, his consort and ladies-in-waiting
“It was their duty, Anita san, not a sin. They sacrificed much for Japan.”
Men in black armour wearing Daarth Vader style helmets staged mock battles with javelins. Finally the third and last shogun ushered in modern history and the rifle. Shots rang out in clouds of smoke. Soldiers fell and rose again and the shogun said, “Now that you have fought and died, you can get up and go,” and everyone laughed.
The Japanese girls all dressed in a similar American fashion – skin-tight wedge boots up to the knee or above, very short skirts and hair bleached blonde which did not do much for their complexions.
Sick with the Cold
Carelessly Wearing Akira san's Waistcoat in a Market, Nagoya
I hugged myself for warmth and guiltily, gratefully accepted the waistcoat Akira lent me.
“But what about you?” I asked.
Akira smiled. “I’m used to it, Anita san. I should have looked at the clothes you were carrying. I could have told you to get something warmer. October isn’t cold according to our standards, but you’ve never experienced ten degrees centigrade before, have you?”
“No, I haven’t, Akira san, except maybe in Darjeeling where I did my college, but then I always wore warm clothes. Except once when I was dating an Australian and I wanted to show off.”
A giggle from Akira san who knew about my wild past. I hid nothing from the temple.
“Thank you so much, Akira san,” I said. “I’m so lucky I’m in time for the festival.”
She put an arm around me. “Anita san is always cheerful. I will ask Zennin for some warm clothes for you.”
“She is really like a mother to all of you, isn’t she?” I asked and saw again the pure emotion that suffused the faces of the sanyasins at the mere mention of Zennin.
“Yes, we love her very much. She is so simple. She manages so many temples around the world, but she can come in any time into the kitchen to cook with us.”