Kamakura Buddha

On my one day off, we went out to Kamakura on another series of trains.  I suppose, an hour out of Tokyo by fast train, you could call this suburban, if you think of Brooklyn Heights or Allston as suburban.  I have yet to see anything I would call rural in Japan, but so far I have been on a short leash.

I was wrong a couple of posts ago about those red gates with the curved lintel you see everywhere in both Japan and Japanese art that mark the entrance to sacred space: it is not Todi-I, but Tori-I.  My American ear heard the Japanese ‘r’, which involves touching the tongue to the back of the upper gum at the beginning of the sound, not with the push we put intro ‘dry’, but still: Kaori’s  name – pronounced like the cowrie shell – has a little lingual stop between the two syllables that I had not caught before.

As we passed under the Tori-I into the sacred district, we saw a Japanese Shinto-style wedding (so not everybody is running through the mill at Wedding Island) with such a mélange of kimonos with obis, tuxes with spats, – even one guy with a Mao jacketed suit.



After skirting the wedding, we washed our hands and saw the shrine, and climbed through a bamboo grove klinking and tokking in the wind to enjoy a cup of real whipped green tea.  Another holy spot had a wet cave full of wonderful and various deities carved into a wall, so I pray to the god of travel for an easy flight home, and the god of health and long life for Quan.  Outside is a wall where people hang those wooden prayers.  This one in Italian touched my heart.


But the highlight of the day for me was the bronze Buddha.  Cast in 30 pieces 750 years ago and set on a plinth against a hillside, he has a full and strangely sneering set of lips and dangling earlobes and a perfect maha mudra with his hands, but the fascinating part for me – too dark for pictures – was that you could walk inside him, peer behind the curtain, as it were, and see how he was put together.  Amazing craftsmanship to make something so big and heavy work in the first place with such primitive casting technology, let alone outlast the typhoon that destroyed the building around it.


I am essentially in a large brass gong with the hollow of the head 30’ above me, and, so I cannot resist:  I stand in the center and begin a deep Tibetan chant, adjusting my mouth for the overtones, finding the resonance of the space.  It takes only seconds before I feel the resonance of the head and shoulders of the Buddha, and the sound comes flowing back to me in deep metallic waves.

I could have kept this up for hours, like being inside a huge digeridoo, but this freaks out the other Japanese tourists, who gather their children and quickly leave.  The American rolfer who has joined us for this visit is diggin’ it, but my Japanese companions are looking askance, and the ticket guy is headed in to stop me, so I desist, but what a resonance!  Kaori, outside, could hear it emanating through the walls.

This is the one aspect of Japanese culture I would find hard to take over the long term – the resistance to the individual who steps out of line, who dares to disturb the general peace.  The bright side is that women can walk the streets in peace at 3am; the bad side is that they will not let the crass American bring his open-throated Tibetan depth and Tuvan overtones to break the silence of tradition, and thus they will not hear the Buddha resonate.


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