Spaces in Tokyo: old to new

This is a guest post by Alena Klindziuk ’18

Stepping out of the subway into the damp, foggy morning, I knew that Tsukiji Market is not going to be like the other tourist attractions in Tokyo. A smell of fish filled the air. A colorful crowd turned left and crossed an intersection. My friend Eriko and I followed. We were brought to a row of decrepit, two story houses. Japanese ladies shopping for fish, wide-eyed tourists looking for authenticity, and hungry Tokyo residents looking forward to a fresh sashimi lunch, were trying all to squeeze between the rows of shops buildings. Eriko and I joined them.

The shops sold Japanese delicacies, kitchen appliances and souvenirs: tamagoyaki, butcher knives, bags of rice. The tiny restaurants had large queues of people waiting to get in. These were the cheaper ones – TripAdviser recommended. TripAdviser did not disappoint. The restaurant we went for lunch was so tiny it was difficult to get to our seats at the bar without accidentally kicking seated customers in the back. Yet, the raw fish donburi we got was on point. I tried sea urchin for the first time. The mustard-colored, gooey mass turned out not to be my favorite sashimi. But it was an experience.

Eriko and I went through all the rows shops. I bought Shitaki mushroom tea, but didn’t have enough courage to get the seaweed one. We then went to the portion of the market where fish was sold. The fish auction takes place early in the morning, so we only saw the aftermath. There was still some smaller fish being sold. Tiny electrical trucks stealthily zoomed back and forth carrying water, tubs, and tools. One could easily get run over without being careful. The floor was wet. So were most of the counters and surfaces. Men in rubber aprons and gloves were out and about wiping, cleaning, drawing rickshaw-like carts. It was dark. The ancient roof of the market did not allow any sunlight to pass. It is sad to know that old fish market will soon be shut down and moved to a new place. However, once upon a time Tsukiji was also a new establishment. I am excited to see the new fish market that will take Tsukiji’s place

Immersion on Mount Koya

This is a guest post by Alena Klindziuk ’18

Sitting out on the wooden open-air porch, looking out on the mountains steeped in fog, hearing the bamboo fountain stock hit a rock as it overfills with water, hearing the wind chime gently sing in the breeze…

I had two images of Japan. One was of modern Japan, best embodied by Shibuya or Shinjuku. The other was of old japan. A collection of images from books, movies, amines. Wooden porches, paper doors, maple leaves, calligraphy scrolls captivated my imagination since childhood. The traditional Japan came to be embodied by Koya-san.

It was not merely because I saw a collection of traditional things there. Even though the pace of our travels is rather relaxed, it is nevertheless difficult to fully immerse oneself in a place – to feel its energy. To see it not as an outsider, being amused and distracted by its peculiarities, but to behold it wholly – to understand its purpose, the flow of energy that gives the life and vitality to a place.

Often when I am traveling, it is difficult to connect to a place in such a way. Yet, when I stepped into a cool, damp, foggy air of Koya-san, I felt immersed. The rain drove away a portion of the tourists, leaving the place more or less pristine. The fog and shadows of giant cedar trees filled the sacred mountain with mystery. The incense, chanting of sutras, monks’ colorful robes gave the place an enchanting quality. The quiet walks through the centuries-old cemetery, and the wonderful wooden bath at the temple filled me with peace. I spent an evening on a porch overlooking the garden meditating, observing the koi fish in the pond and the reddening leaves of the Japanese maple. I wish I could somehow preserve this feeling from Koya san and take it with me.

Mt.Koya and the Beauty of Shingon Meditation

Our last night in  Koyasan, I couldn’t help but to think about all the thoughts and details that are centered around such a small yet powerful and intimate space.  We got to learn about Kongōbu-ji Temple and learn about Kobo Daishi spreading his learning and teachings of Shingoin Buddhism to Japan and being granted the opportunity to build a space that is on the mountain, Mt. Koya, that is sacred and essential to the peace and upbringings of various modes of support and faith in religious and spiritual paths among the community members. Imagery seems to be a powerful message in the stories to tell, and nature has been a powerful tool in conveying the essence and symbolism of Mt. Koya. Being able to reflect on how much I appreciate the space, my peers and I were granted the opportunity, on the first night, to witness monks passionately chanting the sutras on their last day of their ceremony. We were also given the space and opportunity to practice Shingon meditation as we learned from Professor Glassman’s colleague, who is a monk, that meditation is all about acceptance. Being able to realize the thoughts running through one’s mind and capturing one of these thoughts and observing that thought for what it is and not judging it. As beautifully mentioned, we learn more about ourselves and we deal with things much better when we learn not to suppress it, but to acknowledge and accept it, that is when we can overcome it.


Kongōbu-ji Temple-Headquarters

Jenny & Anita

Selfie with Jenny after Shingon meditation


One of the monks who practices Koyasan’s Shingon Buddhism

Kumano Dreams

As I write this (Friday) we are on the bus leaving Kumano for Kyoto. In the interest of preserving my tablet’s battery life for the several hours of hiking and travel ahead, I’m drafting on paper, which is difficult because of the bus’s constant rocking and shuddering on these narrow roads and also because of the very distracting view outside the window. I think this must be the most beautiful place I have ever seen. Japan isn’t a big country, so I don’t understand how these trees and hills can stretch on for so long. Compact clusters of houses, inns, gardens, cemetaries, post offices, shrines, rice paddies, swimming pools, and convenience stores are snug against the apparently unharmed pine forests. I didn’t know there were still places where things coexisted like this. On the ride in, people swore in excitement and jostled for pictures as we passed massive man-made waterfalls and pipelines running down the side of the ridge, and then the bus fell silent except for the sounds of camera shutters. Again and again the hillside hugs the road, then falls away, and the Kumano River swings into view. I’ve been told water actually is blue, but I feel like this is the first time I’ve seen an actually blue river.



There’s just so much here. I see two derelict trucks abandoned side by side, the undergrowth beginning to invade them. A rusty bridge spans a small ravine; the footpath it was once a part of is long gone. A brown furry creature the size of a large dog crosses a road far below, and another follows a moment later. A pipe sticks out of the cliff trickling water into a small square basin. Far above, fog hangs in the highest treetops as if some clouds came down from on high and got snagged there. I’m snagged here. I can’t look away. I’m not quite in an ecstasy, but I am in a kind of wonder-fatigue. I recall a reading from Professor Schulz’s class in which Jon Kabat-Zinn discusses observing as a facet of mindfulness: experiencing (for example) a sunset by simply noticing it in the present moment. If you allow your awareness to be filled with thoughts, feelings, and memories, you have lost the sunset right in front of you. You are only seeing your idea of a sunset or your recollections of other sunsets you have seen in the past. At times I tried to “simply observe” Kumano, but it seemed impossible to drink this place in without being swept away by a stream of questions and yearnings. In truth, I wanted to be swept away. I knew I couldn’t come to know this place and it’s people with their lifetimes full of stories. I couldn’t “lose” it, never having found it, but what I could do was lose myself in the mystery for as long as I was here.


The morning after we arrived in Kumano, we were back on the bus, on our way to visit a man named Tateishi Kosho. Kosho is a yamabushi, a hermit in the mountain ascetic religion of Shugendo. Our professors had described him to us as “a character” and “a charismatic figure,” but I was not prepared for the sudden change in the atmosphere when he climbed onboard  our bus, full of smiles and enthusiasm. Dressed in simple clothing with Buddhist sutras written across his white jacket, he had a fondness for fist bumps that felt surprisingly unanachronistic. The recent rains made our much-anticipated waterfall hike too dangerous to attempt, but Kosho didn’t seem too fazed. He had already put together an alternative itinerary for us. Minutes later, we were getting off the bus and making our way towards a small cottage overlooking the river. This turned out to be the house of one of Kosho’s friends, and he had not been forewarned of our visit at all (in fact, he had just woken up). He didn’t say much while we were there; he simply sat in front of the giant flat-screen TV that dominated his otherwise simple house while Kosho gathered us around the open back door. Years ago, Kosho explained as Professor Glassman translated for us, gravel companies had moved into Kumano. Disregarding every environmental regulation on the books (these were scary folks, possibly tied to organized crime), they carved into the mountains, harvesting rock to grind into bits. Kosho refused to sit quietly as the sacred land was polluted. He and several other yamabuchi went out to the forest playing their conch shell trumpets, summoning the deities of earth and water to aid them in the fight against the companies. From the porch where we stood, Kosho gestured towards the distant hills. At one time, he told us, they had been peppered with dozens of gravel-making machines. Now, although the land was still scarred, there was only one machine left, a dilapidated structure dwarfed by the surrounding trees. Spiritual warfare, I thought. I didn’t quite understand the method, and I wasn’t sure if I was getting the full story, but there was no denying the outcome: Kosho had won the battle.

Later that day, Kosho and his wife made us a tasty lunch of dumplings and noodles with broth. He set out a small plate of limes to squeeze into our soup, which I was very happy about. When he heard me ask my tablemates if there were any extra limes, he remarked, “Oh, you really like those, huh?” and disappeared for a minute into his kitchen, then reemerged with an entire box of limes, which he set on the table near me. As the meal was drawing to a close and I was drinking the last of my broth (now with six lime halves floating in it), the professors passed out wooden sticks on which we were each instructed to write a wish or prayer for Kosho’s fire ceremony. When had all gathered in the shrine next to Kosho’s house, Professor Glassman and Professor Schulz sat on either side of the altar and read the sticks out loud, then placed them in the fire, which signified the mouth of the god Fudo-Myoo. Most of my classmates requested things like good health for their families or happiness for all people, so I felt a little embarrassed when Professor Glassman read my wish, which was a little more concrete and perhaps a little more selfish: “I wish to live somewhere as beautiful as Kumano someday.”

The Zen of Sitting


Students waiting for meditation session at Shunko-in in Kyoto.

We walked as pilgrims on the Kumano Kodo on our way into Kyoto, and trekked from Myoshin-ji to Kyoto through to Osaka, changing stations there, and are now at last on the train to Mount Koya, a Buddhist enclave up in the mountains. Pilgrims again, everything we own on our backs, trying not to lose the trail, threading our way through the commuter rush instead of through the cedar forests.


Rev. Taka Kawakami, vice abbot of Shunko-in give students a tour of the temple

In Kyoto we walked a lot, but we came here to learn to sit, to practice zazen. We stayed at the Shunko-in temple in the large complex on the outskirts of Kyoto, Myoshin-ji. On Saturday morning, we did a meditation training session in English with the vice abbot of the temple, Rev, Taka Kawakami. He talked about flexibility as a state of mind, reflected in the body. Stiff when you get up off the meditation cushion? It’s ok to sit in a chair. Be flexible. He spoke a bit about the intersection between neuroscience, psychology and Buddhist practice – perfect for this 360 which sits at that intersection point as well. There was a fun moment of connection when he referred to a longitudinal study, The Harvard Study of Adult Development, on which Marc Schulz is a co-investigator (and has a new paper out this week!) and one of the 360 students is using data from for her thesis.

From Shunko-in we went to Tenryu-ji, a 14th century Zen training monastery set in a historic garden (now a UNESCO world heritage site). There we met with Thomas Yuho Kirchner, an American and Zen monk who entered Shofuko-ji monastery in 1971. He gave us an introduction to the monastic schedule, and the training young monks would be given. We practiced zazen, sitting meditation, in the hall where the monks in training would practice, eat and sleep, wrapped in thick square futons.


Zen monk Thomas Yuho Kirchner with kaiseku

Attention could drift during long meditation sessions, and so the kaisaku was employed, a flat stick whacked across the shoulder blades, sometimes called the stick of compassion. Thomas Kirchner demonstrated its use on me. You bow to each other, then cross your arms and round your back for two quick slaps on each shoulder. It stings, sharpening your senses and much like a deep massage, refreshes. In my course we’ll talk a bit about the relationship between pain and contemplative practice. It’s a fascinating topic, criss-crossing psychology and spirituality.

Students sitting on the veranda overlooking the abbot's garden at Zuiho-in

Students sitting on the veranda overlooking the abbot’s garden at Zuiho-in

On Sunday we visited another large temple complex, Daitoku-ji, to tour Daisin-in and do a last meditation training before heading to Kyosan. The iconic Zen dry rock gardens, and nightingale floors – which squeak as you walk on them, were highlights of this temple. We also toured Zuiho-in, which I think might have my favorite rock garden, one with deep standing waves.

A bit about Prof. Schulz’ paper:

Hot Spots

Tateishi Kosho

Tateishi Kosho



Hot. The weather has been hot and very humid, which made yesterday’s hike with Buddhist priest and mountain ascetic Tateishi Kōshō tough at times. There were periodic deluges of rain, so much so that our planned hike up the mountain to a waterfall was too dangerous to take. We crisscrossed the lower mountain, walking a bit on the Kumano Kodo, a world heritage pilgrimage trail (akin to the Camino del Santiago in Spain, in fact the city where we got off the train Tanabe, is a gateway city to the Kumano Kodo and a sister city to Santiago). By the time we arrived at Kōshō’s hall, we were drenched. Rain and sweat.

We were greeted with towels to clean up with, and a hot pot lunch. Dumplings, noodles, vegetables all cooking in a salty broth, just right to replenish all those electrolytes we had lost in the morning’s hike. A bedraggled band on arrival, I watch fluids and a place to sit restore us all.
As lunch came to a close, Kōshō handed us gomagi, wooden slats with the seed character for Fudō-Myōō, the image in Kōshō’s hall, on one side. We wrote our names and ages on one side (now we know I’m the oldest on the trip!), and a desire on the other side. These would be burned in the goma, or fire ceremony, taking our prayerful desires up with them

In my class we’ve been talking about “spiritual technologies” – or the ways in which material objects, such as incense or bells, as well as bodily postures, such as bowing or walking, are often part of a meditative practice. From the familiar postures of meditators sitting on cushions to the Christian rosary beads, to the use of bells and chant, many traditions make use of material items or embodied practices to facilitate meditation. Kōshō’s fire ceremony let us see how a rich set of materials and practices could be employed: we rubbed incense on our hands, Kōshō used a big ringing bowl as well as blowing a ceremonial conch shell, the heart sutra was chanted ten times. In some ways, it reminded me of James Turrell’s “Light Reignfall” which I saw at LACMA two years ago and on which we saw a short film in class.

We are staying at an onsen, a traditional Japanese hot spring, which welcomes pilgrims on the Kumano Kodo. While there were the usual Japanese communal baths, both indoor and outdoor, Japan’s geology provided a more unusual opportunity. The bed of the river which ran past the inn was percolated with small volcanic hot springs. Dig into the gravel at the river’s edge, looking for hot spots and make your own hot bath. When it gets too hot, dip into the cool pools of the river. It felt quasi-baptismal after the day’s steep hikes.

The rain had caused the river to rise, but not so much we couldn’t find some hot spots at the edge and the students (with some help from the faculty) built a river bath, stacking stones to make an artificial pool where the hot water filters up and is trapped. It smells faintly of sulfur, adding to the sensory experience. The Bryn Mawr “hot spot” was still there this morning, and several students took advantage and went out for a quiet early morning river meditation. Me, too.

On the way out to the onsen up the river from Tanabe, we stopped at a shrine, Kumano Hongu taisha, viewed by some modern Japanese as a spiritual power spot, pawaa supotto. Another sort of hot spot.

Read more about Fudo-Myoo here (

Watch a short piece on Turrell’s “Light Reignfall” (

Reading silence in the city

[Posted for Nazifa Tabassum]IMG_0118

The Ueno Park in Tokyo is a fascinating place. On one end is the Ueno zoo: a place filled with bright colors and joyful schoolchildren, who are amazed by the beauty and diversity of the animal kingdom . On the other end there are also seekers of beauty, but of a different kind. Littering the various shrines and temples are adults – office-goers, homemakers, senior citizens and tourists alike – who are looking for a quiet space to reconnect spiritually with nature, God or both.

This morning I found myself in one such place. Benten hall is situated in the middle of a pond filled with large, green water plants. The greenery formed a comfortable buffer, protecting the space from the hectic city life and providing people with a serene perspective of one of the busiest cities in the world. From what I gathered Benten Hall or Benten-do is a Buddhist temple dedicated to Benzaiten, goddess of fortune, music and wisdom (Wikipedia), which explained the temple’s popularity. However, I was more interested in the little sitting area on the side of the temple overlooking the surrounding pond. There were several people sitting there but it appeared to be a silent space. Some read, some listened to music and some just took in the view. One man had brought breadcrumbs with himself and spent hours feeding the pigeons in the park. A bunch of strangers sitting together in silence might appear strange to some (the trope of mysterious-silent-stranger-who’s-up-to-no-good coming into play here ) but the silence that was shared at the sitting spot was comfortable, even welcoming.IMG_0117

Thus I sat on a bench near the water, listening to the silence around me, the gentle lapping of water playing as a soft background music. My breaths became deeper and my mind emptied of all the anxiety-inducing plans I had of exploring all of Tokyo in one day. For a brief period of time, I just paid attention to the moment: the feeling of the breeze on my skin, the changing colors of the sky, the soft cooing of the pigeon roaming around me.
When I left the temple, I certainly felt very fortunate to have experienced that brief, unexpected moment of mindfulness in the little oasis of Benten-do.

Sister schools

Moriya Tadashi's painting

Moriya Tadashi’s painting

Last week, in Irene McHenry’s MBSR training class we practiced a walking meditation, deliberately aware of placing each foot on the ground, stopping at a bell to take in what was around. A practice of open, embodied awareness.

Yesterday we did more than a bit of walking, 10 miles more or less. We wound our way through the tunnels that lace the area we are staying in to Shinjuku Station, to take the train out to Tsuda College, an all-women’s college in the suburbs of Tokyo founded by Umeko Tsuda, who graduated from Bryn Mawr in 1892. Tsuda’s founder had first come to the US in 1871 with the Iwakura Mission, sent from Japan to the US and the UK to negotiate treaties and to research educational systems. The weather is hot and humid, the tunnels crowded with commuters. Another kind of walking meditation.

Two trains later we were in Kodaira, walking alongside a waterway, headed to Tsuda. Our students met with Tsuda students, some of whom had been to Bryn Mawr as part of the student exchange program, while the three faculty met with the current president, and the past president.

It was a delightful visit, one highlight the chance to see Moriya Tadashi’s painting of the young women on the bow of the boat from Japan as it entered San Francisco Bay in 1871. Though you can see the Golden Gate bridge in the misty distance, the bridge wasn’t built at the time (nor was the artist born!), Tadashi added it so that you could identify the city.

Both Tsuda’s students and ours were struck by what it took to get from Japan to the US in those days, and how little those young women would have known of what they would find when they arrived, so different from today when they live in a well-connected sea of information.

Last night, after dinner, I walked back with a few students from dinner, threaded our way through the crowded Shinjuku station shopping area. Times Square would seem dull in comparison. We stood on a corner, watching the crowds, the lights, and I’m already thinking ahead to our last stop, tiny, dark, quiet Kamikatsu.

Bryn Mawr 360 students and Tsuda's students

Bryn Mawr 360 students and Tsuda’s students

Dreaming Ramen

IMG_0338[Guest post from Tenney Sprague]

Sept. 25 (1st day in Japan on bus)
We have just arrived in Japan and are now on the bus to Tokyo. Granted, I feel like I need to sleep for a day and perhaps shower even longer, but everywhere looks so different I won’t forgive myself if I do sleep. Already I have seen rice patty fields, dense bamboo forests, and even a hotel with black sparkled walls on the outside. But I have also seen smaller things like little houses in the distance from the highway. Familiar in that I know what Japanese style homes look like but completely different seeing them in person.

Perhaps it is only my strange perception knowing that I am in a new place, but the sky feels higher too, like there’s a larger distance between me and the big fluffy clouds than back home. And I keep expecting to see mountains in the distance. I was so excited to go to Japan, but no matter how close the departure date got, I didn’t feel like I was going anytime soon. (It was like a dream or a nice idea, but I was never actually going to be able to go.) So now here, I’m regretting not doing more research on such things like maps, knowing where mountains are, and speaking Japanese – I did practice some, but speaking bumbling Japanese to an actual native speaker is a whole other level of embarrassment and mistakes.

But still, I’m in JAPAN, probably a place that I’d never be able to go to and experience (and try my bumbling Japanese) without this 360 program. So maybe I’m still in a dream, and my mind is letting me think that I am this lucky. But I just saw an ad for ramen from the highway, so I’m really hoping I’m not dreaming, or at least, that this dream would last a bit longer.

Thank you so So much Dr. Glassman, Dr. Francl, Dr. Schulz, and Bryn Mawr College for all your hard work that went into planning this trip and for helping my dream come true of eating ramen in Japan!

Go and come back

Photo credit: Prof. Victor Donnay

Photo credit: Prof. Victor Donnay

At 6:45 this morning, my colleague Marc Schulz and I arrived at Pembroke Arch to find all fifteen of our 360 students gathered, packed lightly for two weeks on the road. It’s not our first trip this semester, early this month we spent two night at the Jesuit Center outside Reading, Pennsylvania, trying out silence, so we’re already a practiced traveling band. Now we’re headed out for a longer experience, 15 days on the road, traveling to contemplative sites in Japan.

“Carry-on!” and “Hand wash!” were our motto, after four weeks of reading about simplicity in my course, we’re trying it out in the field. What comforts are you willing to leave behind if you’re going to live on top of a pillar as the desert ascetics did, or, in our case, fly at 34,000 feet and be pilgrims when we arrive?

Marc Schulz is teaching the course on the Psychology of Mindfulness in this cluster.  He noted that as we rushed through the terminal this morning the irony of not being able to stop long enough to look in the meditation room.

In my course, we’ve been talking about built space and how it might not only provide the conditions for meditation, but perhaps induce meditative states, as artist James Turrell hopes his installations might. So now we’re off to the field to experience spaces purpose-built for meditation, and places that foster meditation alongside daily life.

We begin in Tokyo, and will visit temples in Kyoto, Koya and on Tokushima, an island in the Sea of Japan. We’ll walk parts of the 88-temple Shikuko pilgrimage trail (a UNESCO heritage trail, like the Camino del Santiago in Spain.) We’ll talk about meditation and practice zazen with Buddhist abbots and monks, and visit communities that privilege simplicity of life.

One of the Augustinian friars from the community that lives down the road from the college, who lived for many years in Japan, wished me a good trip yesterday after Lauds. “Itte irasshai!” Go and come back. And so we’re off, to go and come back, to see and to experience.

I’ll be writing about the trip as we go, and if you want to follow our adventures in real time watch for #Japan360bmc and #BMC360 on Twitter and Instagram.