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: