December 06, 2003

Japan 4: Heaven and Hell

I've discovered hell. And I think I like it. Hell is the Solaria shopping extravaganza in Fukuoka. A ten (or is it more) storey shopping orgy. Just so much consumerism, and fairly high end at that, in one place. And so much Christmas. Christmas music, Christmas muzak, Christmas decorations, Christmas sales, santa hats, Christmas lights. And huge, flat screen TVs everywhere. It's thoughtful enough to have strategic seating for shopping casualties (the men who are dragged around by their girlfriends, wives) on every floor. And there are cute girls handing out something as you enter. They're wearing all white, and they're all wearing short skirts (white). And they're all cute. They have a shopping basket in the crook of their elbow, and a balloon or three each. And I have no idea what they're doing, but they're cute. And so are pretty much all the women in this hell. I like this place.

Not to appear one-sided, Japan has just shown me a whole other aspect of itself. Two very peaceful and beautiful places. One was a Buddhist temple founded in 805, and the other was the original birthplace of Zen Buddhism in Japan.

The first was an amazing experience because I seemed for all intents and purposes to be alone as I wandered into the grounds, walked around in awe of the quiet power of the place, and stepped inside a huge temple hall to find the most beautifully intricate Buddhist shrine. Not exactly knowing if I was allowed, or what I was supposed to do, I slipped my backpack off my shoulders and my shoes off my feet, and made my way mindfully to the matted area that was separated from the shrine by only a low wooden barrier. I tucked my feet under my bum, and sat for a while. It felt quiet, but mostly it felt still. I relaxed and enjoyed about five minutes of having the entire world to myself. But there was more.

A forty foot Buddha was sitting upstairs in a specially constructed building (as the construction photos explained). Looking up at him, I could really feel his size. Feel just how big he was. Big beautiful Buddha.

The second temple I went to was the most amazingly peaceful space I could ever imagine. Unfortunately, getting inside seemed to be off limits, but just walking around the grounds was stunning. These Buddhists certainly know how to create spaces, how to create peacefulness. Very subtle, very balanced - just a few stone steps through a gravel area with some trees, a stone humpback bridge over a little brook. Some simple but elegant dark wooden buildings, at the same time ancient and approachable. A bell tower, a small meditation room. The rooves are amazing - the hint of lift on each corner gives them a floating, delicate quality. Deliberate, but not heavy handed. As someone whose been attracted to Buddhism for a long time, this was an emotional experience for me. Awe-inspiring and almost overwhelmingly beautiful.

Posted by mthaddon at December 6, 2003 08:56 PM