Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A wkend in Gunma

I recently had the opportunity to attend the anniversary celebrations of the founding of a Buddhist temple in Japan. The officiating priest, R , has a doctorate in Indian Buddhist Philosophy from Delhi University and he runs this temple in a quaint village in the Gunma Prefecture in Japan. It took us two hrs to get to Gunma from Tokyo. We were met by R who then proceeded to show us around the place, before we headed to the Temple. The Shot above is from a coffee shop overlooking a golf course. It was a bright and sunny, albeit cold day. However, we enjoyed being out in it. The fall colors were still changing and the sunlight filtering through a myriad of colors gave everything a beautiful hue.

This is a waterfall that has its origins in a natural spring. The water is so pure and clear that it is bottled and sold commercially. Even while we were there, people were filling their water bottles with the water from the spring.

This is the spring itself , or rather, the spring is flowing below that maple leaf. The leaf itself is suspended over a cobweb. On seeing this pic, an IM buddy remarked that I must have real quick fingers. While I am a trigger happy , camera toting maniac, even I am not that good. Just really really lucky when it comes to shots like these.
Next stop, the spa we were sposed to go to. The original plan was for us to head back to the temple, have lunch, laze a little and head to this spa, have a luxurious bath in one of the hot springs and then have dinner and go sleep. This stopover was just a photo -op , that R was kind enough to provide us.
It is right next to this river, offering us beautiful vistas, wherever we looked.

The maple trees on this lane have completely changed colors to a dark shade of red. Imagina a long line of crimson red headed maples on a curving road that runs by a river. Heaven does not get any closer than this.
This is a shot of the bell ringer in front of the temple. Notice the Ganesha figurine. Statuettes of hindu deities are a common feature in a lot of temples here.

A tree in the temple compound with a natural stool to sit on , under its shade , during the summer months maybe.
Here's R , in his full ensemble, talking to his congregation. While I don't understand nihongo, just the gamut of expression on his face while he talked , were a delight for a shutter bug like me.

A view of the temple altar

A few old ladies from the village. These troopers had come the previous day and cooked. They'd come back again on the day of the ceremony , really early and finished the cooking. They then proceeded to serve some 250 ppl, their lunch. Not for a moment did I see their faces without a smile.
An elderly couple in conversation during the ceremony.

R, at his drum , after his talk and before he started the Homa or havan. The buddhist ceremonies I have attended back in India, don't include a havan. Here, on the other hand they seem to be an essential part of the prayer process.

A row of scribes sitting at their low benches. I may be mistaken but they are here to transcribe the wishes or blessings for ppl , or maybe they just write the names of the ppl .

In amazingly beautiful KANJI

A lady talking to one of the scribes, Maybe telling him what to put in, on that paper

Meanwhile, in culmination of the havan, R lit up a thick bunch of incense sticks. These were then passed on , one each to a member , who could then offer it to the Buddha, and maybe make a wish and receive a blessing.

An elderly member of the congregation ready to bless the people. Reminded me of the knighting process, because of the wooden sword in his hand.

The incense sticks being handed out.

And then the blessing

This is where all the incense sticks went.

The front of the temple

And our elderly scribe taking a smoke break

These wooden kayak like things stacked against the column are musical intruments called KOTO. Two ladies played on these, and, while I again missed out on the introduction of each musical piece, the music itself was enjoyable and I wish I could have recorded that and posted it here . :(
That, in the hands of the lady in the red kimono is a Shamisen, another famous instrument of Japan .
Thats the picuture of the two of them playing. A fitting end to a beautiful wkend.

I'd be leaving a lot out if I don't mention the spa. We got to the temple, had our lunch. ( I'd packed some chapaties and aloo jeera, and R enjoyed an indian meal after a long time). R then left for some work and we proceeded to laze. Gunma was really really cold and there was no heating in the temple premises. However in the main room was a Kotatsu. Man it was comfortable. Once we got in , wild horses could not have dragged us out. We were sposed to meet R in the spa, but he got back from his errands and we were still lying there like beached whales. He finally dragged us out and took us to a spa. Not the one in the pics though. He drove to one in the next village.
I guess that is when I started with my nautanki. I did not want to get into the hot baths. The reason being that I'd have to be stark nekkid in front of all the wemmin in there. That took quite a lot of convincing and a lot of hajimete ( the first time ) was thrown around. A few ladies mimed closing their eyes. Finally, my escort , a friend of R's called "I" showed me the bath in the open. I guess that convinced me. Imagine , a clear night. All the stars are visible . A circle of rocks and a pool of hot water in their midst. One can see the steam rising of the water and wafting away into the night. While we grew up listening to "hamam me sab nange", ( every one nekkid in the bath), it took some getting used to . What I did notice however, was how comfortable every one was. No one getting worked up about body image.
At the end of it , while I was drying my hair, a small gal was admiring it and finally complemented me on them in nihongo. I knows a little hindi and taught her to say , "aap kaise hain?".
She walked up to me and asked me in breathless whisper, " aap kaise hain?". Like I was back in Delhi, I replied , " Main acchhi hoon, aap kaise hain?"
I guess it proved to be a little too much for and she walked towards I , clearly overwhelmed.
I've no idea, what was going on in my head, cus I joined them and said to the gal. " imi wa, watashi wa genki desu, anata wa?" ( the meaning of what I said was, I am good, how abt u). She replied , "Genki desu", and all the ladies around us went into bouts of awwing.
I think I now understand why the Japanese ppl are so happy when we foreigners speak nihongo, however incorrectly. At least we are making the effort.
I loved my little exchange in Hindi. But, I liked the entire interaction even more. We reached out irrespective of age, or ethnicity and connected.


Apy said...

That was interesting.. though I still cant see the pics from my office net.. but the trip sounds fun...
So.. those who go there get to see nekkid Jap women..eh?????
:P... DAYAM!!!.. I missed this..

bilbo said...

nope apy dude, u get to see the nekkid women if u are a women urself. However if u are a man, u get to see other nekkid men. Which, I am sure , you'd like to give a pass . hehehhe

Atrakasya said...

I have heard of japanese spas where guys and girls mingle, too?
Can't recall where I read it, but was that an exceptional case, then?

Ashu M said...

Nice photos and great narration. I SO desperately need a vacation :(

And yes, I had heard about these spas as well. A little unnerving for the first time, I would imagine! Or a lot!


k a n u r i t e said...

Beautiful pictures.. makes you want to be there.. and the way you narrated it made me feel as if I was almost there.. hmm for sanctioned skinny dipping I'd choose Japan anyday now ;-)

Shankar said...

I think I'd join them with the 'aawww'