Stories From The Road

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Technos International Week – Day 5

Thursday June 10, 2010

NAGANO CITY, Nagano, Japan – The day began with an early breakfast and then we loaded onto the bus for Zenko-ji temple, a seventh century Buddhist Temple.

Zenko-ji Temple (front view)

The pot emanating smoke

The temple rose up among the trees surrounded by smaller shrines. The pathway to the temple wound through some trees and a past a small shrine. To the left side of the path were wooden pillars. Carved on these wooden pillars were Japanese characters and it is said that if you rub the pillar you will receive seven years of good luck. After everyone rubbed the pillars we continued onto the temple. The path intersected with the main walkway of Zenko-ji temple.  In the center of the walkway was a pot with smoke emanating from it. The Buddhist monks at this temple believe that the smoke has healing qualities. If someone has an ailing part to their body they are wash the smoke over that body part and it will heal. This tradition reminded me of a similar one practiced by the Lakota Sioux in the United States. In Lakota culture the smoke from the peace pipe also has a cleansing and spiritual property. The smoke is said to heal physical ailments and also to be a persons prayers traveling up to the heavens.


After throwing the smoke over me, I turn around and face the temple for the fist time. The temple is built of wood with golden accents. It is also decorated with swastikas, which were originally a symbol for eternity and in the present day represent dharma. I was amazed by the architectural wonder of this temple.  It was perfectly preserved and still active.

We proceeded up the main steps into the great hall of the temple. Inside the temple was dark and dimly lit. No cameras were allowed inside and shoes had to be removed. A prayer area decorated with golden statues of Buddha divided the inside. On each side of the temple there were two large Buddha statues that faced each other. On the far left, four monks worked patiently and diligently on a multicolored sand mandala.

Buddha Statue

A large bell began tolling signaling the beginning of prayer time. The monks came out from behind the altar in different color robes. They kneeled on the left side of the altar. One of the monks banged together sticks in an increasing rhythm and another used a drum. There speed increased and decreased several times as they chanted. As their chanting increased a curtain that covered the front of the altar began to rise. Behind the curtain there was another golden Buddha statue. The curtain rose and fell several times. After about five to ten minutes of prayer the ceremony ended and the monks left.

Row of Buddha statues outside of Zenko-ji temple

Following the prayer our tour guide at the temple brought us to the far right side of the altar. There was steep staircase that led beneath the altar. We descended down the staircase and were met with a pitch-black hallway. We processed down the hallway keeping our right hand on the wall. We felt our way along the hallway and were told search for a metal lock, which housed the real Buddha statue. It is said that if your felt the lock you would receive seven years of good luck and that your would someday reach Nirvana. After successfully feeling the lock we exited the passage.  Just after exiting the passage there was a place to buy a pilgrimage book (these books can be purchased at most temples). At each temple and shrine there is a master calligrapher that signs the name of the temple in the book. Many people collect these signatures as proof that they have visited these temples. They are also a work of art. The covers of the book are made of wood and it opens like an accordion. After exiting the temple we walked to the main walkway and proceeded through the gate to visit the shops in the town.

Near the shops there were more Buddha statues and shrines. The shops sold small gifts and food. One shop sold buckwheat whisky, which is only found in Nagano. They also sold a dumpling style snack, which again is only found in Nagano. The filling of this dumpling snack varies. It can be filled with meat or vegetables, which is very common in the United States. However, it can also be filled with sweet bean paste, a delicacy in Japan. Sweet bean past has a consistency similar to refried beans but a sugary taste.

After the temple we drove, climb high into the mountains to a remote village for a traditional Soba meal. We ate at Yamaguchi-ya. The soba was served cold on separate plate. Soba was served with a dipping sauce, which was mixed with wasabi and green onions. Each time you eat the soba you dip it in the sauce, which adds flavoring. Once all of the soba is gone you take warm water that the soba was cooked in and mix it in the dipping sauce. This new mixture is then drunk. Other parts of the meal included pickled salads, noodle salads, tempura, and sweet cake-like balls for desert. This meal was also served with soba tea. Following lunch we descended down the mountains and returned to Midori no Mura.

Soba meal

Upon our return we took part in physical exercise; playing tennis, volleyball, basketball and soccer with the Technos students. I played soccer with Kenji, Yutaka, Meagan, Erika, and Sebastian. After I described the game of Ultimate Frisbee to Yutaka and he was eager to start playing. He picked up the game and the throws quickly. Others joined in and we started a small game until dinner.

Dinner was a Japanese barbeque consisting of beef, pork, scallops, prawns, vegetables, and soba noodles. The food was cooked on a teppanyaki grill. Following dinner all of the international students played a big game of Ultimate Frisbee.

Group photo in front of Midori no Mura

As it got darker outside we headed in for the nighttimes activities, which included karaoke, and fireworks. I sang a few songs with different people. It was entertaining for everyone whether or not people could sing.

Around 8:30 we went outside for fireworks. After the fireworks it was free time until eleven when they shut off the power to building