Written by Isabelle Qian, (Yale University), Student Correspondent for CET Japan, Summer 2022
Today, after school, instead of getting off at my usually stop in Aikawa, I stayed on the train and kept going.
When I applied for CET, I was told to expect a lot of work. I knew that I would be spending much of my time either learning in class or steadily churning my way through piles of homework. I was pretty worried about this, as I came to Japan because I wanted to be in Japan, to see the sights and not just the same old scenery of my now-familiar apartment. Recently, I realized that I don’t actually have that much time here, and the hours that I spend just lying in bed studying Kanji and watching TV on my computer are — while enjoyable — also a waste of opportunity. I can read a Japanese textbook anywhere in the world; I want to spend more of my time doing things that I can only do in Japan.
A fun day trip from Osaka to Minoo, where you can hike to a waterfall and check out Katusuo-ji, an awesome temple known for their abundance of Daruma dolls.
School gets out at two in the afternoon. With daily quizzes and worksheets, that doesn’t leave a ton of time to go sightseeing. But today, the homework load was low, and as I walked from the university to the train station, I made a spur of the moment decision to go have some fun.
Take a forty-minute train ride from Osaka Gakuin University, and you will find yourself just outside Shitennoji, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan. On my way towards the gate, I passed by a preschool and then immediately afterwards, a graveyard. I had no idea how old the graveyard was, but I liked how it seemed almost as though the graves came first, and the city was built up around them. As I walk through Japan, I am constantly struck by how casually the past and the present are placed together: in the middle of downtown, you will find a high rise sharing a street with a shrine.
Umeda is a busy shopping district in Osaka — when you’re tired of searching through stores, there’s a food court underneath the train station where you can find sashimi for around eight dollars.
For 300 yen, I gained entry to the Shitennoji garden. I guess such places aren’t popular on Thursday afternoons because I was the only person there. It was so still and quiet and lovely, and then every once in a while there would be some movement — a brush of wind, or fish.
splashing in the pond, or two jade-colored butterflies that flew so close to me, I almost thought they would land on my arm — and I would suddenly remember that this was in fact a place and not a painting. I don’t think that photos do a good job of capturing gardens like this because photos are inherently still, and so in some way, they make commonplace the magic of finding a place so serene.
The peaceful Shitennoji garden — a piece of green in the middle of the city.
After walking around the garden, I made my way towards the actual temple. Unlike the green and shaded garden, the various gates and pavilions of the temple were out under the extraordinarily blistering sun. I was sweating all over, and everything looked so bright that it was like the sun was bleaching my eyes. I approached one belfry and found a monk sitting inside. He was wearing long robes and sitting on a cushion, pulling a rope to ring the bell as he chanted from the sutra. It would have looked like something out of the past, except that he was sitting right next to an electric fan.
For me, the best part of the temple was the first lecture hall that I entered. Stepping inside was like shedding all the heat of the sun and entering a kind of cave: very dark, very cool, and smelling like incense. I saw many familiar statues of Buddhas and deities — icons that I have seen many times before during my childhood trips to China, but never in such quiet and in such solitude. What struck me most were the murals, all along the walls. Seemingly painted directly on wood paneling, I was shocked by how beautiful they were. I could see the texture of the painted trees, and the loving detail of the Buddha’s foot, and the luminous glow of his halo.
The golden spire of this pagoda can be seen from far off, and it looks even better up close.
My instinct was to take pictures, but photos there are forbidden, so I just walked around, staring at the walls and trying to memorize how amazing they were. Although I really wanted to have photos to show my parents and friends, I also liked to think that these images would never be found in any form other than their own, and in no other place than this: with the dim and yellow light, the smell of incense, the shadow of the golden Buddha statue, and the tall, cavernous wooden ceiling. As I stood before them, I felt like I was being let in on a great and reverent secret.
The funny thing, of course, is that I can’t post any photos of the murals on this blog either. Isn’t it clever, how that works out? I guess if you want to see them, you’ll just have to come to Japan.