Category Archives: Kyoto

Kyoto Part V – The Zazen Experience (座禅の体験) and other Miscellaneous Funtimes

Zazen (座禅) is meditation practiced in the seated lotus position as part of Buddhist tradition. Towards the end of our week in Kyoto, we were lucky enough to enter a Buddhist temple during the afternoon and meditate with the leadership of an actual Buddhist monk, who acts as caretaker of the temple. For some reason I am completely blanking on the name of the temple we visited – fellow CLSers reading this post, do any of you remember?!

I am probably blocking it out of my mind because I found the whole experience to be very straining. Looking back, I am grateful to have such a unique and special experience, but sitting perfectly still for long periods of time is much easier said than done! Anyways, on to the pictures.

The temple grounds were small (it was a neighborhood temple), but absolutely beautiful and incredibly well-kept.

What the Zazen experience entailed was basically watching the monk perform a small ceremony and then instruct us as to how to meditate – he told us things like we must try to empty our minds of our desires and worries, etc. The catch with Zazen is that you are to meditate for a fairly long time (I think it was more than 20 minutes), while the monk circles around and observes. If he sees you losing focus, in any variety of ways (such as falling asleep or fidgeting!), he approaches you and whacks you across the back with a stick! Several CLSers received this “punishment” – I think some voluntarily received it, actually (masochistic tendencies)? All I know is that during the meditation, my mind was not empty at all – I was terrified of the monk! All I could think about was that I needed to stay perfectly still to avoid drawing his attention. It was a nerve-wracking and exhausting experience.

This may make it seem like I had a negative opinion of the whole thing. But that’s not true! I feel like if I had a chance to do it again I would have a much better grasp of the goal of Zazen, and I would be less afraid of the monk. Sometimes a first experience can just be overwhelming. It was an awfully hot day and it was very unfamiliar territory for me. But it’s an experience that I and my fellow CLSers laughed and joked about a lot afterwards – my friend Christie even wrote a haiku about her anxiety in having an itch on her nose and not being able to scratch it for fear of the monk!

Afterwards I met up with Mayu in Kyoto station to get some food. We went to a great rotating sushi bar where she encouraged me to try a bunch of new things. She pushed me to try getting the sushi chef’s attention and placing an order, all by myself – I remember my pride in successfully ordering us Tako (Octopus) nigiri! Mayu definitely helped me to be more fearless in my use of Japanese. We also grabbed some yummy matcha ice.

How could you say no to this after a long afternoon of meditation?!

The next afternoon, I decided I wanted to check out some of the art museums in Kyoto. Obviously as an art student I felt like I couldn’t miss out, as I didn’t know the next time I might have a chance to see some of these exhibitions. So, I decided to take an afternoon by myself to visit the museums.

There I visited the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, (MoMAK) and the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. Obviously I couldn’t take any photos while inside. The Modern Art Museum is what you would expect – it had both art made in the Japanese tradition (日本画 nihonga) as well as Western-style art (洋画 yoga). There were permanent collections as well as a special exhibition. I thought the museum was great, although part of it was closed for renovations. The interesting part was the Municipal Museum – I hadn’t looked up anything before I walked in, but the Municipal Museum was not filled with work by professional artists that had been bought/borrowed by the museum. It was sort of a public building where art by college students as well as adult students taking community classes could have their work shown. So basically, it was filled with amateur work instead of professional work. I found this to be fascinating! You don’t have art museums in the U.S. showing work made by everyday community members. The Municipal Museum was a massive building so I spent a great deal of time in there, I really thought a lot of the work was really fantastic. It was also very busy – I thought it was great that so many people would come out to look at work made by students and community members, and not just famous or professional artists. There are many more art museums throughout Kyoto, but these two were the only ones I was able to get to. I hope to visit several more in the future!

Next up will be my last post of my week in Kyoto, and will include my visit to the most famous temple in Kyoto. Can you guess which one it is?