Zazen meditation

Today we went to a Buddhist temple in Uda, where we tried Zazen meditation.

“Zazen” means “seated Meditation” and is a way of Zen meditation, where the heart is in focus. The purpose of the practice is to calm your soul and make your spirit strong, so it can stand any obstacle.

When we came to the temple, the priest explained that we would meditate two times of each 20 minutes. We would cross our legs, sit like someone was pulling our spine towards the sky, look at the same spot one meter ahead, and count to ten with each breath, over and over again.

Everyone’s first thought was: How could anyone sit still for that long? I couldn’t even sit like the priest did. Normally I get bored pretty quickly, so I can’t really sit still for a really long time. But what people didn’t know about Zazen, is that you actually get hit on your back with a stick by a priest. It sound kind of weird, but it help you endure the time of the meditation.

Everyone seemed a little scared of being hit, but in the end we all tried to get hit.

The 20 first minutes felt like 5 minutes and the biggest obstacle wasn’t the hit itself, but more keeping your concentration. Rain suddenly started pouring down, and not long after, the priest started hitting everyone three times on each shoulder. The sound was very loud, but the hit wasn’t that hard. The second time the priest hit even harder, because people requested for it; even that didn’t feel that bad, and it actually helped you keep your focus.

Afterwards we all gathered in another room, and we got cinnamon cakes, tea and a really cool present. It looked like a walled, that you could keep small notes in, and we all got three different colors to choose between; red, purple or gray.

Even though I tried Zazen two years ago as a participant, it was still an amazing experience that I will never forget. Thank you World Campus International, for giving me another amazing experience with Zazen.

Nina Møller (Denmark)

Host family day in Uda

Day of activity: 2013 July 30th

Today was the 13th day of my stay in Japan. Our family, the Kumamoto, took me and Espen to see the Todaiji and the area around. As usual the breakfast was pretty large, meaning we had energy to spare during our touring. We went to the trainstation at morning and met up with Lisanne Pool and her host family sister, Minori Ensatsu, whom we spent the whole day with.

At first we went to see the local museum, where our host family bought both Espen and me a T-Shirt of Ashura, which I might end up wearing almost every day from now :P, and then we headed towards the Todaiji. Kenichi, our host dad, had fun taking lots of pictures showing us Hi-Five-ing the huge Buddha statue, then kept on the sightseeing. The amount of deer in that area was simply amazing, no wonder they are part of the main attraction around there, they kept on following us in groups whenever we bought something from the local shops, thinking we were going to feed them soon. After walking for a while, we decided to go up the hill, to see more of the area. Surprisingly, I met a friend from Holland there, Charissa, who was visiting Nara that day also by herself. At first I just couldn’t believe my eyes, but after a while the truth just shocked me, such coincidences actually do exist! She joined our group and we went eating flavored ice nearby. Then, while walking towards the station, we met another group of members of World Campus Japan, among whom 2 students from my same University who were also surprised to see Charissa at that place.

After a short while we split up, and our host family, Espen and I just went straight back home.

Later in the evening Lisanne and the Ensatsu family joined us for dinner, and the day ended with another big surprise, this time for Lisanne. It was a surprise birthday party (with amazingly delicious cake!), because Lisanne told her host family she would’ve spend her birthday alone in the Netherlands a month later.

So long I had lots of amazing experiences in Japan, but today was mostly filled with fun surprises 🙂

Julian van den Busken (The Netherlands)

Murou-en and Morouji Temple

This was a day that we had been told to look forward to. All the WCJ counselors had told me and the others that visiting the residents of the Murou-en elderly people’s home was one of the true highlights of this particular session. After being driven to Murou-en by some of the host families through the beautiful mountains of the Uda area, we arrived at the facility’s front gate where we were greeted by members of the staff. As we entered, I noticed that the attention of almost every single resident in the lobby area immediately turned to our group. It was quite heartwarming to watch as the faces of the residents started to light up at the sight of us. We were greeted by warm happy smiles with every step we took, and it wasn’t long before we found ourselves sitting down amongst the residents at the tables that had been prepared for the occasion. What had been prepared for all of us, was all that we would need to do calligraphy: brushes, ink, old newspapers, examples of kanji (Chinese characters used in Japanese writing and Calligraphy) and Japanese fans for us to write our kanji on. Calligraphy proved to be a good choice for an activity to do with the residents, as I speak only a little bit of Japanese, and they know no English at all (their hearing was also quite impaired, which didn’t exactly help communication either!). After introducing ourselves and our respective home countries, we began making calligraphy on the fans. The first elderly lady I was paired with unfortunately fell asleep before we could really start, but after that, I was paired up with another elderly lady, named Natsue. Doing calligraphy together with her was one of the most fun and interesting things I’ve done on this session. We talked a bit about the Kanji we were writing, Denmark (my home country), and Japan. Natsue-san really enjoyed herself too, and when we had to leave, she started crying- I must admit I came close to doing so as well. I was nice knowing that we had brought a bit of happiness to the residents though. I made a fan with the ‘dream’ kanji for her, and I got one with the ‘god’ kanji.

Later that day, we went to Moruoji Temple, a Buddhist temple located on a steep mountainside. After walking around for a bit with our guide, we took of our shoes and entered a small building where a Buddhist priest was chanting sutras (Buddhist verses). We learned quite a bit about the temple and Japanese Buddhism. Afterwards, we were told that we could ‘challenge ourselves’ by attempting the 400 step climb to the uppermost part of the temple at the top of a steep slope. The last part of the climb was really though on my legs (and lungs…!), but the beautiful view and serene area at the end was definitely worth it.

All in all, a great day indeed!

Simon Presley (Denmark)

Festival in Uda

World Campus Japan is all about giving you an experience of being a member of Japanese society, on (mostly) equal footing with real Japanese people. In my mind, nothing accomplices this goal as effectively as helping to prepare a festival. You are right there with the Japanese, doing the same work with the same goal in mind. Specifically, our job was to put up tents for the booths. When there was nobody around to tell us what to do, I ran around looking for work on my own, mostly carrying stuff around for people.

The summer festival of Uda is in a typical format. It consists of a baseball court with a stage at one end and surrounded by rows of tents at the others, with a tower in the centre. The tents provide shelter for shops, food stalls, games et cetera. At the end of the festival, people dance around the central tower, a dance called bon-odori (lit. lantern festival dance).

On the festival day, two other participants, Alvaro and Karo, and myself were followed around by a television team from a local channel, who watched us eat stuff and play games while interviewing us. They also filmed our pitiful attempt at bon-odori.

The festival ended with the most amazing display of fireworks I have ever seen. Shells were fired from less than 100 meters away and covered the night sky with light.

You can go to festivals as a tourist in Japan as much as you wish, but no festival will be quite as good as one you help make happen. It just makes me really warm and fuzzy when I think about how I made a real contribution, no matter how small, to Japanese society

Espen Auseth Nielsen (Norway)

Meeting Host Family in Uda

Today we had to say goodbye to our families and friends in Suita, Osaka. I had so much fun with my family during the week, and I had to fight back the tears in my eyes when it was time for us to depart. It has been an amazing week, and I tried to say goodbye to them with a smile.

When we had just left Suita, everyone was feeling a bit sad. But when I saw the mountains that surround Uda, I began to feel nervous again. What would my new host family be like? What kind of people will they be? Will I be able to connect with them as well as with my last host family? Thankfully, the answer to that last question is yes!

We met our families over dinner, a few hours after we arrived. Each member of WCI was assigned a certain object, which the families had taken with them, and they put in a closed box. Each member had to look for their assigned object by feeling inside the boxes. Thankfully, I found my object, a dog collar, straight away. Immediately after that, I started talking with my host family! They were a bit reserved in the beginning, but so was I. Thankfully, after a while we all lost our shyness and starting enjoying the evening. It was so much fun! We talked about the differences between The Netherlands and Japan, everyone’s hobbies and dreams, family, pets, etc. we kept talking, even after dinner, at my host family’s home until late at night. My nervousness was completely replaced by a sense of anticipation for what will hopefully be an awesome week in Uda, Nara!

Lisanne Pool (The Netherlands)