Home Sweet Home Oiso No.2 [Tōkōin Temple 東光院]

I have to say that one of the highlights from my recent Japan trip was Tōkōin Temple (東光院) in my hometown, Oiso.

Mind you, I am not at all a religious person.

I only visited this temple to pay respect to my uncle who passed on during the pandemic, but this temple really blew my mind and showed me what it is to adapt our old traditions to this ever-changing world.

As you would know, not taking off your shoes to enter a Japanese house is a cardinal sin.

If I’m allowed to be a bit passive aggressive right now, each time my NZ European family members and friends walk into my house with their shoes on, I’m internally very, VERY cross! (Now you know!)

This cultural rule is upheld even more strictly at places of worship such as shrines, temples, and even some churches in Japan.

But, as you can see in one of the pictures above (“Keep your shoes on” sign), this temple broke this sacred cultural law to make the sanctuary barrier free for the elderly and people with disability (you need to bend down to remove your shoes, which is hard for them).

I was born and raised in Japan and spent about 21 years of my life there, but it was the very first time to visit a temple that allows you to keep your shoes on… in the sanctuary!!!

They also removed tatami mattresses and placed chairs in the sanctuary so that people don’t have to sit in the seiza position. It is a seiza-free temple!!!

I don’t know any other temple that does this. Please comment below if you know any other temple like this one in Japan… This is that rare!

But what really surprised me doesn’t end here.

This temple has a cozy community space with a library which is completely open to the public- anyone can just walk in and use it to study, to work, up to you.

When my family entered the space, there were a lot of after-school primary school students, reading manga, playing games together, or doing homework.

Then joined one of the monks (who once was a boxer!), and they all started watching the Final of 2023 World Baseball Classic together!

As you may know, Japan beat US and won the championship this year 😁

Did I say that the temple also provides tea, coffee, hot lemon drink, and sometimes even snacks free of charge.

If you want to have some quiet time to meditate, there is space available, too, where you can do sutra copying (写経) or “shabutsu” (写仏), which is a meditative practice to trace pictures of Buddha and other Buddhist deities.

My son was really amused by the tracing activity and completed it in a few minutes- though it’s supposed to be done very slowly to contemplate.

The temple also works closely with doctors, nurses, social workers, psychotherapists to offer free help for those who cannot afford these kinds of services themselves.

They invite academics to do open lectures on non-Buddhist subjects like economics as well.

There are even more radical things they do, but I’ll stop here to not to bore you!

My learning from their adaptability is that traditional arts such as rakugo also have to keep evolving, adapting themselves to the time, here and now. I have to say this temple is way ahead of the world of rakugo.

Why Fishers in Oiso Do Not Catch Octopuses?

As I promised in the previous post, here is a very fascinating folklore from my hometown, Oiso.

In Oiso, fishers traditionally do not catch octopuses, and this is a folklore that explains why:

During the reign of Emperor Ōjin (270- 310), there lived a fisherman called Takonojo (蛸之丞; たこのじょう). Tako, by the way, means an octopus.

One day, when he was fishing as usual, he saw something glittering, drifting in the waves.

Lo and behold, it was a small octopus, and it began approaching Takanojo’s fishing boat!

The octopus crawled up onto his boat and suddenly began transforming into a shining statue of a Thousand-Armed Kannon (千手観音), which is said to be a manifestation of the Buddha’s compassion.

This is not the actual statue, but here is an example of a Senju Kannon. This Kannon is from the 14th century (Nanbokucho period/ early Muromachi period) and owned by the Tokyo National Museum.

This statue was first enshrined at Koma Temple (高麗寺) but moved to Keikakuin Temple.

Because of this legend, real Oiso fishers do not catch octopuses.

What puzzles me, though, is that Buddhism reached Japan in 538AD, which was well after this miraculous incident happened in my hometown.

Anyhow, no octopus carpaccio for us Oiso-ites 😁

Photo Credits

Senju Kannon

Tokyo National Museum, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Home Sweet Home Oiso No.1

It’s 4:30AM.

Someone is making loud scraping noise right outside of our bedroom.

I peek through the curtains…

It’s a surfer, busily applying wax on his surfboard.

Then, I realise- I’m back home in Oiso!

My hometown, which is located 70km to the west of Tokyo, perhaps is one of the Top 10 destinations for the Japanese surfers.

The number of surfers per capita is abnormally high, and in summer the main beach literally gets filled with local and visiting surfers. It’s like the Shibuya Station crossing if you know what I mean.

Naturally, the town is full of the outdoor types, hippies, creatives and plain weirdos (like myself).

It’s a historical town, too, that once hosted 2 ex-Japanese Prime Ministers and 6 other PM’s who had their holiday homes there.

Some of you history-buffs may know that it was one of The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō during the Edo Period (1603-1867).

The Japanese literary giant, Toson Shimazaki, lived in Oiso, too, and Haruki Murakami still has one of his houses there (he’s rich).

I realised that I am describing it like a utopia, but it’s really a sleepy little town with a population of around 30,000 people. Most Japanese would just bypass right through unless they are surfers or history fans.

But to me this is my home, and I have a lot to talk about!

In the next few blog entries, I will be sharing about this town that only the locals know, including its local legends and folklores.

My back and shoulder are not doing great at the moment, so I’ll stop here for now.

See you next time!

Book Review: Fallen Words

As I hold a copy of Fallen Words by Kristine Ohkubo, I can’t help but feel that a new era of rakugo history has arrived!

You may or may not realise the connotation of the publication of a book like this, but it is truly revolutionary and paradigm-shifting!

For the first time ever since the conception of rakugo about 400 years ago, a non-Japanese rakugo script writer in the English language has finally emerged.

There have been a few foreign-born performers who have translated, written, and performed rakugo in English and other languages, but as far as I know, she is the first professional writer who has published rakugo scripts in English.

This book is a compilation of 5 new and original rakugo scripts on a variety of themes.

All the scripts display her deep understanding of this art, and it was especially delightful to read the stories called A Child’s Coins that was inspired by Grimms’ Fairy Tales and Börte’s Kidnapping, which is based on the life of Börte, who was the first wife of Genghis Khan.

It is a must-read for all rakugo fans, and you can purchase your copy on the author’s website.

By the way, the tenugui (Japanese traditional towel) in the background of the photo above is from my hometown, Oiso. The design is based on a famous folklore about a divine octopus, which I will share sometime when I write more about my recent trip to Japan.

The puffer fish rock is a lucky charm from Oiso 😊

Surprisingly Elegant, Narita

“Okusamaga zasekikara ochinaiyou, okusamano seatbelt wo shikkarito oshimekudasai.”

…was the inflight announcement by a Kiwi cabin crew, who was excellent at Japanese.

His Japanese was literally perfect… except for one word.

In Japanese, “okusama” is a wife, and “okosama” is a child, so instead of saying, “Please fasten your child’s seatbelt so that they do not fall off their seats,” he encouraged us to fasten our wives’ seatbelts- which I did.

Completely unrelated reminiscence from the flight, but yes… Narita!

As you know, Narita International Airport is Japan’s main international airport, and it’s often referred as “Tokyo/ Narita Airport” because its original name was “New Tokyo International Airport”.

This is such a deceptive marketing.

The airport is NOT in Tokyo… AT ALL.

It is in Chiba Prefecture and takes about 80 minutes by an express train to get to Central Tokyo.

It takes at least 3hrs to travel to my hometown in Kanagawa Prefecture.

Before children, we used to travel straight to my hometown after the 11hr flight from New Zealand, but this is not realistic anymore.

So… we decided to stay at an accommodation nearby for the night to be refreshed before the train journey to my hometown the next day.

This place was only 1.5km from the airport, and the friendly hosts even came to pick us up at the airport!

They have 5-star reviews from over 279 reviewers as of today- no wonder their service was excellent!

But what surprised me the most was how quiet this entire suburb was.

Unlike my preconception, it was very rural and spacious. I couldn’t believe the airport was less than 2km away!

As I explored the community, I realised that this area was full of history. I just hadn’t realised this as I’d always bypassed right through this area to go overseas/ home before this.

The host told me a lot of stories about the Narita area, and now I’m planning to explore properly next time.

During the morning walk, we discovered a historical farmhouse nearby that had belonged to an American farmer in the Meiji period (1868- 1912) then to the Imperial family. The exterior of the house can be seen in the photo above.

You can probably see that both the Japanese and the western elements are mingling together in the design of the house. We describe this sort of cultural remix as “Wa-Yo-Set-Chu” (わようせっちゅう 和洋折衷).

Perhaps, I’m a good example of a Wa-Yo-Set-Chu person.

Come to think of it, my graduation theatre project at an American university was called “Wa-Yo-Set-Chu with the Mad Japanese Man”… seriously.

Rakugoka (落語家) vs. Hanashika (噺家)

In Japanese, Rakugo (落語) means a story with a punchline, and Rakugo storytellers are called Rakugoka (落語家).

Another common way to call them is Hanashika (噺家), which simply means a storyteller. In my personal opinion, this expression captures what Rakugo performers do more accurately.

Even though Rakugo is almost always accepted as a form of comedy in Japan and also introduced overseas as such, Rakugo is not always funny. If you have ever listened to stories like “Shinkei Kasanegahuchi” (真景累ヶ淵), “Bunshichi Mottoi” (文七元結 ), or “Tachikiri” (立切り), you would understand this.

“Shinkei Kasanegahuchi” is a pure tragedy, a horror story with very little humour. “Bunshichi Mottoi” is a human drama that would make you cry (I cry every time I listen to it!). “Tachikiri” is a heartbreaking love story, which also brings you tears.

I do not think Rakugo would have received the same kind of popularity if it was just comedy.

It is an all inclusive storytelling art.

I really appreciate that the manga/ anime/ TV drama
“Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju” (昭和元禄落語心中) has captured this multifaceted nature of Rakugo rather well.

The beauty of the expression Hanashika (噺家) is that the kanji “噺” is used instead of “話”, which is the most common character to mean a story.

The character “噺” can be broken into “口” (mouth) and “新” (new), so as a whole it means uttering something new.

As a traditional art, the Rakugo World has faced two missions: one being to protect the tradition and the other being progressing it so that it will remain relevant for generations to come.

To me personally, the act of “uttering something new” captures what they do as performers of this traditional art.