Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Religious Experience In Japan

Japan is the last place anyone would consider to be a place in which to have a religious experience. Truth be known, there is a lot of religion in Japan. They are not so out in the open about it but all those temples and shrines are not just for tourist; people take those places very serious. I recently found this fact to be very true.

My darling wife dragged me, kicking and screaming like a child with tourette syndrome, to her home city of Hamamatsu. Normally I would jump at a trip to Hamamatsu. The place kind of kicks ass from my perspective. It is a rough and diverse city. It kind of reminds me of Detroit, before Detroit became a total shit hole of crime, poverty and eviction anarchy. My wife always like to point out to me all the places bad people do bad things in Hamamatsu. She does this because she knows I like things which are not for the faint of heart. It is her way of saying, `My city is fucked up just like you. You would like to live here.` Yet, that is another blog post for another day.

Anyway, the reason I had to be dragged to Hamamatsu was for the purpose of celebrating the death of her grandmother, and secretly the death of our unborn child. This was odd to begin with because death is usually handled by Buddhist in Japan. My wife`s family is Shinto and by Japanese tradition should be looking to Buddhist to handle the afterlife. As it was explained to me, her family is a different sect of Shinto which deal with life and death by way of the same god. Regardless of the faith, I have a distrust of organized religion.

There is just something about organized religion which puts me off. I think it comes from the violent blood thirsty history of organized religion which makes me have a loathing for it. Growing up in a Christian society as a rebellious Mormon kid did little to gain my trust for religion in general. I grew up having an ideology beat into my head that all other people, including other Christians, are vile and are going to burn in hell. I was not allowed, and it did not stop me, from drinking any caffeine or alcohol, smoking, relationships with gals outside the flock, rock music, world culture and any notions that science could teach me anything. As you may have guessed,  none of that shit had much of an impact on me. The whole pressure to look down on non-believers and trapping people into a box always left a bad taste in my mouth. Despite my aversion, I agreed to spend a day knee deep in the Shinto faith; with in-laws who do not speak my native language.

The festivities started off with an in-home ceremony performed by two priests of sorts. I had no idea what was going on at all. The best I could do was just do whatever my wife did and hope I did not embarrass myself too much. I must admit that to my surprise it was a pretty heavy situation. It is hard for me to describe the whole event. It was as if the priest where attempting to bring the soul of my wife`s dead grandmother back to the land of the living for a few minutes. The priest did several things to this kind of tribute shrine which my in-laws have constructed in the house. While everyone is bowing and doing a three clap gesture repeatedly, the priest open a small door on a mini-shrine and recite some sort of command while waving their arms. This goes on several times until finally my wife turns to me and says, `It is okay now. You can relax. Grandmother is happy.` Whatever the fuck just had happened was totally lost on me.

The ceremony was not over just yet. Everyone loads into cars and heads out to a potato farm area in which a large shine claims home roost. At that point I started to feel like the whole event had turned into Children of the Corn Japanese style. It took about an hour to reach this BFE potato farm area. The area had an eerie peacefulness about it. There was not a lot of sound except for a few cars passing by. Everyone else seem to think the situation natural so I just went with it. Once everyone got settled into the temple it was time to basically repeat the same process again.

There was a little extra bonus with this go around. I lost complete feeling in both my damn legs and feet. The Japanese have a way of sitting which must be meant to destroy ones ability to walk normally. Siaza, as the Japanese call it, is the proper manner of sitting on the floor in Japan. It involves folding your legs and resting your ass on your feet while sitting upright.. To say the least this shit is really painful. The ceremony at the Shrine ran longer than expected which lead to me losing the ability to walk. After everything was done, I attempted to stand up and collapsed on the floor. My lack of walking ability caused everyone to do lightening fast neck spins. Everyone just kind of stared at me. There was a few moments in which everyone just kind of froze and thought to themselves, `Did the gaijin really just lose the ability to walk after sitting in Saiza?` I had succeeded in achieving two things at that moment: 1) convincing all my in-laws that American`s really can`t sit in Saiza. 2) Bringing the gaijin to a shrine will embarrass the shit out of the entire family every time. After stumbling around the shrine for a few minutes I sealed my fate as being the asshole of the day.

Once things chilled out for a bit everyone loaded up the cars again and headed to a upscale hotel for a proper high class meal. On my end, this is when things got a bit strange. I started drinking sake and chatting up the younger of the two priest. For some reason this guy took an interest in me. He wanted to talk about my religious beliefs. This is a wacky topic to start up with me but I had been drinking and did not care to share my views with this Japanese priest. I pretty much told him I hated organized religion and cited my reasons. He was at a lose of words and moved on to another topic before returning to the subject of my own personal spirituality. The man said something to me which had a major effect on me. `When a man`s past becomes too much for him to bear, he must strip himself naked and recreate himself to express what is inside of him.` We talked about a few other mindless things but that one piece of advise stuck with me.

Later that night I wondered around the city a bit just to see what was shaking. I ended up taking roost at a Yakiniku joint. They offered a 100 minute all-you-can-drink deal for 1,200 yen and meat plates for no higher than 350 yen. Only a blind fool hooked on crack would pass up such a deal. I was all alone considering that I was surrounded by native speaking Japanese who are not used to seeing `gaijin` as often as Tokyo folks are. Anyway, such forced solitude got me thinking about what the priest said. Maybe my past really is holding me back. Maybe all the shit which keeps me up at night IS the problem. As I gulped down glass after glass of poison it all became more clear to me; my past is fucking me in the ass daily. Such epiphany came to me just as the beef tongue started to blackened on the grill. I had to rip the meat off the grill and plop it on my plate. Perfectly good beef tongue gone damn near to waste due to my own self distraction. Yeah...self distraction.

Bam! Then it hit me like a prize winning fighter. My past is my own self distraction. I distract myself by dwelling on my rocky and controversial past. In order to be a true lean mean pipe wielding  force of unstoppable energy I must displace the monkey on my back and beat the shit out of that bastard with a steel baseball bat. The past must not define me; it only remains as lessons learned. With lessons learned came final call and a slight nudging to pay and slap some leather on the sidewalk.

And that is a religious experience in Japan...                              .