South East Asia :: March - June 1995

Subject: Ree - 'oh - can.
Date: Date: June 7, 1995 07:19

23:39 Ryokan Hiraiwa; Kyoto-Japan :: 3 JUN 95

Tonight I managed to scoop the last room in the Ryokan Hiraiwa. The situation looked grim after about the fourth 'Solly, no room' coming over the payphone. It was 20:00, it was raining, and I was wondering whether Kyoto's Central Station had any benches that I might sleep on-Tokyo Station didn't.

A ryokan provides the gaijin traveler with a taste of traditional Japanese life. (Gaijin translates as 'foreigner'. Interestingly enough, if one looks up the Japanese word for 'alien being from Outerspace' in their English-Japanese dictionary, gaijin appears there as well.) At the Hiraiwa the front door is a slider with frosted glass, as most homes in Kyoto. Shoes are removed inside the door; a pair of slippers awaits. These take you as far as your room and are removed before crossing onto the tatami (woven straw) floor. Inside are two folded-up futons accompanied by comforters, pillows, a towel and yukata and obi, or robe and belt. A tea service including a container filled with tea bags (Japanese green tea), thermos of hot water, Japanese tea pot (the handle sticks out the side) and two Japanese tea cups (no handles) on saucers. Next to the service is a pair of hand towels and toothbrushes. All this is placed on a low table against the wall, under which is a thin square cushion for sitting.

00:53 Babawaki-cho 7-2, Shugakuin; Kyoto, Kansai-Japan :: 6 JUN 95

A rice-paper screen covers the window. If you open the window, remember that the screen should remain open as well, in case of rain.

In the Hiraiwa my room has a television. 6 channels of Japanese-language programming. In the evening, there are baseball games featuring teams like the Dodgers, Giants , Swallows and Carp. The highlight reels love to show every strike-out pitch thrown during the game. If you tire of baseball there's usually some Hollywood film on, dubbed in Japanese. During news hours you always see the face of Shoko Asahara, the AUM cult leader who allegedly gassed Tokyo subways. Mostly, the Japanese seem to like shows with talking heads. Pretty uninteresting if you can't understand the talk.

A chord dangles from the fluorescent light affixed to the 7 foot ceiling. Pull it once and three fluorescent tubes flicker alight. Pulling it again extinguishes one of the tubes. A third pull extinguishes all the tubes but illuminates a tiny 'night light' nestled between the fluorescent tubes.

Upon entering the room strip off and put on the yukata and obi. The left flap of the robe should wrap over the right. Only dead people wear the right flap over the left.

My door swings open because the room is at the end of the hall. Doors to the other rooms slide open and shut. Don't forget to put your slippers back on upon exiting the room. Don't forget to take them off again before entering the toilet or the bath/shower room. Don't forget to step into the bath/shower slippers when entering those rooms.

The Japanese have a variation of the typical Asian squat toilet. Imagine if the wall of a men's bathroom with a urinal attached fell over. You'd have a urinal on the floor. That thought crosses my mind every time I enter a Japanese bathroom. Japanese toilet rooms have no shower heads or water hoses; they stock toilet paper. A small basin sits on top of the toilet reservoir. While water rushes into the reservoir after flushing, some is diverted to a small tap that empties into the basin so you can wash your hands. In turn the basin empties into the reservoir. Typically efficient.

The bathroom of a ryokan contains the same elements as the wellness center, except no bubbling jacuzzi. Wash before entering the bathtub; don't bring any soap into the tub; don't pull the plug- somebody will use the same water after you leave. When you leave, don't forget to take off the usually garishly coloured bathroom slippers and slip into regular house slippers.

Back in the room-you did remember to take your slippers back off?-unroll your futon, spread out your nice thick comforter, and climb into bed. Sweet dreams.

Patrick. -- Responses Sought --

The lowly and insignificant Saicho, among the most foolish, ignorant and deluded of men, vows never to turn his back on the Buddhas, or his parents. Despite my limitations, I have made the resolutions below. Free of attachment to worldly things, willing to lose all means, and intent on achieving the supreme principles, I will be unbending in my resolve.

    Until I obtain sufficient awakening, I will not leave the mountain or work in the world.

    Until I illuminate the ultimate principle, I will not indulge in worldly pleasures.

    Until I grasp the essence of the pure precepts, I will not attend state ceremonies or religious feasts.

    Until I attain the heart of transcendental wisdom, I will avoid all entanglements.

    Whatever virtue and wisdom I may accrue through my training will not be for my own sake but for the benefit and supreme liberation of all beings throughout the universe.
Thus I vow not to savor the taste of liberation alone nor realize the fruit of nirvana all by myself. All beings in the Dharma world must rise to wonderful awakening and experience the subtle flavor of Dharma together.
  graphical element Saicho, 8th century founder of Tendai Buddhism His resolution of seclusion on Mount Hiei, in Kyoto