Monthly Archives: December 2016

Christmas day with the Big Buddha


The Hearty Hikers have had a great year with  lots of great hikes. As 2016 was coming to an end, we decided to take an “easier” walk, a two-day sightseeing tour of Kamakura. Actually, “sightseeing” is not the best word for what we were up to. Our trip to Kamakura was a chance to relax and reflect—to consider how all our time this year in nature had affected us. If you’ve read The Tao of Pooh, you can just imagine that we were up to the same thing that Pooh was up to about every day: effortless action. (This involves listening to your “inner nature.”)

Kamakura, of course, was the capital of Japan from the end of the 12th Century and into the 14th, an important period for the development of Buddhism—and temples from that period still dot the area, nestling up against mountains, or spreading up mountainsides.

Thus, our two-day trip was a somewhat spiritual opportunity.


We ended up walking about eight hours each day, so it wasn’t so “easy,” but it was more relaxed and slow paced than usual, and as soon as we got off the train at Kita Kamakura Station (about two hours from Shizuoka and about 6 km from the town of Kamakura), our eyes were open to everything.

The side of a house.


A rain spout.



I think it was a day or two before the trip that I read a New York Times article, actually a conversation between a columnist and his perhaps pastor, the gist of which was, the columnist esteemed Jesus greatly, but had trouble accepting some aspects of Christian thought, specifically the virgin birth and the resurrection. Unwilling to accept the truth of those two things, he wondered, could he still be considered a Christian? His pastor’s answer was pretty clear: No, he could not. Other pastors may have answered differently, or given a more nuanced answer.

But what struck me was how the columnist (and he may have played this up a bit), still wished, despite his serious problems with the basic beliefs of Christianity, that he could be a Christian. This seems strange to me. There are probably lots of “religious” groups with views on existence more closely aligned with what he feels true in his heart. Why insist on being a Christian? Is it just a tribal instinct to belong? Is it what makes a square peg think it can fit snugly in a round hole? If you’re comfortable with your faith, then that’s fine, but if you’re uncomfortable?

But if he is sincerely scared of doctrine and specific beliefs that are (no matter from what religion) a bit hard for his rational mind to accept, well, he may have enjoyed Christmas Day with us.  All we did was reflect and breathe and walk and see and feel the world around as best we could. I should have invited him in a comment.

Anyway, we enjoyed Christmas Day with us.


The first stop was Jochi-ji.

Basically, from what I’ve seen over the years, a Buddhist temple is a few buildings, often quite simple, surrounded by a lot of nature. More or less, Buddhism is (he says) nature—or an awareness of all nature is.

At Jochi-ji, the three statues of Buddha, past, present, future, are the most valuable assets, but another statue intrigued me more. What would you think if you came across the below sign?


  1. Let’s go!
  2. Ha, ha, ha.
  3. Wait, it could be dangerous!
  4. Thank goodness history fell out the way it did and we’ve got a sign in English!
  5. Hey! they’ve got Aerosmith!

We went with #1, and this is the fellow we met. Hotei is his name.


The sign said the God of Happiness, but to be honest, I don’t know what the word “God” means in Buddhism. I don’t think there are gods (he says), only folks who are completely enlightened (Buddha) and those who are well on the way to enlightenment but still wanting to stick around and see how they can help out (bodhisattva). The guy above is obviously still hanging around, and he seems, jolly as he is, able to help you be content even if you’re poor. (Benjamin Franklin had something to say about that, too.) Some people believe you can rub his belly for good luck, but I  think it is more likely that an awareness of an idea that he brings to mind can lead to contentment.

Awareness. I think that basically (he says) that’s what Buddhism is all about.

We Hearty Hikers are keen on awareness.

After Jochi-ji, we headed up the hill into the woods and hit the ridge we’d follow over to the main town of Kamakura.


Yep, camellias were everywhere.


And we were having such a nice walk that it never occurred to me that I might be cold—but this guy sure seemed to be.

Before descending down into the town, we came to a restaurant—yes, a restaurant, up there on the mountain, you can only walk up, and we enjoyed a hedonistic hour—clam chowder and sausages.


A cute purple flower sat across from us. A light eater, apparently. (That’s a joke.)


And then we descended into town and made our way to Kotoku-in . . .


. . . the home of the Big Buddha.

Construction on the Big Buddha began in 1252 and was completed in about ten years. He? is 13.4 meters tall and weighs 121 tons, all bronze. He lived in houses for a good many years, but strong winds (kamikaze?????) blew them down. From the 15th Century, he’s been out in the elements.

But that’s good. He seems to have nothing to hide.

But who is he? What is he?

The universe. Awareness. An enlightened educator of non-dualism.

That’s it. And you got it right here, on this blog, knowledge acquired after a long day (single day that it was) of contemplation. Any Buddhist priests out there, please correct me if I’m wrong.

Knowledge? Contemplation? Oh, dear.


In front of the statue is a prayer pot, a round ball, that you can place incense inside of. I don’t know about anyone else, but in a temple like this, with that big guy right there in front of me, it didn’t seem right to pray for something. It only seemed right to try to feel as calm and aware and compassionate as the Buddha himself. That is, as calm and aware and compassionate as I thought the Buddha was.


A Hearty Hiker! Feeling more content already!

But I’d like to hear everyone’s opinion. What do you see in this face?


  1. Calm
  2. Love
  3. Awareness
  4. Compassion
  5. False Prophet
  6. Evil
  7. A bore
  8. Something else

You can step into the Big Buddha for a mere 20 yen (18 cents, US). Well worth it.


The hole is his neck. And you can see that putting him together was quite the task in the 13th Century.


Two windows in the back, necessary for construction way back when, “enlighten” the inside of the Buddha.


I pledge to you on my Hearty Hiker’s heart that this is a sincerely peaceful moment.

And then we walked through town, toward the ocean, and made our way to the day’s third temple, Hasedera.


If you’ve seen some of our hiking pictures, you might know that up on the trails we sometimes come across little Jizo statues. Often they’re wearing red bibs, as they keep an eye on children, especially. 161225_hasedera_jizo_600 At Hasedera, there were thousands (literally) of Jizo. I think, technically, they may rank as bodhisattva.

The pride of the temple, though is the eleven-headed Hase Kannon statue, about 9 meters tall.

No pictures allowed. No pictures taken. So no pictures here. Kannon (literally “see” and “sound”) is often translated into English as “the Goddess of Mercy” but is strictly, as I’ve suggested, neither masculine or feminine. She? is destined for enlightenment, but has promised to stick around a while longer to offer compassion, mercy, and love to all.

Good for her.

Kannon and others, often have lots of heads and arms. That’s because it is a wide, wide world with lots of stuff going on, some of it not so nice. Extraordinary awareness is necessary to take it all in.

Lesson to be learned: Do your best.

Housed in the building next to the Hase Kannon is the Buddha.


The gardens are lovely.


Nature, nature, nature.


There’s a walk through a stretch of hydrangeas (nope, neither blooming nor greening in December) that leads up to a view of the bay.


Should you stumble and fall? Don’t worry? Someone will see you. Someone will lend you a hand.


A lovely, lovely Jizo family!!!

And then off to Hase train station . . .


. . . where it is still Christmas.

See you guys later.




Christmas and the New Year are upon us. Among the good memories of my first year in my new house, are those of all the people from a variety of countries who’ve spent at least one night here.  I feel so blessed to have had so many bright-eyed young folks stay over—from Hungary, China, Sri Lanka, and Korea.

Yes, of course, we took them all hiking.


They didn’t seem to mind so much.

I’m also lucky to have the opportunity at my job to meet people from all over: Indonesia, Thailand, Slovokia, Viet Nam, Malaysia, Brazil.

A week or so ago, I hosted a lecture by a magnificent Japanese painter, Nobuaki-san, who explained how he had moved from painting still lifes to painting people’s faces. It was a fascinating talk.


Near the end, he told us that he couldn’t paint a person until he felt he understood who they were and what they were about. I asked him how exactly he went about doing that. After all, he was living in Ghana at the time he started focusing on portraits—and with ordinary spoken language, at least, could hardly communicate with his models at all.


He said it was easy, and just took a few seconds. He said he could see who they were by looking into their eyes. He said when he looked into their eyes, he could see their souls. At least with children and elderly folks, he said, it was usually pretty easy.

Some folks may think that sounds a little dreamy, but I think it is about as real as it gets.

I knew exactly what he meant. You can see people’s souls in their eyes. I saw it in the eyes of all those folks who visited my house, all those who have joined us on the mountains.

I sometimes read on Facebook how important it is for us (any us will do) to identify the enemy clearly. I wonder. It seems to me that that’s the best way to create more enemies. Look for something hard enough, and you’ll surely find it.

For better or worse, I’ll choose to keep looking into eyes—and meeting all those fellow souls.

And I hope to have more visitors in the year to come. And I hope to take them all up into the mountains, maybe along a ridge, or up a slope, where we can look over our shoulder and see, at any moment, our dear friend, Fuji, trudging along with us.

I haven’t met anyone yet who doesn’t like having Fuji-kun along on a hike. Actually, that’s one of the best times to gaze into their eyes.

A few days ago, I told Shizuoka Duo about these thoughts of mine. Here’s what they gave me back. I love those guys. I wish, though, that they’d stop using that recording studio  they keep in one of their back pockets.

Happy holidays.


We’ve gathered here at Christmas time from all around the globe.

We look into each other’s eyes—we see no xenophobes.

Together we can feel so much hope.

Hope. Hope. Hope. Hope. Ho-o-ope.


In your eyes I see a light that really, really shines.

Makes me feel that all of us are something quite divine.

You’ve got me feeling mighty fine.

Fine. Fine. Fine. Fine. Fi-i-ine.


Sri Lanka and Germany might be represented here.

Malaysia and Shizuoka’s spirit is feeling awful near.

What can you possibly see that anyone would ever have to fear?

Fear. Fear. Fear. Fear. Fe-ea-ear.


Maybe we’ve got some Christians here, a couple of Muslims, too.

A Buddhist, a Hindi, might be sitting next to you.

You are they, and they are you, you know it’s oh so true.

True. True. True. True. Tru-u-ue.


People from Indonesia might be here by chance.

From China, Florida, Vietnam, Ghana and France.

From Thailand and Slovokia, it makes me want to dance.

Dance. Dance. Dance. Dance. Da-an-ance.


Well, I’m really just so happy that you are sitting here with me.

So look into my eyes and tell me what you see.

I see you and you see me—and we are really we.

We. We. We. We. We-ee-ee.


Persimmons hung and dried

161210_star_persimmon_450The love was coming through the blue.


The trees were full.


The melody was delicious.


Visions of persimmon stars danced in my head.


And many of the neighbors were doing it. Hanging and drying persimmons.

Once a man on a mountain gave me two dried persimmons. It changed my life.

So if you’ve got a tree full of astringent persimmons and don’t know what to do with them, why don’t you hang them out to dry? Unlike some creatures, they don’t mind being hung out to dry.

For those of you in Japan, this is common sense.

And it’s simple. Peel the fruit. Sterilize it with alcohol or boiling water. Tie it to a string. Hang it up outside. Preferably, in a sunny spot with a good breeze.

Then wait. Watch the fruit grow translucent and sweet. For a couple of weeks. Depends on the weather—how dry or not. If you get some dark spots on the fruit, don’t worry. If you get a touch of mold, dab it with alcohol and all will be fine.

161119_star_persimmon_day_1_298 161119_star_persimmon_day_1_2_298

161119_star_persimmon_day_1_3_298  161121_star_persimmon_1_298 161122_drying_persimmon_600 161122_star_persimmon_1b_298 161123_star_persimmon_2_298 161124_star_persimmon_1_298 161125_star_persimmon_1_298 161126_star_persimmon_1_298 161127_star_persimmon_1_298 161129_drying_persimmons_600 161129_star_persimmon_1_600 161129_star_persimmon_2_298 161203_star_persimmon_298 161204_star_persimmon_298

Don’t forget to massage the persimmons every now and then. Will make them less tough, a bit gummier. You can sort of flatten them out that way, too.161205_star_persimmon_298

Soon, on any given day, you’ll need two shots, a frontal view and a side view, to see how things are coming along.

161211_star_persimmon_2_298 161211_star_persimmon_298 161212_star_persimmon_2_298 161212_star_persimmon_298

Cut the string. Put the persimmon in your mouth. Chew. Don’t swallow the seeds.

Know unbound joy.

161214_star_persimmon_front_view_298 161214_star_persimmon_side_view_298

Something New


At the foot of the trail up to the Jizo Pass, we greeted, as usual, Mr. Red-Coat Jizo.

“Dear Mr. Jizo,” we said, “Once again please let us borrow this trail  for the day.”

“Sure,” he said. He always does.

But being asked makes him happy. He’s glad to know that we know that the trail, the ridge, and the view from atop Aozasayama can only be borrowed.


Just above the pass, as we headed across the ridge, we came through patches of frost.

Ms. Six Pence (that’s what I’ll call her) and her friend Mr. Six Pence (perhaps, in the future, sometime in the not-so-distant future) had joined the Hearty Hikers for the first time.

“Oh!” Ms. Six Pence called out suddenly. “I’ve got something in my boot.”

“It’s probably a one-yen coin,” Mr. Six Pence said.

She pulled off her shoe—and what do you know!—she did have a one-yen coin in her shoe.

“How did you know that?!” she asked him.

They shared a look. Then Tamiko and I shared a look—we both knew what their look was all about. There was magic in the air.

But then again, in the woods, as the trees feel all that moves among them, as they converse with their buddies about all that’s going on, magic is always in the air.

“Well, that’s certainly something new!” she said.

Up we went, me and Mr. Six Pence a little ahead. He said to me, “She spilled a purseful of change as she was going out her door. But don’t tell her—I mean, don’t remind her. I wanted to tell you, though. I don’t have special powers.”

“Oh,” I said, “but I’m afraid you do.”


“Diamonds!” we heard Ms. Six Pence call out.

“Diamonds, already?” I said to Mr. SP. He blushed.

The two ladies scrambled up to where we were waiting.

“You didn’t see the diamonds?” Tamiko asked me.

Ms. SP invited me to look into her camera’s viewer.

“Wow, where were those?”

“Just back there! You walked right past them!”

Indeed I had. But it’s always this way. When you’re with someone new, you see new stuff. I’d seen all kinds of frost formations, foot-tall frost flowers, but never these cute little green fellows.


“Waaahhh!” Ms. Six Pence exclaimed. “Fuji. There’s Fuji. And look at all that blue!”

Indeed, there was our old, old friend Fuji. We’d borrowed him for the day, too, and all the ridges between us and him. All this was ours and ours alone—do you see anyone else?—though, of course, only on loan.

And she was right. It was mighty blue. It’s often really blue looking out from the Aozasawa ridge, but it seemed especially so this day. I’m not sure whether it was the sky, or Ms. Six Pence, or both, that made it that blue.


Regardless, up into that blue we went.


And soon we were atop Aozasa. Fuji had stayed with us the whole time. As old friends do.


And just like the winter branches, we reached for spring, up into that amazing blue.


There was something soft and peaceful about the journey back.

And as I drove back toward town, and imagined how much Mr. SP must be aching to take Ms. SP’s hand, I remembered that old song:

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue—

and a silver sixpence in her shoe.