Japan 2015

OVERVIEW (Sample only. The 2017 tour is different than this one below. Every tour is different and will only be revealed privately to participants.)

Your tour will start in Southern Japan in Kyoto and Kansai, the traditional and spiritual center of Japan. Japan has four very different seasons. Among all of them, Kyoto’s foliage season is so beautiful and cannot be missed. Enjoying the foliage of Kyoto is heightened by visits to beautiful temples. There are literally thousands of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Kyoto. Enryaku-ji Temple and To-ji Temple are two of the most prominent examples of the esoteric Buddhist tradition while the five great Zen Buddhism temples of Kyoto include Nanzen-ji Temple, Shokoku-ji Temple, Tenryu-ji Temple, and the Golden and Silver Pavilions (Kinkakuji and Ginkakuji). South Kyoto is located 20 to 30 minutes from the city center. It includes such prominent temples as Tofuku-ji Temple (which houses the famous shakuhachi temple, Meian-ji) and Daigo-ji Temple and Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine (O-Inari-san).

After Kyoto we will journey to the ocean-side town of Yura in Wakayama Prefecture where we will spend one night at Koukokuji, the legendary original Komuso temple. We will learn more about  Hotto Kokushi (Muhon Kakushin), the first patriarch of shakuhachi zen, partake in traditional zen meditations and ceremonies, and offer shakuhachi prayers as well.

Next we will journey to Koyasan, the center of Esoteric Buddhism. At Koyasan, visitors can experience the beauty of nature and the four seasons in the clear mountain air. The grand scale of temples and shrines that sit at the peak creates an unbelievably austere ambience that will make you feel like you have stumbled into a totally different world. The religious site of Koyasan, located at the peak of the mountain, has an elevation of 800 meters and 1,200 years of history. When the monk Kukai (Kobo Daishi) returned from China, he founded the Shingon esoteric Buddhist temple complex (Shingon esoteric is a sect of Buddhism established by Kukai) at Koyasan in 816. It is the original place of worship for Shingon esoteric Buddhism, and is one of the most sacred places for Japanese Buddhism. Two hundred thousand stone monuments and pagodas have been built at Okunoin (the inner sanctuary), which is lit by the mystical glow of countless candles. Kukai, who entered the world of eternal enlightenment at the age of 62 while partaking in zazen meditation, is believed to be alive even today.

Along with the mysterious Koyasan, three temples and shrines established at the foot of the mountain (Jisonin Temple, Niukanshobu Shrine, and Niutsuhime Shrine) and the Koyasan Choishi Michi (Stone Marker Path) that connects them are designated as a World Heritage Site. Within the mountain are 117 temples, about half of which have shukubo (pilgrims’ lodgings). We will stay 3 nights at Rengejoin, one of the shukubo where you can enjoy shojin ryori (vegetarian Buddhist cuisine), experience early morning scripture readings with Buddhist priests, and take part in other Buddhist traditions such as copying sutras or “ajikan” meditation, all of which lead you from the earthly world to the spiritual world and make your journey to Koyasan even more profound.

Convenient rental audio guides are available at the information center that provide easy-to-understand explanations for 103 points of interest in Japanese, English, French, Chinese, and Korean. In this way you can learn a great deal about the history of Koyasan.

Like Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines are places of worship. Shinto is the indigenous religion of Japan. In Shinto, millions of gods which can be found everywhere are worshipped. This year we are excited to visit for the first time, Ise Jingu (Ise Grand Shrine), the most important Shinto shrine in Japan. Another very important Shinto shrine, but less well-known, is the Tsubaki Grand Shrine, located in Mie Prefecture, in the town of Suzuka. Over 2000 years old, it is the the oldest Shinto Shrine in Japan next to the Ise Grand Shrine. Here the powerful protector Sarutahiko-no-O-kami  and his wife Ame-no-Uzume is are enshrined at the jinja. We will have the opportunity to partake in taki misogi (a waterfall purification) at Konryu-Myojin’s waterfall of Tsubaki Grand Shrine.

The next segment of your journey will bring you to Nagano, near the Japan Alps. This could be considered the climax of the Trip. Here we will visit Osuwa Daiko, the origin of modern kumi daiko drumming where we will even get a chance to hit some actual taiko and be treated to a performance at a local temple.  Then we will spend the weekend harvesting bamboo in the fresh, crisp mountain air. This is most definitely the culmination of the pilgrimage where we actually commune with the bamboo plant in its natural habitat. Under the guidance of jinashi shakuhachi specialists, we are trained how to choose, harvest, and prepare the bamboo for shakuhachi making.

Pushing our spirits even further into shakuhachi country, we will travel up north to Aomori to the city of Hirosaki, the origin of the Kinpu-ryu, Nesaza-ha school of shakuhachi where we will meet our good friend Nick Bellando a student of the Kinpu-ryu, and shakuhachi maker. We will be treated to demonstrations of samurai sword play, local wood arts, and Tsugaru Shamisen performances! If you are a shamisen player as I am, this is one of the great highlights of the Trip! Next we will visit Nick’ shakuhachi making teacher, Miura Ryuho, one of the legendary shakuhachi makers and get a lesson on shakuhachi construction.

From the extreme north (where it is definitely chillier!), we will next extend ourselves to the extreme south where the temperature is much warmer. We will visit the famous shakuhachi temple, Iccho-ken and and make a shakuhachi offering there. We will extend further down to Kumamoto where we will meet with our dear shakuhachi friend, Jeff Cairns who will guide us around to visit Kumamoto Castle, Musashi Miyamoto’s cave, and to a beautiful onsen (hot springs) where the view is amazing!  Leaving Kyuushuu, we will travel to Hiroshima, famous for the the Atomic Bomb memorial, and visit the holy island of Miyajima to offer shakuhachi prayers.

The final segment of your journey will take you to bustling metropolis of Tokyo. The most densely populated city on earth, this marvel of modern technology maintains a deep traditional soul. Being the center of commerce, Tokyo is also the hub of Japanese cultural and artistic activities and education. We will immerse ourselves in the intense energy of the city while taking shakuhachi playing and making workshops from the great teachers who live in its surrounding regions.

We look forward to providing you with a rich, high quality, authentic shakuhachi experience. We hope you will return home with all of your expectations met with increased inspiration and desire to deepen your practice of shakuhachi!