day 96: lost in contemplation

1I wonder what it was like when Kobo Daishi was walking around here. The forest in Shikoku must have been thick and hard to get through. Did he know where he was going? Did he have a map? Did maps of this area exist in that time? That was around the year 800. Japan had already been influenced by Korea and China and Buddhism was becoming stronger. The shintoist gods and godesses reigned the country. They were the sun, the wind, they could live in trees or the ocean.

You find gates in Japan that lead you the way to temples. But you might as well find a gate that just leads you the way to a tree or that is just looking out in the ocean. The Japanese just mixed their believes and made their own kind of Buddhism out of it.

For sure „good ol´“ Kobo Daishi didn´t have a mobile internet device like me. It doesn´t always work, but once in a while I do connect to the outer world. Walking around on Shikoku feels like being far, far away. On our world map Japan is „the end of the world“. When I look out on the Pacific, I know, going east, the next country and continent is around 9000 km away. Maybe it´s because I know that Japan cut itself off the rest of the world for more than 200 years until the US demanded the country to start trading with them.

Here in the countrysite Japan feels like you´re away from everything. Walking through the villages you don´t see so many people on the street. If you meet someone, it´s usually old people. The backs of many are bent. I see many of them working in their small fields of rice and vegetable – mostly by hand. Or they stand in their small gardens in fornt of their houses and put the trees in perfect shape. They´re supposed to stay small and just have a few branches.


Everywhere are spiderwebs. I´ve never been anywhere, where there are so many spiderwebs. On the trees, the bushes, between flowers, between streets, in the corner of the houses. When I look into the houses and garages or courtyards, very often there are piles of plastic boxes, old tires, old cans and bottles and jars. Many things are being kept. Many schools, I pass by, are closed, the young people go to the city.

I remember a story I read in my Lonely Planet guidebook. At a certain time in Japan there was a shogun. Everything went well more or less. His whole court enjoyed life. They stayed inside the castle and enjoyed life. They painted, they made calligraphy and contemplated the beauty of their gardens. They ate well, they enjoyed the company of each other. But they so much cut themselves off reality by just being in their dreamy and contemplative state of mind inside their castle, that soon someone else took over. They were not lost in translation, but lost in contemplation. Far away from the troubles of the real, material world.

When I walk around on the wild island of Shikoku and I see the old people cutting their trees one leaf after the other, slowly, and then look at the tree to cut one more leaf, I sometimes think of that castle a long time ago when people got lost in contemplation.

About Michaela Krimmer

35, anthropologist, Austrian, female

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