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Get to Know a Buddhist Nun at a Local Temple

STORY

 

Not Your Typical Buddhist Experience: Try Shakyo, Meditation, and Grocery Shopping with a Buddhist Nun!

 

 
 
If you had to choose, what words would you use to describe Buddhism in Japan? After visiting some of the famous temples, you might think of words like majestic, stoic, or maybe even somber. That's why it might surprise you that there’s a Buddhist monk experience that also includes a trip to a local supermarket! 

Grocery shopping with a Buddhist nun 1
Not many people can say they've been grocery shopping with a Buddhist nun. 

Run by TABICA, a local tour operator that connects tourists and local residents, this program takes you inside Kouou-ji, a local temple located in Saitama Prefecture, to experience how Buddhism exists in Japan outside of the famous “tourist temples.”
 
Rev. Naho Sakai, a Buddhist nun of the Nichren sect
Rev. Naho Sakai, a Buddhist nun of School of Nichiren.

There’s another surprise in store here, too. Rather than a Buddhist monk, the program is lead by Rev. Naho Sakai, a friendly Buddhist nun of the School of Nichiren. Even for Japanese, encounters with a Buddhist nun are rare as they make up only about ten percent of Buddhist priests.

During this program, participants are able to eat and converse with Rev. Naho, copy a brief Japanese sutra in a practice called shakyou, participate in a Buddhist blessing ritual, and try walking meditation. And as mentioned, you’ll also get to go to the supermarket. 
 
Grocery shopping with a Buddhist nun 1
Rev. Naho taught us about some of Japan's more unusual vegetables like gobo (burdock root).

Going to the grocery store is actually just a minor part of the experience. Participants go to purchase their lunches, and Rev. Naho takes the opportunity to show what vegetables she has used in the soup and vegetable dish she made for everyone back at the temple. 
 
Kouo-ji Temple in Saitama
After buying our lunches, we headed to the temple.

Yet this little touch of the mundane leaves a lasting impression. Walking through the supermarket with Rev. Naho while she wore her nun clothes, I was reminded of the feeling I had as a child when encountering a teacher outside of school. It’s obvious that just like teachers must occasionally leave their schools, nuns and monks, too, must go to the grocery store, but you don't tend to picture them doing that. 
 
Talking with a Buddhist nun over lunch
From her aspirations during her college days to her love of fashion, we covered many topics during our conversation with Rev. Naho.

Rev. Naho possesses a disposition that makes her very easy to talk with. She is also very open to sharing her life experiences. This is fortunate because the more you learn about her unique life, the more you’ll want to ask! 

Born the daughter of a monk, Rev. Naho was able to become a nun at the age of nine. This is a prerogative reserved for the children of monks and nuns. However, she did not undergo any ascetic practices at that time. Instead, she lived what many of us would consider a normal life. She went to college. She had aspirations of becoming an interior designer. She also had a boyfriend. It wasn’t until she was going through Japan’s unique job hunting process called shuushoku katsudou and the many interviews that go with it that she realized what she really wanted to be: a Buddhist nun. And so, despite some uncertainty, she became a nun at twenty-five. While a practicing nun, she married her boyfriend and subsequently had three children. 
 
Shakyo, the practice of copying Buddhist scriptures
The kanji used in the sutra are written in gray on the paper so we only had to trace them.

After the meal and some conversation, Rev. Naho explained the practice of shakyo to us. We copied the Lotus Sutra and wrote wishes on special pieces of paper. These we then wrapped in origami paper that we would make into omamori (good luck charms) in a special ceremony. 
 
Playing drums in a Buddhist ceremony
We beat our small drums in time with Rev. Naho's rhythm as we chanted the sutra. 

Rev. Naho let us explore the temple altar, a place visitors are not typically permitted to enter. She was very gracious with her time and knowledge, answering our questions through the help of a translator. We then took our seats to begin the ceremony during which Rev. Naho led us through the chanting of the lotus sutra we’d copied: namu myouhou renge kyou. We then proceeded to the temple’s garden for a bit of walking meditation. 
 
Walking meditation with a Buddhist nun
The walking meditation is very slow. We took only a half a step every ten seconds. 

From beginning to end, the experience is very authentic. The program is not made “for foreigners;” rather it's the opportunity for foreign visitors to experience Buddhist practices at a local level and learn first hand from a practitioner about what it's like to live in that world. If you’d like to learn more about Japanese Buddhism, contact TABICA to arrange a tour for yourself! 
 
Buddhist Nun Experience with TABICA
A last picture with Rev. Naho and two of her lovely children just home from school. 
 

Information 

Please contact TABICA for more information about this program as well as their other local tour options. 
 

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THIS ARTICLE IS BASED ON INFORMATION FROM 03 17,2017 Author:Rachael Ragalye

 

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