When I first came to Japan I was basically thrown in the deep end - I had no Japanese language, no knowledge of anything Japanese other than Japanese cars and had never even tried eating Japanese food - let alone tried to cook it. I remember how hard, but also how rewarding the whole experience was.
With this in mind when groups from New Zealand come to stay we have devised a way of throwing them completely in the deep end on their arrival in Japan.
Number one - take them into the most remote mountains you can find.
Number two - drop them off at the bottom of a very large number of very large steps and tell them you'll meet them at the top with their bags.
Number three - show them to their accommodation - a remote temple where they will be sleeping on futons on the floor listening to the wind whistle through the gaps in the wall and rain pound down.
Number four - feed them traditional monks food - seated on the floor with chopsticks. It's always fun to see how they handle the noodles on the first day in!
Number five - wake them up at 6am and head even further up the hill to an even more remote part of the temple for a seated meditation session and a fire ritual - where you hope the flames licking the roof of the very old, very wooden temple will not set it on fire..
Number six - finish it all off with a breakfast of watery rice and pickles - not forgetting to keep one pickle to use to clean your bowls at the end!
Actually it is a really great experience. The temple we stay in is called Monjusenji and the priests there are great - always answering all our strange questions and accommodating our strange ways. If anyone wants to see the Japanese homepage this is the link: Monjusenji
Hopefully an English version will be available soon....
Every time I stay there I learn a little more about the family there. This time I really enjoyed talking with the younger priest who was a real estate salesman in Tokyo before returning to work at the temple. When one of the participants asked him how he spent his days at the temple he replied... First I check my e-mail. Next I check my facebook. Then I update my blog. Next I send e-mails to people to try and drum up business - he said his training in real estate sales comes in very handy! Not exactly the image that most people have of priests in remote temples, but probably a very common reality! His stories of how they survived their 2 month retreats in the mountains when they were training to become priests were also pretty eye-opening.... but as he said very illegal now!