Kyoto: Shrines, Temples and a Zen Experience fit for Steve Jobs

Chazen Japan kicked off with dinner at a Okonomiyaki restaurant. Okonomiyaki literally means ‘make your own grill’. After dinner a few people headed off to see one of the temples lit up at night.

Monday morning we headed to the Myonshinji Temple, the largest Zen Buddhist temple in the world, for a meditative Zen experience. Given that we’re a-type business school students from New York, our Zen teacher showed mercy and limited our meditation (which required us to sit silently in the lotus position) to just 15 minutes. After we cleared our minds, we received a presentation about the Japanese and Buddhism. These are some of the take-aways:

  1. Steve Jobs practiced Zen Buddhism at this very temple! – By the way, the one-button iPhone was inspired by one of the core Zen principles: keep things simple.
  2. Japanese Buddhism differentiates itself by focusing on fewer rules but more discipline. So, Buddhist monks are allowed to marry, drink, eat meat and are supposed to actively participate in the community. To this end, our teacher was also a goodwill ambassador for tourism in Japan. He had been invited to the WEF in Davos, visited the former Pope, the Dalai Lama and various other religious leaders around the world.
  3. Japan believes strongly in promoting interfaith harmony. As an example, our teacher had been involved in setting up a fun radio show hosted by a Shinto priest, Buddhist monk and Christian priest. He also organized a relay marathon where the baton would be passed between leaders from 4 different religions.
Traditional Japanese vegetarian meal at the Myonshinji Zen Buddhist temple
Traditional Japanese vegetarian meal at the Myonshinji Zen Buddhist temple

In an effort to enhance and preserve the temple for the next 300-400 years, the Myonshinji temple have hired an artist to paint all the sliding doors in the temple. The artist, a young lady whom we were lucky enough to meet, is required to live in the temple for 3 years. She was required to learn the Zen way for the first 6 months in the temple before she could even touch a paintbrush!

In the afternoon we visited the beautiful Golden Temple and Fushimi Inari with its 1000 gates leading up a steep flight of steps to a shrine on top of a hill. I walked up a quarter of the way and then turned around, inspiring many of the people behind me to do the same!

Golden Temple, Kyoto
Golden Temple, Kyoto
Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto
Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto

In the evening we had a traditional Japanese style dinner in the Geisha district. To dispel some myths, the term Geisha girl is a generic term, which refers to any girl involved in entertaining people. Obviously this has some negative connotations. Traditional Geisha girls (the ones with the white face makeup and kimonos) are trained for 4 years in classical music, dance, games and conversation. They are referred to as Maiko’s or Geico’s, depending on their seniority. Below is a picture of me playing a game with a Maiko (a junior Geisha girl).

Playing games with a Geisha giirl
Playing games with a Geisha giirl

We’re on the Shinkansen now on the way to Toyota City to visit, well, obviously, Toyota!

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