A former gangster, that is. An ex-yakuza.
The last two days I've been walking with a 27-year old hotel employee from Takurazuka by the name of Toshiyuki. We met at Ishiteji, where we spent the night in the temple's tsuyado, an empty room that can be used for any number of functions but in the evenings is opened to walking henro. Meals and baths are usually not provided, sometimes not even a futon or a blanket, just four walls and some protection from the environment.
We were introduced to a 60-year old gentleman who has been living at the temple for about a month. Apparently, at least in the Shingon sect, those wishing to get away from society for a time can take temporary refuge at temples, where they do odd jobs in return for room and board. This 60-year old was one such person and he had Toshiyuki and I scrubbing the visitor's toilets, a fair return for letting us sleep at the temple.
Morning service at Senyuji
We had a chance to chat with this fellow, whose name I'm sorry to say I don' t remember, and a number of things that stood out in isolation later fit into a nice pattern. Unlike most Japanese, he was very direct in speech, used a loud voice, and made frequent eye contact. He also seemed to be very tense, never really able to sit still. His left leg, even when sitting, was always moving. He didn't say much about his previous life, but did mention having travelled many times to Thailand and the Philippines. He was excessively exuberant about his new life in the temple, like someone who had been converted and was eager to show others what he had found.
The guy and Toshiyuki
The ex-yakuza was so eager and so full of love for his new life that I couldn't get away from him soon enough.
Sunrise at Senyuji