01 May 2008

Day 23: a new Buddhist

I can't remember having ever met a Japanese gangster before. I may never have. But I suspect I spent the night with one last night.

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.

Dogo onsen, near Ishiteji temple. Toshiyuki and I went there the same evening,
but didn't meet until later at the temple.

We spent the night before last in a small village temple before pulling in yesterday afternoon to one of the more famous temples on the pilgrimage, Senyuji, located on a small mountain overlooking the city of Imabari. Besides a beautiful setting, the temple is known for its lodging and spa facilities. For a place so obviously profit oriented it was surprising to find they also offer a tsuyado for those pilgrims travelling on the cheap.  Cheap - but not free.


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. 

And that made sense after I noticed two knuckles missing from the last two fingers on the right hand. Japanese gangsters typically lose them for having made some kind of costly error, or as a kind of loyalty test. The yakuza do a lot of drug, gun, and prostitution business in the Philippines and Thailand, and a man of who always seems tense or nervous and who when speaking communicates in challenging manner may be a person who is always on guard against violence and has to demonstrate his ability to control people and situations.

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


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