Dear Family and Friends,
Rumiko Sensei always gives me very unique Japanese lessons. After a few formal classes in her home, she decided experiencing Japanese culture would be a lot more fun and meaningful for us both. This week was no exception.
Rumiko Sensei told me she wanted to see a newly made Buddha statue. It would only be on display for a few more days. So, this week’s Japanese lesson would be a day trip to see it. She said it was in a town near Sendai, called Tagajo.
Rumiko Sensei and I met at Sendai Station on time and raced to the farthest tracks to catch our train. On board as we were chatting, I suddenly realized we were probably on the wrong train.
Let me give some background.
Currently near Sendai there is an important exhibition of Buddha statues. This show is being held to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. However, it had to be postponed until now because of the Corona pandemic.
The theme compares National Treasures and Important National Properties found in two specific places. One is Nara, which was one of the most highly cultured centers in Japan over 1000 years ago. The other is this local region, Tohoku. The sculptures and other works range from about 1,200 to 400 years old. Although very different in style and sensitivity, they are all truly masterpieces.
I went to the show twice. It was even more deeply impressive the second time. Also, between my two visits, a new Buddha statue had been added, a modern one. I had not realized it had been added, thinking I had forgotten it after taking in so many other beautiful pieces.
Since I had gone to this show by train, I knew we should go to a town called Kokufu Tagajo. I also knew the tracks to get there were the first two in the station. We had madly run to the farthest tracks, to catch the train going to the other Tagajo.
“Rumiko Sensei, I think we are on the wrong train.” “No! Not possible!”
But the more we talked, the more we realized we were indeed heading in the opposite direction.
“Not to worry. My in-laws live on a farm in this direction. Let me call and see if they would mind us stopping by.”
“Of course, you can come. But the house is a mess. And Grandfather and I are repotting marigolds to get to market today. Plus, I’ve never had a foreigner in my house before, so I am rather embarrassed. How will I talk to her?”
Grandma met us at the teeny train station and drove us to her immaculately clean home. It was surrounded by beautifully tended flower and vegetable gardens.
As soon as we entered the house, Rumiko Sensei went directly to the Buddha altar to thank the ancestors for their protection. I did the same. “We always do that. When we enter a home, we go right to the Butsudan to let the ancestors know we are here and to thank them for caring for us.”
Then we went to another room and had green tea, homemade pickles, sea cucumber, and sweets. After serving us, Grandma left to assist Grandpa. “We have a deadline, you know. Just make yourselves at home. Get more tea, eat more snacks. Enjoy yourselves.”
A short time afterwards she returned and told us to go into the garage, where everyone who had helped with the marigolds was partying. “Work is over. Time to play.”
They were having a ball, laughing and joking, eating snacks and drinking coffee.
“This is how we do things,” they explained. “We work together to get things done. Then we socialize. We take care of each other. In 2011 we came together and shared food and gave shelter where needed. We also worked as a unit to rebuild. We are one united village.”
When it was time for catch our train back to Sendai, the generous locals collected food from the table to give us. “You can’t go empty-handed. So, take this,” they said. “And be sure to come back in autumn. That is when it is time to harvest rice. We’d love for you to experience that. It is something you will never forget.”
As we boarded our train, we bowed our thanks. If I am lucky, in the autumn Rumiko Sensei will take me back. What a privilege that would be! Working with rice, the Asian staple, far, far older than the Buddha statues we had hoped to see today.