Nam-myoho-renge-kyo

Alongside Naha, Okinawa, Japan
Weather: overcast, some heavy showers, cool

This afternoon I found myself in a Buddhist temple chanting “Myo ho ren ge
kyo”, and now, this evening, I am once more sitting at Sylph's salon table
wondering about the significance, or lack thereof, of it all.
This morning I decided that I would visit at least one site of cultural
interest while here in Okinawa and, for reasons alluded to yesterday, I
opted for Shurijo castle. I loaded my backpack with anything I thought
might be useful but just as I was about to set out the heavens opened up and
dropped a copious amount of water over the city.
The worst of it was soon clear however, and I had a nice new raincoat that
was designed to be large enough to fit over the top of a backpack thereby
keeping it dry as well. I clambered ashore there to find that the wharf was
one enormous puddle, in many places several inches deep (this wharf is
indeed unfriendly). I walked along the top of the narrow kerbstone marking
the boundary twixt land and sea, until I found a patch where the puddle was
only a couple of inches deep and hop, skipped and jumped to dry land. My
plan was to hike to the nearest monorail station, about two kilometres away,
and then catch the train the remaining distance of about three kilometres or
so. But I was not to make it to Furujima Station for while I was waiting on
a corner for a traffic light to change a solid, smiling and somewhat portly
fellow decided to practice his English on me. Having had very little
contact with anyone outside of a few officials since departing Guam I was
quite happy to enjoy a social chat. I guess it was a pretty standard
conversation between a tourist and an interested local, but after several
minutes Kuniyoshi Takao asked me whether I would like to join him in a
Buddhist prayer. Apparently we were standing outside a Buddhist temple
though there was no way of knowing as the building looked like any other
suburban office block. It seemed a harmless request and I was curious as to
what a suburban Buddhist temple might look like, and what sort of ceremony
they might practice, so I accepted Takao's offer.
Inside the modest portico the floor transitioned from tile to timber, at
which juncture shoes were removed and stacked in a large rack. A service
was in progress so while we waited Takao introduced me to a younger man by
the name of Yutaka Kinjo. Kinjo worked at the US Air Force base, from what
I could gather as a sort of spiritual counsellor. He had with him a copy of
the service written out so that English speaking people could participate in
though not necessarily understand the service. In terms of religious
observances, these days I think my attitude can best be described as aligned
with Ishmael's towards Queequeg's worship of his wooden idol (Moby Dick, Ch.
10). The idol in this case turned out to be a complex piece of calligraphy
housed in a golden framed cabinet. This was known as the Gohonzon,
apparently “a mirror of 'Dai-Gohonzon' that has been secretly hid and
protected in Fuji-Taiskiji temple at Mt Fuji for more than 700 hundred [sic]
years”. The service itself consisted of kneeling before the Gohonzon, some
lengthy chants, and a few bows.
The above is of course brief and perhaps sounds somewhat dismissive. This
is not my intent. While for my own part I am inclined towards atheism I
hope that I am, unlike many atheists, sympathetic and tolerant of people of
all religious faiths, and while I am circumspect with respect to Takao's and
Kinjo's soft evangelism, I am nonetheless grateful for the opportunity to
witness and participate in their culture. After the short service, in way
of making up for lost time, Kinjo drove me to the castle, and offered to
pick me up afterwards. I was persuaded to accept his offer by Takau who was
keen to see Sylph, though he was disappointed to learn that I did not have
any Australian beer on board.
My tour of the Shurijo castle was very interesting and worth the effort, but
no doubt excellent descriptions of it can be found on Wikipedia and other
websites, so I will not attempt to give my own impressions here, though I
will post some photos when I next have the opportunity.
As promised, Kinjo and Takao collected me after my tour and drove me back to
Sylph. I had hoped to invite them on board but unfortunately the tide was
out and it was too risky for either of them to attempt the climb down from
the wharf, a distance of almost two meters, so they had to be content with a
perusal of my little world voyager from above. Afterwards they dropped me
off at what I now consider to be my local restaurant, where we said our
farewells.
Tomorrow Sylph sails for Yuron Shima, a small island about seventy miles
from here.
Happy Australia Day.
All is well.