2014
06.07

SYNOPSIS:  About going to the boonies to be at a Buddhist Temple.  About trash or the lack thereof.  About almost going to a garbage incineration plant.

Nima?!  It wasn’t on any of my maps and the woman at the Hiroshima tourist information hadn’t heard of it either.  But with the help of her colleague and the internet they determined that it existed and yes, that one could reach it via the Japanese Rail (JR).  But it would take 6.5 hours and 5 transfers from Hiroshima!  There went my day and my dream of doing something really outside of the official program this morning:  visiting an incineration plant in Naka, near Hiroshima.

Yeah, I can see your eyebrows going up.  But this garbage processing plant was supposed to be different: a glass structure designed by the famous architect Yagi Tamotsu with visitor access, a tree-lined central court, views of the ocean and the inner workings of the plant, no smell.  That sounded fascinating to me and it would have been yet another piece in the puzzle I have been working on since my arrival:  How can there be a country on this earth with no trash?  There is no trash in the fields, none in the cities, no trash at the tracks, none in the back alleys, there simply is no trash in Japan.  That may be amazing in its own right, but get this: there are no trash cans either!  No trash cans and no trash.  It does not cease to baffle me.  I have literally been on a mission to find trash.  At the Itzekushima shrine, while descending from the mountain and crossing a dam, I finally spotted some that had backed up behind the dam.  But then, that was an area full of tourists.  I bet you, all this trash was left by “one of us”.

In Uzbekistan I had encountered legions of minimum-wage earners who would remove trash everywhere and at all hours.  I thought that was a brilliant alternative to unemployment handouts and it had the effect of a comparatively clean country.  But you don’t see any of these legions in Japan either.

In Egypt I had a conversation about trash with a young Egyptian which I won’t forget.  I asked him how he could stand to live in a country so filthy; filled with trash to the brim everywhere, from the rivers to the roads.  He said:  We are dirty on the outside, but we are clean on the inside.  To him this seemed to be a sufficient explanation.  To me it only begged the question how to turn people like this to also care about the dirt on the outside.

In Japan they had mastered both issues and I really want to know how.  Everyone from the youngest child on is trained to dispose of their own trash.  Nobody throws trash away; everyone packs it up and takes it home.  What does it take to instill that into an entire people, 100%?  It is a rare sight to see trash cans “in the middle of nowhere”.  One spot where you can count on them is next to a vending machine.  But then, the cans are limited to dispose of cans only!

By Japanese standards, Germany is pretty dirty, the US is much worse and a country like Egypt is off the margins.   To observe the incineration plant in Naka would have surely added some more insight into this cultural phenomenon.  But I had to let it go if I wanted to make it to Nima.

When I decided to go to Nima on a whim — all I had seen was another traveler’s photo —  I had not put any more thought into this.  But I had put my trust in the JR — there could not possibly be a place where I could not go via public transportation.   As I found out in Okinawa I had once been wrong about that before but this time I got lucky.

The clerk felt very bad about giving me the itinerary with my 5 transfer and a 6.5 hour schedule.  But I was actually quite excited.  That many more experiences would round out the picture of the public transport system which I am trying to complete.  There will be a blog some day.

But it was a long day and when I arrived around 7 PM at the completely deserted tiny train station in Nima I wondered if this whole thing had been a good idea.  All I had was a phone number now.  One high school student still stood at the station; she had obviously just texted somebody for a pickup.  I approached her and asked her if she so kindly could call the number for me since I had no phone.  She happily tried and tried again, but the number did not work…  Was I even in the right city?  I had an address, but what I had taken for a city name might as well be a street name?  I seriously doubted myself now.  The girl had left; nobody was at the station, all I had was a non-working phone number.  No taxi, no internet, no name…

I began to dig in my suitcase for my guidebook in search for nearby towns and hotels.  I scoured  the train schedule for any train leaving this station when the high school girl with her mother returned, gleaming:  she had gotten the number to work (I had not given her the area code…) and there was indeed somebody who would come and get me.  Yeah!

Now all I had to do was wait.

A mere ten minutes later Kyoro-San arrived still wearing her apron — obviously she had been interrupted in her house work and not even spent a minute delaying her departure.   She took me back to her home, a Buddhist temple going back to the  9th century which for the last five decades also has functioned as a guest house.  That’s where I wanted to be.  High up in the mountain, overlooking town and from a distance the ocean.  In the ambiance of hundreds of years of devotion.

Well, it wasn’t quite that romantic.  Kyoro-San is married to the priest of this temple who also resides on the premises.  I did not even know that Buddhist priests could marry, but she said that her husband’s grandfather was the first to do so and after that, the temple and its oversight has been under his family’s care.  Before that, it passed from head priest to head priest.  There were no services while I was here, but the temple still functions as gathering place during festivals, for services and for special occasions such funerals.  Its main deity is Yakushi, the medicine Buddha.

The entire lower floor is laid out to accommodate up to 20 visitors, dormitory style.  There is a dining area, one common room, Japanese style, with an alcove for flowers and a painting as well as a niche with a shelf for the display of chosen objects, in this case that includes a TV.  And there are two tatami floored rooms, ready to sleep as many visitors as can fit.  A smaller one attached to the common room, and a large one on the other side of the temple.  But I was the only guest!  I have the combination of two of these rooms plus the viewing veranda, practically a suite, all to myself.  And believe me, I am filling it, spreading out my books, computer, and clothes, and arranging them all carefully so as not to disturb the Japanese aesthetics.  I am in heaven, well close to it.

The temple bell is rung at 6 PM to tell time.  Kyoro-San  made the most amazing looking dinners for me and it is quiet here; that is, until the wind makes the paper walls rattle, or until anyone in the house makes the slightest noise.  So, it’s best again to put in my ear plugs.  That will put me in my own space.  Was worth coming all the way out here for this?  I think so.

Good night.