Japan Murakami


On Sunday, at the urge of Julie, a couchsurfer from Montréal and former ALT in Hyôgo Prefecture, I visited Kannon-ji Temple in Murakami, about 300 meters from my base school and a very short walk from a 7-Eleven.  The significance of this temple is that it contains the last monk in Japan to attain sokushinbutsu, the attainment of buddhahood during life.  The shingon sect of buddhism achieved this through a gruesome and bizarre process of gradual self-mummification.  The monks would essentially deny their bodies of nutrients and self-preserve their flesh using natural toxins over an arduously long period.  Effectively suicide, it was outlawed in the second half of the 19th century.

The Thinking Blog gives this succinct and graphic description of the process:

For three years the priests would eat a special diet consisting only of nuts and seeds, while taking part in a regimen of rigorous physical activity that stripped them of their body fat. They then ate only bark and roots for another three years and began drinking a poisonous tea made from the sap of the Urushi tree, which contains Urushiol (same stuff that makes poison ivy), normally used to lacquer bowls. This caused vomiting and a rapid loss of bodily fluids. Finally, a self-mummifying monk would lock himself in a stone tomb barely larger than his body, where he would not move from the lotus position. His only connection to the outside world was an air tube and a bell. Each day he rang a bell to let those outside know that he was still alive. When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed.

The very last monk to successfully attain sokushinbutsu is enshrined at Kannon-ji temple in Murakami, and is named bukkai which literally means like Ocean Buddha.  The loud, nutty old wheelchair-bound woman who showed us the mummified corpse of Mr. Bukkai told us that we couldn’t take pictures, which is probably all well and good.  It was like staring at death.  Death behind double-paned glass, wearing a strange ceremonial hat, sitting in proper cross-legged position with hands clasped in prayer, head facing down.  The mummies of Egypt are impressive, but I find this far more so.  It’s a lot easier to have someone else do the job after you’ve had a nice easy death.  Try doing it all by yourself!

Here’s the front of the temple:


This is the tomb that the monk finished things up in:


Japan travel


Over the three day weekend, I climbed Mount Fuji, the tallest mountain in Japan at 3,776 meters (12,388 feet).  It is said that you really must climb it once, but if you climb it twice or more, you are pretty much crazy.  That never made sense to me, since mountains are fun to climb, and it’s a lot of fun to climb a nice one during different seasons and different weather.  We’d all be idiots if we never climbed Lazy or the Butte more than once.  After climbing it, I don’t really agree with this in general.  Fuji was a nice mountain with a well-maintained trail and a beautiful view from the top.  However, I must say that if you choose to climb the mountain during the official season, you are an idiot.  Along with all of the other idiots climbing it.  Holy crap.  There were so many people, especially after the Subashiri trail that we took met up with the more popular Kawaguchi-ko trail at the 8th station.  Imagine 300 people crammed in a small yellow-lit rock-strewn clearing 10,000 feet up a mountain all clambering to hike their way up a narrow trail.  Now imagine that 90% of these people are either over 65 years old or are in groups and can’t think for themselves.  It’s about the most enraging, annoying situation that I can imagine having while climbing a mountain, and about the wrongest, dumbest way to do so.  I was moving slow, pacing myself, and I was passing hundreds of people who were all slaves to the group.  I love Japan, but this situation really made me hate the group aspect of the culture.  Mountain climbing is about being with nature, about being spontaneous, and free, about being ALONE!  It’s not about whatever the hell that all was.

However.  The sunrise from the top was beautiful.


And the hike down was a blast; a loose pumice trail straight down the side of the mountain below 9,000 feet. We made it from the 12,000 foot peak to the parking lot at 6,000 feet in 90 minutes.  I had several handfuls of dirt and rocks in both boots.  It was great!  It felt great to say ‘screw you’ to all the slowpokes up there.


So, I would recommend climbing Fuji on a weekday during the end of the season, perhaps in September, and I would recommend doing it with friends.


Or, you could take a cue from Brandon Germer, and do it alone, dangerously, in February.

America elementary Japan Murakami





America elementary Japan Murakami

Senami Coast War Memorial

This is my translation of a war memorial that I came across near the Senami coastline in Murakami. The original Japanese is posted on the Japanese version of this site, so feel free to add translation advice, especially concerning the second paragraph, which I don’t completely understand.

On October 3rd 1945, around 10 AM, the shapes of 22 American military landing craft appeared suddenly off this coast, and 700 officers and men from the 11th division of the American Army made landfall at this point.  At that time, military supplies such as railcars, tanks and heavy machinery began to be unloaded, which continued into the end of December that year.  The unloaded supplies were used to construct roads and the schoolgrounds of Senami Elementary, as well as the plaza of the railway station.  During that time, the officers and men stayed at inns (including the old Japan Sea Dojo) and Senami Elementary School.  Afterward, the men moved on with the military supplies toward Niigata.

At that time, to the people of Senami, The American Army were met as a sudden bolt out of the blue.  However, the fact of such a serious matter was that you can’t even see any memorials to the end of the war.  To continually express the wish for eternal peace and to communicate this historical fact for the purpose of future generations, this was posted here.



“Foresight is 20/20” by Michael Beeson

My friend Mike Beeson made a video for an online contest, and came in as a runner-up, winning a $2,500 prize.  Check out the press release here at the iRise video contest or watch the video below.

elementary English Japan JET Murakami

The Nature of The Goodbye

Today I said goodbye to Kamikaifu Elementary, my very favorite school in Murakami.  Over the past year, I have visited the school 17 times.  This is far less than any other school, but it only has 41 students.  The school was comprehensible, and friendly.  The staff talked to me about interesting things.  No one ever forgot about me during lunchtime.  The vice-principal and I basically became a two-man comedy team.  The children were exceptionally, astonishingly good.  I knew their names.  I knew I was appreciated when I visited this school, so I went the extra mile for them.  With eight staff and 41 students, my efforts could hardly be diluted.  I dressed up as Santa Claus and no one tried to undress me.  I dressed up as The White Rabbit and no one tried to tear off my tail.  I always felt lucky to come to this school, and I think the students are lucky as well.  Huge classes and large grades at large faceless schools turn out average citizens.  There are standouts in every group, but somehow the kids at Kamikaifu all stood out.  It’s hard to explain.

It’s quite hard for me to really smile.  It’s quite hard for me to really cry.  I relish a good cry, because it’s like a rare treat that I cannot willfully order.  Today I came pretty close.  At the end of the 1st and 2nd grade class, I sat down and told them thank you, how much fun I had with them, and that they please do their best after I leave.  They had a gift for me, a yearlong calendar, starting in August.  There are 12 students in the combined class – six first grade and six second grade.  Each student drew a picture for one month of the year.  I almost melted when I realized the simple significance.  The 3rd and 4th graders sang me a song.  It put me in the mood that popular dramas like Lost and the House M.D. do during the closing montage, in which a popular song wafts loudly through crossfades of the characters’ dramatic circumstances.  It was like watching a movie, all of the happy, lively, intelligent young faces that have really brightened my day so many times right there in front of me to reflect on for three whole minutes.

I came to realize today that the Goodbye has a bad name.  Unfairly so.  A well done, proper Goodbye at the right moment can be fulfilling and rewarding.  A Goodbye is a testament to the effort invested in a relationship, in a community, in a friend.  I will have many more to do in the next 20 days; some will be labored, some will be awkward, some will be a relief.  But my last day at Kamikaifu makes up for any of that.


elementary JET Murakami

English Swim Lessons


Funnest day ever!  Me and the 1st and 2nd graders at Senami Elementary School went fishing in the swimming pool today.  We learned the names of things like whales, squid, octopus, starfish, and dolphins, then we imitated them in the water.  Then I tossed about 40 or 50 laminated cards into the water and the students had to “fish” for the type of sea creature that I shouted out.  Then the students who had cards and those who didn’t separated and the cardless kids had to catch those with the cards.


At the end we had a huge game of Marco Polo, which I don’t think the students understood very well, but was nonetheless a lot of screaming fun.