A little piece written a couple of months ago to participate in the World Nomads‘ scholarship — that I lost. Have a look at the winner’s story, Zoe Smith, and the others!
Here is mine:
A Buddhist monk, dressed in a white yukata and protected from the sizzling sun by a large crescent-shaped bamboo hat, his joined hands holding a wooden bowl, was waiting for offerings from passers-by. He had omitted a detail though: he was standing in Nara’s railway station. The crowd, busy as bees, didn’t even look at him.
Still, he was mumbling prayers, his voice barely audible in the thick, almost doughy air of the summer. His black rosary was visually echoing with the dark travellers’ heads, forming a string of balls and queuing to get on the train.
He had literally hypnotized me – maybe because I was the only one who had noticed him. He was, among the whirling crowd, a reassuringly static point in my sigh. I kept looking at him for a long time, enough for my body to acclimate to the heat after my cool travel in the air-conditioned train.
I gave him a few coins and departed.
After a short walk, I arrived in a park where countless deers, along with their calves, where grazing, waiting for a better fare brought by the tourists. The animals were far from being afraid from the families. On the contrary, they insistently ask for food, pushing the tourists’ bags to reach the victuals.
Strolling in Kasuga-yama, a forest that had been untouched for more than twelve centuries and, consequently, had found its primeval state, I was still under the influence of the monk’s meditating state, my mind caught in a light fog, unable to grasp what was happening around me. This impression was accentuated as I was rocked by the sounds of the cicadas – deafening – and the children’s laughs – heartening – mixed by the wind blowing in the ancient trees’ foliage.
All of a sudden, I found myself in front of a giant gate, rather a threshold, made of very old wood that had turned grey, washed by decades, or else centuries, of rain and sunlight. It was guarded by two colossi, stopped in the middle of a fearsome motion, their eyes gauging the visitors, preventing demons to enter the holy site, the Todai-ji temple.
As I passed the gate and crossed a park, I entered the shrine sheltering the world’s biggest wooden Buddha statue. My eyes, slowly adjusting to the half-light, glanced at the shapes of the Daibutsu, the Great Buddha, while a totally unusual feeling was slowly overwhelming my senses.
I remember the prostration I felt when I penetrated into Saint Peter’s Cathedral, in Vatican. Its beauty amazed me yet oppressed me by a strange, undefined power. But here, in this Japanese shrine, I didn’t feel sinful or judged; I was just looked through, my soul exposed to an almighty look, my body lost in an unknown culture yet not swallowed by it. I could feel I was part of this room, of this mystic environment while still being me at the same time, both feelings not contradicting each other.
“That,” though I with a joyful sensation, “is Japan.”
Image courtesy of ETF Trends.