cuke.com  - Engaged Buddhism/Current Events  - WHAT'S NEW - table of contents

S E N D A I  R E P O R T by Domyo,
on a visit with Shodo Harada Roshi soon after the earthquake and tsunami of 2011

Domyo is a French monk from Sogenji temple in Okayama Japan
 
March 28 April
1, 2011
Letter From Sogenji abbot SHODO HARADA ROSHI ABOUT HIS VISIT TO SENDAI

Letter from Ekei Zenki, a German monk




When Kunitomi San asked me if I was willing to go to a temple in Sendai with Roshi and Ekei, I said yes, of course! And I think that anybody else at Sogen-ji in this circumstance would have said yes without hesitation. Roshi told us about the connection between Yamada Mumon Roshi and Zennojisan, the priest of the temple we were traveling to. The priest had donated to Sogenji throughout the years, sending us samugi and rice amongst other things. In light of the disaster, we would be going to help this temple and the people connected with it. But at the meeting with Roshi and Chisan right before our departure, nobody knew exactly what kind of help we would provide once there. I was a little worried about that. I was trained at Enso House, the hospice for terminal care. Helping people in dying is one thing; helping people who survived the earth quake and tsunami to live is something else!
 
We knew there would be no fresh food in Sendai so Masako San, Roshi's sister, helped by neighbors cooked our meals for the trip and the two full days we would be staying there. In addition, we took food with us for the people of Sendai. When we finished packing, between the three of us, there were eight full bags, mostly food.
 
 We left Sogen-ji early evening of March 28th, , taking the shinkansen to Kyoto station. There we met Yamaguchi San and his wife. They gave a full box of hand warmers for the people in need in Sendai and for us sushi for the trip. From Kyoto, we took the night bus to Sendai.
 
Each of us at Sogen-ji received from his family, relatives, or friends warnings and worry about this disaster in Japan, especially the threat of radiation from the damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima. The media portrayal of the disaster greatly added to the sense of fear and worry. With such a background it was strange to arrive at Sendai on the morning of the 29th and see nothing which would indicate that the people there went through a terrible earth quake and tsunami. The bus station was far away from the ocean, but as our stay continued, the effects of the disaster would become clear.
 
Zenno-ji San and his son Shin Mei San welcomed us warmly with smiles. They came by car. They were lucky to still have gasoline. On the way to the temple we saw kilometers of cars waiting at gas stations. We also passed broken electric poles alongside the rail track.
 
Arriving at Zenno-ji temple we were offered breakfast. Roshi and Zennojisan made the plans for the day. We left later in the morning to deliver the food and supplies we had brought with us to different places in need around Sendai. Getting closer to the ocean, we saw and realized how bad the tsunami was. I will not describe the chaos we saw. To see a picture or video clip is one thing, but to see it with my own eyes: to feel and experience the fact that the people here had to start from zero. Our trip took place two weeks after the tsunami. There was no doubt that the affected people were choked up by the disaster, but they looked more than anything busy cleaning up and rebuilding what was left.
 
The car made way through trash heaps, the remains of houses. We arrived at what looked like a brand new temple damaged by the disaster. There was a young monk there who was still in training at Daitoku-ji. He received special permission to leave the monastery to clean the temple which was broken and covered with mud. On one of the temple walls we saw a calligraphy by Mumon Roshi. It was cut in the middle by a watermark from the tsunami flood. We gave him a bag of supplies which he received with deep appreciation.
 
We visited a temple where the army had set up a supply distribution center. At this temple hundreds of children made homeless by the tsunami were staying. Some were playing in their new surroundings. They were happy to receive some apple pie from Ekei.
 
We had lunch at Zuigan-ji monastery where Ekei had stayed before arriving at Sogen-ji to do training. The cooked vegetables we brought were very appreciated since they had no fresh vegetables. They only had noodles, instant soup, dry food and rice. They cooked on fuel stoves because there was no gas. The monastery had a museum so during a break after lunch Zenno-ji San and Shin Mei San gave us a tour.
 
After visiting a few more sites, we returned to Zennoji temple for supper and rest. Roshi worked at his computer, documenting the events of the day. Later that evening, there was an earth quake, it was not the only one during our stay, but it was the longest one, shaking everything around. Shin Mei San came to check if we were okay. He had a big smile on his face and we learn from him that these shakes are routine. They are used to it.
 
 The next day on the 30th we woke up at 5:30 am. Roshi, Ekei and I did choka, not in the hondo because it was too dangerous, but in another room of the temple. We also did Nitten soji [cleaning]. Roshi participated in all of these activities: cleaning the hondo with a vacuum cleaner, sweeping out front and in the graveyard.

After breakfast, we helped the danka people to clean the tablets, hihai, which had fallen from their shelves making a big mess. About 1300 tablets had fallen. It took five of us all day to do only half of the work. Later that day the gas line was functional so there was hot water again. In the evening, Zenno-ji San offered us a bath which pleased the three of us.
 
We left Zennoji temple early morning on a rainy April 1st. After a traditional farewell picture, Zennoji San and Shin Mei San gave us a ride back to the bus station. We took a bus to Tokyo.
 
In Tokyo, it was not easy to find the bus stop for the Okayama bound bus. Roshi had to ask the way many times. We were sweating carrying our luggage. We met Shogen at the bus station. She pulled from her bag three hot wet towels she had prepared for us to our great relief. I was so surprised by her thoughtfulness. I looked at the Roshi with big wide eyes. He just laughed and said, Here it is.....Japan.
 
Roshi separated from Ekei and me, returning to Okayama earlier to attend a special morning service at Sogenji. Ekei and I left five hours later on an all night bus. Though the traveling was exhausting, it was nothing compared to what the people affected by the earthquake and tsunami had to endure.
 
After leaving Sendai, there was the feeling that we had done so little compared to what was left to do for the people of Sendai to recover from the disaster. Reflecting deeper, it is not the amount of what we do which is important but to act according to our karmic connection. When we have a connection with people we must regard it as most precious.
 
2011/04/05
Domyo