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Thank You and OK!: an American Zen Failure in Japan
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[with DC notes to self (for now) in brackets

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In 1987 I received no calendar for Christmas. On New Year's day I took down the old one and looked at the emty space. I felt like mold growing on the wall and went out to buy a calendar with new scenery. As I walked down the San Francisco sidewalk, the scenario of a nother year of running the Zen Center's kitchen flipped by in my imagination. I returned to my room with a plane ticket to Japan.

The strings of attachment had been loosened already. My ex-wife had just moved away to the northwest with our fourteen-year-old son, Kelly. My ladyfriend, Elin, would soon go to her mother's house in Atlanta to finish her college thesis and consider her future.

Elin and I spent February and March of 1988 moseying to Georgia, and then after isiting my mother and son, my long-held dream of seeing the country of my spiritual teahers and many good friends took flight.

The 74 descended through the crystal clean, post-rain April night into the glistening, brightly colored lights of Osaka. I was forty-three and had been associated with the San Francisco Zen Center since I was twenty-one.  I studied for five years with Shunryu Suzuki Roshi who ordained me as a priest, and then for another five with Richard Baker Roshi, Suzuki's heir.  (Roshi, literally "old priest," is a title that we often translate as "Zen master" in America.)  After that I mainly lived outside of the institution and was less of a company man and, though I continued my involvement with the Zen Center, easily half of my activity for the next decade was away from it.

During this whole period, a special teacher and friend was Dainin Katagiri Roshi.  He had come to San Francisco in 1965 [94] to assist Suzuki in ministering to the transplanted Japanese-American Soto Zen community and in guiding the zealous non-Japanese devotees of Zen practice.  After Suzuki's death Katagiri went out to start his own group though he would return at times to help out.  I always kept up with him.  He was like my Zen Uncle.

Once in Japan I hit the ground running.  After a couple of weeks of visiting friends in Kyoto and elsewhere, I entered a small mountain temple named Hogoji [Shogoji].  There I practiced for over a month with six monks - all guys, something I'd never done in co-ed Zen Center.  I went there that spring because Katagiri was in residence for six weeks and had suggested that I come join him.  He thought it would be good for me to get a taste of monastic life in Japan before I got tied down to some routine and devoured by the complexity of things.

After that I started looking for a place to settle down.  Kelly came to visit and he and I traveled around in the summer, and then Elin came to join me in the fall.  We toured for three weeks and, just before our money dissolved, moved next door to a large temple which I call Daianji in the suburbs of a city I call Maruyama, a metropolis in western Japan on the main island of Honshu.  We got married and spent a wonderful three and a half years there.


This book has two main threads.  One is the story of my stay at Hogoji.  It gives the day-to-day of that remote mountain temple, the monks who were there and Katagiri, how he affected me and how I felt and feel about him.  The other theme is my life with Elin in Maruyama and being in modern Japan, an imperfect, humorous place full of wonders, delusion, pretence and the dance of life - just like the States, only completely different. [Mention Shodo Harada here]

I have shuffled the two parts together so that the action is periodically flashing forward from the isolated Hogoji experience to my family life in the following years.  To help keep the reader oriented, locations and dates are noted at the beginning of each chapter.

Almost all the proper names have been changed.  I did some combining and dividing of characters to protect people's privacy. In particular I would like to note that the character named Norman does not represent a real person of that name. Left intact are most U.S. and some famous Japanese place names, the names of members of my immediate family and Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, Dainin Katagiri Roshi and Zentatsu Richard Baker Roshi.

I've tried to define every Buddhist or Japanese term as briefly and gracefully as possible so that those unversed in the subject will neither be handicapped or bogged down, while those familiar will not be unduly distracted from the story.  There is a short glossary at the end of the book.



I remember Masako-san, a premed student with a thirst for knowledge and experience - a bright and nervous English student of Elin's.  She found me in a cozy upstairs blues bar in downtown Maruyama one night listening to Lightnin' Hopkins and going through a stack of notebooks and letters.

"Excuse me," she said with her hands held together pressed against her black skirt and her head tilted down.

"Oh, hi Masako," I said in English, appropriately using her given name and dropping the honorific "san."  "How are you?"

"I am fine thank you.  And how are you doing?" she answered carefully.

"I'm fine too, thank you.  Sit down, please."

"Oh no.  You are busy."

"Then join me for three minutes."

"Thank you," she said and sat down. 

The proprietor came over and Masako ordered a bourbon and coke, a drink that still makes me feel queazy [sp?] to even look at, thanks to certain excessive experiences during my high school years. [x] I was slowly sipping on Cuervo Gold in a shot glass, with a Guinness Stout on the side.      

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"I'm going over some notes."

"Are they notes of Buddhist lectures?"


She was smiling intently as she had been since she said hello.  She was looking right at me.  I always hear that Japanese don't look at each other, that eye contact is considered rude, but I see them look at each other all the time.  I looked back at her.


"Is it Japanese language study?" she tried again after I failed to tell her what it was.

"No," I repeated, "It's notes for a book."

"A book?  Are you writing a book?"


"Are you an author?"

"If I finish this."

"That's very interesting," she said.

"I hope so."

"Is it about America?"

"No it's not," I looked at her sternly - play sternly.  "Come on, Masako."

She wasn't intimidated.  I could see she knew but didn't want to say.  "What are you writing a book about?" she asked, inching toward the answer with a touch of worry in her voice.

"About my experiences in Japan."

Her facial expression turned pensive.  The smile was gone.  She looked down stiffly and then quickly squeezed her hands before her mouth and stared at me entreatingly.

"Oh Please, please be good to us," she said intensely.


I tried, Masako, but mainly I tried to get it right.


-----------David Chadwick

-----------from back in the States