The Isle of Wight, The Buddha, NCIS and The Ham

Everything is interconnected.

Our last post concerned the changes to Japan’s traditional Buddhist inspired vegetarian cuisine brought about by Japan’s contact with the West.

I’ve just come across this story about the “World’s Oldest Edible Ham” which is stored in the Isle of Wight County Museum!

Before you all book a ferry to come over to the island to see it pause a moment for the penny to drop that this museum is in Isle of Wight County, Virginia USA which featured in a previous post about the Isle of Wight appearing in an episode of NCIS.

To further add to the confusion and connections the museum is in the town of Smithfield a name any Brit immediately associates with Smithfield market, the largest wholesale meat market in the UK.

You can keep track of what the ham is doing here, yes they’ve got a webcam on it…….

https://video.nest.com/embedded/live/C9Qdyu

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How the West Eroded Vegetarianism in Japan

I receive a daily email from Delanceyplace.com which is a brief excerpt or quote that they view as interesting or noteworthy, offered with commentary to provide context. There is no theme, except that most excerpts will come from a non-fiction work, mainly works of history, are occasionally controversial, and hopefully have a more universal relevance than simply the subject of the book from which they came.

Today’s selection is from A Daughter of the Samurai by Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto. For centuries under Buddhism, vegetarianism was widely practised in Japan. That continued until the 1850s, when the expedition of Commodore Matthew Perry forced the opening of Japanese society and the Japanese began to tentatively adopt Western eating habits and other practises, (I particularly like the grandmother’s final comment):

 

“I was about eight years old when I had my first taste of meat. For twelve centuries, following the introduction of the Buddhist religion, which forbids the killing of animals, the Japanese people were vegetarians. In late years, however, both belief and custom have changed considerably, and now, though meat is not universally eaten, it can be found in all restaurants and hotels. But when I was a child it was looked upon with horror and loathing.

“How well I remember one day when I came home from school and found the entire household wrapped in gloom. I felt a sense of depression as soon as I stepped into the ‘shoe-off’ entrance, and heard my mother, in low, solemn tones, giving directions to a maid. A group of servants at the end of the hall seemed excited, but they also were talking in hushed voices. Of course, since I had not yet greeted the family, I did not ask any questions, but I had an uneasy feeling that something was wrong, and it was very hard for me to walk calmly and unhurriedly down the long hall to my grandmother’s room.

” ‘Honourable Grandmother, I have returned,’ I murmured, as I sank to the floor with my usual salutation. She returned my bow with a gentle smile, but she was graver than usual. She and a maid were sitting before the black-and-gold cabinet of the family shrine. They had a large lacquer tray with rolls of white paper on it and the maid was pasting paper over the gilded doors of the shrine.

“Like almost every Japanese home, ours had two shrines. In time of sickness or death, the plain wooden Shinto shrine, which honours the Sun goddess, the Emperor, and the nation, was sealed with white paper to guard it from pollution. But the gilded Buddhist shrine was kept wide open at such a time; for Buddhist gods give comfort to the sorrowing and guide the dead on their heavenward journey. I had never known the gold shrine to be sealed; and besides, this was the very hour for it to be lighted in readiness for the evening meal. That was always the pleasantest part of the day; for after the first helping of our food had been placed on a tiny lacquer table before the shrine, we all seated ourselves at our separate tables, and ate, talked and laughed, feeling that the loving hearts of the ancestors were also with us. But the shrine was closed. What could it mean?

“I remember that my voice trembled a little as I asked, ‘Honourable Grandmother, is –is anybody going to die?’

“I can see now how she looked — half amused and half shocked.

” ‘Little Etsu-ko,’ she said, ‘you talk too freely, like a boy. A girl should never speak with abrupt unceremony.’

” ‘Pardon me, Honourable Grandmother,’ I persisted anxiously; ‘but is not the shrine being sealed with the pure paper of protection?’

” ‘Yes,’ she answered with a little sigh, and said nothing more.

“I did not speak again but sat watching her bent shoulders as she leaned over, unrolling the paper for the maid. My heart was greatly troubled.

“Presently she straightened up and turned toward me. ‘Your honourable father has ordered his household to eat flesh,’ she said very slowly. ‘The wise physician who follows the path of the Western barbarians has told him that the flesh of animals will bring strength to his weak body, and also will make the children robust and clever like the people of the Western sea. The ox flesh is to be brought into the house in another hour and our duty is to protect the holy shrine from pollution.

“That evening we ate a solemn dinner with meat in our soup; but no friendly spirits were with us, for both shrines were sealed. Grandmother did not join us. She always occupied the seat of honour, and the vacant place looked strange and lonely. That night I asked her why she had not come.

‘I would rather not grow as strong as a Westerner — nor as clever,’ she answered sadly. ‘It is more becoming for me to follow the path of our ancestors.’

“My sister and I confided to each other that we liked the taste of meat. But neither of us mentioned this to any one else; for we both loved Grandmother, and we knew our disloyalty would sadden her heart.”

A Buddhist Poem for World Poetry Day

Here’s a poem by Kenji Miyazawa – “Strong In The Rain” (Ame ni mo Makezu) for World Poetry Day.

 

Strong in the rain
Strong in the wind
Strong against the summer heat and snow
He is healthy and robust
Unselfish
He never loses his temper
Nor the quiet smile on his lips
He eats four go of unpolished rice
Miso and a few vegetables a day
He does not consider himself
In whatever occurs…his understanding
Comes from observation and experience
And he never loses sight of things
He lives in a little thatched-roof hut
In a field in the shadows of a pine tree grove
If there is a sick child in the east
He goes there to nurse the child
If there’s a tired mother in the west
He goes to her and carries her sheaves
If someone is near death in the south
He goes and says, “Don’t be afraid”
If there’s strife and lawsuits in the north
He demands that the people put an end to their pettiness
He weeps at the time of drought
He plods about at a loss during the cold summer
Everyone calls him “Blockhead”
No one sings his praises
Or takes him to heart…
That is the sort of person
I want to be.
 

World Poetry Day is today, the 21 March, and was declared by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) in 1999. The purpose of the day is to promote the reading, writing, publishing and teaching of poetry throughout the world and, as the UNESCO session declaring the day says, to “give fresh recognition and impetus to national, regional and international poetry movements”.

Zen on Freshwater Bay

Spotted this shared photo a friend posted from “Totland and Freshwater Today”. The scene is Freshwater Bay in the West Wight and is very Zen………………..

Creating delicately balanced piles of rocks is a wide spread Buddhist practice. Its origins are unclear but it has been a long term tradition within Korean Buddhism and Japanese Zen.

Some scholars have speculated that the piles are lay peoples emulations of stupas but others point out that stacking the stones is incidental, and it is the coordination, balance and concentration needed to control the mind and body that is the intended outcome.

International Day of Peace

Today is the United Nations International Day of Peace.

The day is marked by the striking of the Japanese Peace Bell. Traditionally, the Bell is rung twice a year. It is tolled on the first day of Spring at the time of the vernal equinox, in celebration of the annual Earth Day ceremony initiated by Earth Day Founder, John McConnell.
It is also tolled on every opening day of the UN General Assembly’s yearly session in September, coinciding with the International Day of Peace established by the General Assembly in 1981. This occasion is observed by the Secretary-General.

The bell tower was modelled after the Hanamido (a small temple decorated with flowers) that symbolises the place where Buddha was born.

From Wooden Temples to Skyscrapers

Another interesting article is this from the Economist………….

THE five-storey pagoda of the Temple of the Flourishing Law in the Nara prefecture of Japan is one of the world’s oldest wooden buildings. It has withstood wind, rain, fire and earthquakes for 1,400 years. Analysis of the rings in the central pillar supporting the 32-metre structure suggests the wood that it is made from was felled in 594, and construction is thought to have taken place soon after.

In an age of steel and concrete, the pagoda is a reminder of wood’s long history as a construction material. New techniques mean that wood can now be used for much taller buildings. A handful are already going up in cities around the world. The 14-storey Treet block of flats in Bergen, Norway, is currently the tallest. But Brock Commons, an 18-storey wooden dormitory at the University of British Columbia in Canada, is due to be completed in 2017.

And this is a proposed 1,000ft structure off the edge of the Barbican, in the City of London. If it goes ahead it will be London’s second tallest building after The Shard – and the tallest wooden structure in the world.

Another Zen Monk at the Olympics.

You may remember that back in 2012 we reported that a Japanese Buddhist monk was competing in the Equestrian Individual Eventing at the London Olympics. Kenki Sato was from the Myoshoji temple in the mountains near Nagano, where his father, Shodo, is the 25th master of the 460-year-old temple and adjacent horse-riding club.

He says his religious discipline helps him when he’s riding: “Before the competition starts I concentrate. I’m behaving more like a monk.” Kenki followed his younger brother Eiken, who also trained as a priest and rode at the Beijing Games.

Now another Japanese Zen monk, Kazuki Yazawa, is entering the Rio Olympic games. Kazuki is a Buddhist priest at the ancient Zenkoji Daikanjin Temple in Nagano prefecture. He is a slalom canoer who has competed since the mid-2000s. At the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, he was eliminated in the qualifying round of the K-1 event finishing in 18th place. Four years later at the London games he was able to qualify for the final of the K-1 event where he finished in 9th place.

He became a monk in 2013 but in Zen that does not preclude one from secular activities and interests, (even including marriage and having a family).