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BuddhaImpressions from the Land of the Rising Sun

IVU News - Issue 3 - 1998

“The goddess of compassion has a thousand hands and she needs them all”

Amid heavy turmoil in the Asian and world financial markets I landed at Narita airport, my gateway to the land of the rising sun, as a sponsored guest of the Japan Convention Bureau on an exploratory trip of personal, social and cultural discovery to meet the people of Japan, to experience its fascinating history and ancient traditions and to visit some of its cities, towns, temples and sacred shrines and monuments of high spiritual and historical interest, with the aim of strengthening existing ties with the growing Japanese vegetarian and animal rights movement and promoting a greater awareness and interest in vegetarianism and related ethical concerns, as well as encouraging the Vegetarian Society of Japan’s proposal to hold the 36th World Vegetarian Congress in Osaka in the year 2004.

The Dual Nature of Japanese Society

Japan viewTokyo — a huge metropolis which reflects the blending of traditional Japanese culture with technology and western and eastern practices — entices the visitor with an upbeat manicured image of civilised living where every skyscraper is a bold statement of the merits, pride and triumph of post-war Japanese industrial society over the previously revered ancient agricultural and religious traditions — based on entirely different values and goals — now seen as antagonistic and limiting factors standing in the way of progress and the acquisition of wealth. The unending sea of dazzling lights, colourful lanterns and giant video screens daze the onlooker night and day with a sense of familiarity and a feeling of security which enhances the lively and ceaseless activity of an orderly chaos which almost seems like a natural stage of human evolution, while the morning crowds of orderly people going about their business reflect the social cohesion and harmony which account for a still largely crime-free society.

Meetings and Other Social Matters

aliveThe opening ceremony of the 7th International Meetings Exhibition, held under the modern 60 metre high glass atrium of the Tokyo International Forum, marked the beginning of the day’s activities, including a visit to the booths of the various Japanese regions represented at IME’97 plus several meetings with delegates of organisations involved with the development of the Japanese convention industry, followed by a welcome luncheon at a Chinese restaurant where I had the first opportunity to deliver a vegetarian message to a group of officers from the Japan National Tourist Organisation. Later, back at the hotel, I met Atsuko Sato, President of FAN (Free Animals Network) and Yasuyo Ito, a contributor to the vegan passport, who informed me about their animal rights activities and campaigns in defence of animals, as well as Fusako Nogami and Mieko Stadelmann of ALIVE (All Life in a Viable Environment), a group campaigning against vivisection and all other forms of animal exploitation. Both organisations have applied for IVU membership.

A cocktail and buffet dinner reception at the luxury Intercontinental Tokyo Bay Hotel was an excellent opportunity to see a splendid view of the Rainbow Bridge and the Bay Islands. As I tucked into a green salad while watching the cooks carve and serve chunks of baked chicken, I reflected on the relationship between the comsumption of slaughterhouse products and the distorted myths and divisions preventing us from distinguishing and adopting the aesthetically pleasing foods and ideas that are an essential link to health and the neglected ancient traditions based on a universal reverence for all life.

Japan mapA smooth early morning ride to Haneda airport offered me a less scintillating nostalgic look at the misty metropolitan skyline across the bay from the Rainbow Bridge. The packed one-hour flight aboard a 747 to the modern Osaka Kansai airport — an island airport linked by a single bridge to the mainland — gave me a bird’s eye view of the intricate coastline and a sense of the strong historical influence of the sea on Japanese life.

In Osaka, I walked around the outer and inner moats of the Castle Park Citadel with my guide Shigeo Otsuji of the Osaka Convention Bureau, who patiently showed me around the unique and beautifully restored Osaka castle and museum — dating back to 1583 — whose turbulent past mirrors the impact of civil strife and wars in the country’s history. The castle’s observation deck offers a full panoramic view of the city skyline with the Hirano and Neya rivers in the foreground.

I also visited two possible venues for a world vegetarian congress: the more central Cosmo Square International Education and Training Centre and the outlying conference and hotel facilities of the Osaka Sun Palace, located at the Expo ‘70 Commemoration Park — where the 1970 Japan World Exhibition was held — a large 99 hectare nature park offering a full range of cultural, sporting and amusement facilities. Expoland, within and around the Natural and Cultural Gardens, is a green oasis where visitors are invited to experience and observe nature where futuristic pavilions once stood next to the Japanese Garden, a historical botanical walk of discovery along a stream and ponds showing the transformation of garden styles from the 8th century to the present. The floodlit plants and trees displayed the hidden hues formed by red and yellow clusters of leaves defying the dark of night and any human indifference to the splendid beauty of nature.

Food versus Culinary Superstition

Later, we joined Mitsuru Kakimoto, IVU Council member and President of the Japanese Vegetarian Society, vice-presidents Akinori Takai and Kazuhiro Matsuo plus several other supporting members of the society at a friendly welcome dinner prepared by the vegetarian chef of the vegetarian section of the Bellevue restaurant at the New Osaka Hotel, whose “Chinese super-vegetarian menu” is in stark contrast with the horrifying alternative menu of animal dishes proclaiming mythical medicinal properties and cannibalistic qualities superstitiously attributed to the comsumption of such nightmarish culinary horrors as braised bear paws or deer parts, as well as other land and sea creatures including cows, ducks, eels, frogs, geese, pigeons, pigs, sharks, and many more.

Ancient Spiritual and Historical Roots

Kiyomizu-Dera templeThe next day I boarded the “bullet train” at Shin Osaka station with my hosts Kazuhiro Matsuo of the Vegetarian Society and Takuya Sutani of the Osaka Convention Bureau on a guided tour of Kyoto and Nara, the two Imperial Capitals which influenced the course of Japanese history from 710 to 1868.

We reached Kyoto in just fifteen minutes on the fast Shinkansen line to Tokyo. After stocking up on plenty of literature at the tourist office, a taxi dropped us off at a picturesque street full of tempting souvenir shops, leading to the Sound of Feathers Mountain to visit the magnificent Kiyomizu-Dera or Clear Water Temple, a world cultural heritage monument overlooking the city and one of the main historical Buddhist religious sites and shrines in Kyoto, whose age-old charm escaped the bombing raids of world war II.

Kiyomizu-Dera templeEstablished in 778 by Enchin, the Nara priest who enshrined an image carved on a log possessed by the spirit of compassion of Kannon Bosatsu, the eleven-faced, thousand-armed Bodhisatva of Mercy and Compassion still remains the temple’s main focus of worship.

During that time, the warrior Sakanoue Tamuramaro came to the mountain to kill a stag, thinking that its blood would assist his wife’s delivery of a baby. However, following an encounter with Enchin at the source of the clear waters, Tamuramaro was shaken by his talk of the cruelty of killing living things and, mourning the death of the life he had taken, he left the mountain to tell his wife of the miraculous virtue of the clear waters and the teachings of Enchin, which prompted him to build a Buddhist sanctuary as both became devout worshippers of Kannon.

Todaiji Temple
After a brief stopover at a typical Japanese restaurant serving u-dofu, a very popular local food consisting of pieces of tofu heated in a container with water and seaweed, we headed along the Kamo river towards Kintetsu Kyoto station to catch a train to Nara, the oldest Imperial Capital of Japan from AD 710 to 784, where Buddhism first flourished under the strong patronage of successive emperors. Nara is the site of many ancient Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, such as Todaiji temple, whose main hall, destroyed by fire in 1180 and 1567, is the largest wooden structure in the world. The present Buddha was consecrated in 1692 and the new hall holding the impressive 16.2 metres high bronze Daibutsu or Great Buddha, originally cast in 749, was dedicated in 1709.

great buddha

deerThe extensive Nara Park, housing such famous landmarks as the Kofukuji temple, with the symbolic five-storied pagoda, and the magnificent Todaiji temple, is also home to hundreds of deer roaming freely around its 28 kilometre perimeter. Although the deer may be seen feeding on scattered cabbages, some will nudge you and pull your clothes with their teeth, literally asking you to get them some deer biscuits sold at strategically placed street stalls to help pay for their upkeep.

Walking through Nara’s quiet parks and streets is like strolling through the pages of its fascinating history as the cradle of Japanese culture, arts and crafts, a thouroughly enjoyable and unforgettable experience.

Back in Osaka, we joined Mitsuru Kakimoto for dinner at the Seed of Life vegetarian restaurant, opened and run by Ryoji Itoh and his wife, motivated by his father’s unhealthy diet and early death from cancer at the age of 52. Then, after an exchange of gifts, we engaged in a lively discussion while I enjoyed the most plentiful and worry-free salad of my entire stay.

On my last full day I was invited to a seminar organised by the Vegetarian Society and I ventured on to the subway system wondering what happened to the European alphabet all of a sudden and why no one taught us to read Japanese. After initially overshooting my destination as a result of some wrong directions, I followed my instinct and managed to reach my destination late, but vindicated. Invited by Dr. Kakimoto to address the gathering of almost thirty people, I encouraged everyone to uphold vegetarianism with determination and enthusiasm, rejecting the doubts and the stigma of isolation generated by ignorance, prejudice or greed, and to join the International Vegetarian Union and vegetarian societies and individuals worldwide through the Internet pages and links provided by IVU in calling for an end to the unjustified exploitation and senseless slaughter of sentient beings.

Ichigo - Ichie /
Even just once, to meet is a fine wonderful thing.
(dedicated by Akinori Takal, head priest of the Zentokuji Zen temple / Vice President Japanese Vegetarian Society)
The health and sanity of future generations will depend on how effectively we dare to challenge the unwitting purveyors of animal fat and human disease whose influence, with modern capitalist affluence and the arrival of McDonalds on the occasion of the exhibition held in 1970, has played a significant role in lowering Japanese dietary standards and the overall level of health and life expectancy; particularly affecting young and gullible consumers who, with the tendency to favour junk food over real food typical of their age group, seem to be a limitless source of profit for the multinational burger chains.

I am very grateful indeed to my hosts from the Japanese Convention Bureau and the Japanese Vegetarian Society for helping to make my first visit to Japan a deeply memorable experience leading hopefully to a successful World Vegetarian Congress in Osaka in the new millennium.

Francisco Martín
IVU General Secretary

[Japanese Vegetarian Society, Department of Environmental Science, Osaka Shin-Ai College, 2-7-30 Furuichi, Joto-ku, Osaka 536-8585, Japan, Tel. +81-6-939-7391 Fax +81-6-931-0373 E-mail: Webpage:]

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