By Kenji Chida
Sogenji Temple is not only a school but a working monastery that welcomes men and women from all over the world who are interested in the Zen sect of Japanese Buddhism.
I used to ride the Saidaiji bus past the temple every day for years but one day when I got off from my job as an English teacher at a nearby elementary school my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to walk from the main road, route 28, and take a look. I was amazed by the fact that in just 50 meters I seemed to have left the material world as I approached the entrance to Sogenji. I walked in and looked around. It was certainly beautifully landscaped with pine trees and sculptured paths.
I soon found myself in the center of the complex without having seen a single person. I walked towards a promising building and saw that there was someone inside. I gestured but the figure seemed unaware of me. Then I realized that the person I was looking at was deep in meditation and might have been the abbot for all I knew. I quickly retreated.
Suddenly I heard a bell and a dozen acolytes ran hurriedly past me in an effort to keep to their schedule. At this point I felt as if I were intruding on something intended only for the initiated. Then as I took one more look around in hopes of talking to someone, a tall European man wearing a hakama (traditional clothing) appeared and started a conversation with me. I asked what was going on there and he told me that the temple catered to foreigners who were interested in joining a monastery but was open to anyone so long as they were willing to leave the outside world behind. He told me that if I wasn't able to do that there was a Zazen-kai (meditation meeting) every Sunday at 8:00 a.m. that was open to the public. I thanked him for his time and went on my way, only to find myself at a Zazen-kai a few months later.
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I was born and raised in Baltimore City, Maryland in the USA after which I moved to New York City at the age of 21. I lived, studied and worked in New York for five years then moved to Okayama in 1998 at the age of 26. After living in Japan for 5 years I decided to try to naturalize. I was granted Japanese citizenship at the age of 33. I am interested in education, political philosophy, and Japanese society. I enjoy playing softball with my kids, driving and motorcycles. I can't say I enjoy running but I often join local 5k races. I want more people from abroad to come to Japan for a visit and I hope that some portion of that group decides to stay. Japan is for everyone!