Don’t Panic II: The Female Buddha (#3 of a 3-issue mini-series)

Chaos in Print

(Author’s note: due partially to procrastination but mostly to catastrophic failure of my computer, I wasn’t able to write part III until a good five months after I had written parts I and II. I feel I should tell you so as to account for any differences between number of details, writing style, and such forth.)

I stood beneath the shadow of that great, stone statue. I reached for my camera and started taking a few pictures. The declining weather did make it somewhat difficult to discern statue from sky, but I took a few pictures. Mostly, I was overwhelmed, not by the size, but by the fact that I had made it. I started walking towards it.

Adding to its size somewhat was the fact that it was on top of a hill. Once I reached the top, I was able to look around and check out the scene a little more. The statue sat in the middle of a park. Off to one side was a requisite temple to Kannon, where they sold the same charms and trinkets I had seen at many other temples. I started snapping pictures like a true tourist. I had learned my lesson from Mitsumeniguchi well. This was late February, and I was still confused as to whether the administrators of the museum considered this to be winter or not. In winter, the museum closes at 4:30. I glanced at my watch to see it was 4:40. I decided to wander up and see if it was open.

I headed towards the entrance to the museum and peered inside to see a clerk shutting down her till. Not a good sign. The clerk noticed me and gave me the classic, “What the hell do you want?” look. Since my Japanese wasn’t very good (it was non-existent, to be precise) I made all the gestures I could think appropriate to ask the question, “Can I buy a ticket and go inside?” Lucky for me, the clerk did know one English word: “No.” I guess February is winter after all. Somewhat saddened, I walked away.

But hey, just because the museum is closed, doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun! I sat at the base of that statue for a while, just admiring the size and beauty of her. Out of my pocket, I pulled my cellphone with digital camera and snapped a picture. I instantly e-mailed it to L, along with the message, “Found it.” I like to inform people of what I do with the knowledge they share with me, and I assume they’re curious to know what I am doing with it. I’m sure Einstein really appreciated that phone call from the guys who built the first nuclear bomb and they said, “Hey, Al! Lookie what we did with your theories!”

I stood up and looked at the darkening sky. The way I saw it, I had probably an hour to explore before the rain started. It was a beautiful sunny day when I left, so I was naturally unprepared for rain. I spied a map of the park and went over to check out. What do we have here…? I learned that this statue resided in “Takasaki Kannonyama Park,” and that there were a few other things in the park. There were some other statues and a suspension bridge across the gorge. I set out to boldly go!

The paths led into some hills behind the Kannon. I marvelled to see that some cherries were already in bloom. The paths narrowed and became overgrown. Obviously, this wasn’t a very popular path. I kept going, just enjoying the fact that I was once again in midst of nature. I looked behind me to see the Kannon towering above it all. I continued forth into the wilderness until I came upon one of the other statues: a bronze abstraction of an athlete. It was a stark contrast to the Kannon, so large and in the open, and here was this tiny treasure, in a secluded forest glen, in the Kannon’s shadow. I snapped a few more pictures and began heading out to the concrete.

Back in the square beneath the Kannon, I headed on over to the temple for a closer look. It was nothing special as temples go. I went over to the place where they sold the charms. I already had a few, as some kindly students bought them for me when they go off to visit shrines and temples. Some of these places also sell gifts of the more tacky variety, so I thought I might be able to abscond a few postcards for my collection. Sadly, there were none. The monk/clerk manning the desk had a look I saw on many an employee at Extra Foods; that look that says, “How much longer until quitting time?” The sky was just getting greyer and greyer. I set forth for the suspension bridge.

The road to the bridge was lined with a variety of gift shops and restaurants, and now that it was 5pm, each one was closing. They were all of a dingy grey. They had been sitting there for years, each one taking yen from people who’ve come to see the Kannon. One shopkeeper was locking up his door as he saw me come walking down the street. Thinking that I may be that potential final customer for the day, he waved me over. I held up both hands in the universal, “Sorry, not interested” gesture. He shrugged and went back to locking the door. I began to feel the first few raindrops.

The suspension bridge loomed on the horizon. Two bright red towers stood on each side of the bank. Between them the red bridge hung. When I was a kid, I had a massive fear of suspension bridges. Being so high above a raging river, only those flimsy cables supporting you, victim to the winds…. Lucky for me, we weren’t over a raging river, just a forest floor. There was nothing spectacular about it, but for now, it was a highlight of the day. I stepped across it, even making it swing a little, laughing at the frightened little child I once was. I glanced to my right to see the Kannon towering over the landscape. I hope you’ll forgive the cliché, but it looked like it was out of a Godzilla movie. Naturally, I took a picture.

I arrived on the other side of the bridge. Nothing to do now but turn around and go back. One thing I always marvelled about Japan was how quickly it got dark in the evenings. Between that and the overcast skies, it was pretty dark at 5:30. I began marching back across the bridge when I heard the familiar R2-D2 whistle from my cellphone. Oooo, someone sent me e-mail. It was L. Her only response to what her sharing of knowledge begat was, “Cool!” which I’m pretty sure isn’t what Einstein said when he got his call. At least L could sleep easy knowing I wasn’t building a nuclear bomb.

I hurried my pace along the path as the rains began to pick up. Between the darkness and the weather, I figured it was time to call it a day. I sped past the grey restaurant row, each one locked up tight for the night. I arrived back at the temple when I spied another statue. This one was of the man who established the park and built the statue of Kannon. And, from where I was standing, it looked as though he were leading the Kannon into destiny! Photo op! I snapped another picture – my final picture – and hurried down to the bus stop. The rains intensified, I heard a thunder crack, and the bus stop said I had to wait in this for another 20 minutes. My bones were starting to feel rather chilled, so I bought a hot chocolate from a vending machine and huddled under a tree for maximum dryness.

I hopped on the bus two cans of hot chocolate later. The rain was getting pretty heavy now and I was grateful for the dry, warm bus. The bus was deserted. The Kannon must sit on a pretty deserted route. I got a spot right up front. The driver looked at me and said, “Takasaki Eki?” I nodded, “Eki” being one of the few words I knew. I settled in and began to reflect on my day. That’s when I remembered…my laundry! Oh, man, my socks would be soaked. I hate wet socks! The bus driver took out a Kleenex and wiped the condensation off the windshield as I began to drift off to sleep.

I arrived at the station and debated whether to have lunch there or back in Kumagaya. I decided Kumagaya, but I did find a gift shop in the station where I got my postcard of the Kannon. I hobbled down to the platform and got on the next train to Kumagaya. It was the early evening now, so there were a lot of people heading home for the night. I was still lucky enough to find a seat, and got comfortable. I could never sleep while I was moving, but somehow, in Japan, I was able to nod off for about 15 minutes on the train.

I began to sum up my day while I ate dinner at the Kumagaya station. I could now say I had ventured further than my coworkers ever had. They saw no value in Takasaki and no reason to go. But, thanks to the offhand comments of a student and an itch for exploration, I now knew differently. It’s amazing what you’ll find in your own backyard when you just stand up and take a look around. What would have been a rainy day at home turned into an adventure down the road. And while I learned that there’s no such thing as a female Buddha, I did learn about the sights of Takasaki.


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