On Wednesday 7th June, Wycliffe’s students of Japanese, joined for the day by some A level students who are exploring Buddhism as part of their Religious Studies course, journeyed to London to experience a number of facets of belief, custom and culture in Japan. In preparation for the trip, students crafted their own juzu (prayer beads) to be used in the first session.
Our first stop en route to the Japanese embassy was a Jōdo Shinshū (Shin Buddhist) Temple within the Pure Land tradition which venerates Amida, the “Buddha of Immeasurable Life and Light.” After a brief but affecting opening talk on cultural contact and exchange between Japan and the United Kingdom in the last few hundred years, the group divided into two for the next activity.
The Year 9 students had a talk from Rev. Hiroshi Kenshin Ishii in the Zen garden with a taster of zazen (sitting meditation) while the older students were given an absorbing talk from the Rev. Kemmyo Taira Sato on Shin Buddhism and his own experience of coming to the faith, including his time spent under the world-famous 20th century Zen master D.T. Suzuki. The students then traded places so that all were afforded the chance to hear a talk and visit the peaceful Zen garden and learn about its collaborative creation by members of the London Shogyoji Trust.
This peaceful experience was contrasted with the flurry of activity when the hungry students, staff and temple members were treated to another taste of Japanese culture, this time in the form of a range of delicious bento boxes accompanied by miso soup and sushi. Sufficiently replete, we continued on with our sojourn in London, stopping at the Japanese embassy in Mayfair for further cultural edification.
While waiting in the embassy’s foyer for the final segment of our day, we were able to take in a selection of splendid artworks by Hokusai, the celebrated print-maker of the 18th-19th century, most famously responsible for his classic Great Wave off Kanagawa. Subsequently, we filtered through to the heart of the sumptuous Georgian building that hosts the embassy to enjoy the Club Taishikan.
We were first given a talk on Japan from a British representative, her enthusiasm for the country and culture reflected in having lived there for eight years, initially through a language teaching programme sponsored by the embassy before coming to work for them. This presentation led into some instruction in the energetic dance style of Yosakoi, before us splitting into two groups to show off our skills with naruko (bird-scaring clappers) against each other.
To top off the day, we were fortunate to experience Japanese folk music styles played by the visiting musicians, Hibiki Ichikawa and Akari Mochizuki. These ranged from the melodic sounds of the sunny southern island of Okinawa, to the more robust rhythms typical of Akita prefecture in the north of Japan. A few students and Mrs Suzui herself were also invited to have a go at playing the traditional Japanese stringed instrument, the shamisen – a lively end to a full and stimulating day out!