Monday, September 17, 2018

My Shikoku Henro Tales Part 1 - What does it take to be a Henro?

The immigration officer at Narita Airport looked at my arrival card and asked me why I was going to Tokushima.  And for two weeks at that.
I said I was going to do a small part of the 88 Temple Pilgrimage.  He didn't understand and asked me to speak slowly.  So I said that I was going to be a henro and walk with Kobo Daishi.
"Hai, so desu!" he beamed and repeated "Kobo Daishi",  stamped my passport and waved me through.
His question did give me pause -- what was I really doing?  I had planned to visit at least 10 of the 88 Temples but I wouldn't be walking the entire route of 1200 kilometers.  
Perhaps I could not and should not call myself a henro (pilgrim, in Japanese) -- a semi-henro perhaps?  I wasn't about to call myself a pseudo-henro since there was nothing false about my intentions. 
Doing a portion of the 88 Temple Pilgrimage was my long held goal.
I finally decided to go and just do it -- at least while I could still walk.


A henro is normally decked out in pilgrim's attire.  This includes but is not limited to the wide brimmed hat called the sugesasa which also has the sanskrit symbol for Kobo Daishi 
written in front.
A pilgrim  wears a white jacket called a hakui and carries a wooden staff called the kongozue which they say is the symbol of Kobo Daishi who walks with all pilgrims.
One also carries a nokyocho, a book  stamped with the seal of the temples that one visits, plus 
osame-fuda slips which serve as name cards. 
These are the essential items of the henro's kit -- I bought all these at Ryozenji  which is Temple 1.
The kind lady spoke some english so when I mentioned that I was embarrassed that I was only doing a small portion of the pilgrimage, she assured me that it was perfectly all right -- this was to be my pilgrimage and there were no rules to follow.  
Kobo Daishi is very understanding, she smilingly said. 


The lady asked me to write my name inside my hat -- and was surprised and pleased when I wrote my name in katakana.


This is my filled up osame-fuda slip.  They come in various colors signifying how many times one has done the pilgrimage.  White is for those who are walking it for the first up to the fourth time.  On one side you write you name and address and on the other side, you put the date of your visit.
Now I am all set to start my very own journey as a henro.  

Dogyo Ninin

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Cordova's sa Naga City. Sa wakas, kinalas!


Dahil  Agosto ay buwan ng wika, susubukan kong gawin (at tapusin) ang sanaysay na ito sa
wikang Filipino. 
Akmang-akma naman kasi ang aking salaysay ay tungkol sa isang lokal na pagkaing tumubo
mula sa panlasa ng mga taga-Naga sa rehiyon ng Bicol.
Maaaring alam ninyo ang mga lutong Bicol tulad ng laing, bicol express, pinangat at iba pa
ngunit ilan sa inyo ang nakaka-alam sa pagkaing kinalas?
Tulad ng marami sa inyo, hindi ko kilala ang kinalas kahit ilang beses na akong nakadalaw sa Naga.
Naririnig kong binabanggit ito ng aking anak na si Gani (na nag aral sa Naga)  pag siya ay nananabik makatikim uli ng kinalas kaya nga lang ay walang nagtitinda nito sa Maynila.


Kamakailan (salamat sa isang proyektong aking ginagawa) mapalad akong nakabisita muli sa Naga  at kahit kulang sa labindalawang oras lang ang tinigil namin dito,  sinigurado kong makakakain ako ng kinalas --  matikman nga kung talagang masarap ito!
Kung pagkaing lokal ang hanap,  kailangan ipagtanong ito sa mga lokal din.
Sumakay kami sa traysikel at sinabing dalhin kami sa pinakamasarap na kainan ng kinalas sa buong Naga.
Walang pag-aatubiling dinala niya kami sa Barangay Dayangdayang kung saan daw mahahanap ang mga paboritong kinalasan ng mga taga-Naga.
Lumiko kami sa Kalye Corregidor at totoo nga ...  maraming kinalasan na makikita doon.
Para na po, bababa na po kami!



Nguni't di kami huminto ... hindi pala Nonoy's ang suki ni Mamang Traysikel kundi ito -- 
Cordova's Kinalas na nasa dulo na ng Kalye Corregidor.  
Ayon sa kaniya ito daw ang pinaka masarap na kinalas sa buong Naga.  Totoo nga kaya, pero bakit 
parang walang katao-tao nung kami'y dumating?


Sumilip kami sa loob at nagtanong.  Bukas naman daw sila at kakaalis lang ng mga nananghalian.   Dalawa lang ang putahe na maaari mong makain sa Cordova's -- kinalas at loglog. Nagulat ako at napaka-mura ng halaga ng mga ito.
Abot kaya palang kumain ng kinalas, kahit araw-arawin mo pa!



Ano ba ang sangkap ng kinalas at paano itong niluluto?  
Sariwang miki ang gamit sa kinalas.  Isang dakot ang nilalagay sa bawat mangkok.
Sasamahan ito ng tinadtad na murang sibuyas at isang buong nilagang itlog.
Para bang mami lang ba ang dating?


Higit pa sa mami ang kinalas -- at ito ang dahilan.
May mala-palabok na sarsa, bagama't magkaiba sila ng kulay,  na siyang nagbibigay ng katangi-tanging panlasa at sarap sa kinalas.  
Sabi ng kusinera sa Cordova's na sabaw ng hipon at dinurog na hibe ang dalawang sangkap ng 
sarsa ... at ano pa ang iba?  Hmmm, sikret na 'daw yon!


Tatlo kami kaya tig-iisa kami ng kinalas jumbo. Dahil lampas ala-una na ng hapon, naririnig ko na ang malakas na kulog na galing sa aking sikmura.   Bilisan na 'yan!  Gutom na kami!


Huwag kang maingay, tiyan!  Baka buhusan kita ng kumukulong sabaw!  
Ano ang sinabi ng ramen tonkotsu o shio ng mga Hapon sa sabaw ng kinalas, aber?  
Wala!  
Tulad din ng ramen, ang sabaw ang pinaka-mahalaga sa kinalas.  
Sa Cordova's, walang tigil at maghapong pinapakuluan ang sabaw na gawa sa buto mula sa ulo
at iba pang bahagi ng baka.  
Di mahal ang ulo ng baka subalit siksik ito sa malinamnam na laman.  


Dahil medyo mainit ang panahon (at kumukulong sabaw ang aming hihigupin) sa mesa sa labas 
kami umupo.  Kinalas al fresco!
May  sili, suka, paminta at asin sa lamesa -- ito ang karaniwang dinadagdag sa kinalas. 
Ang mga Bicolano ay kilalang mahilig sa maaanghang kaya sandamakmak na sili ang nasa 
lalagyan.  
Para sa akin,  tamang tama ang lasa at sarap ng sabaw, di na kailangan dagdagan pa 
ng asin o paminta. 



Kaanya-anyaya ang itsura at nakakagutom ang amoy ng mainit na kinalas.  
May tumpok ng hinimay na karne sa ibabaw -- ito ay galing sa ulo ng baka at iba pang 
butong pinakuluan  para  sa sabaw.
Ang mga sari saring parte ng baka ay pinakuluan hanggang magkalas-kalas ang laman sa buto.
Iyan ang pinagmulan ng salitang "kinalas".  
Tinikman ko ang sabaw -- malinis at masarap, walang amoy o anggo na paminsan ay nauugnay 
sa mga pagkaing gawa sa karne ng baka.  Wala ding lumulutang na mantika o sebo. 
Pag hinalo ang sabaw at sarsa, bahagyang lalapot ito.  Malalasap mo din ang hipon na nagdaragdag ng lalim at lasa sa sabaw.
Kahit naubos na ang kinalas, walang sebo o taba na natira sa mangkok.  Wala ding mala-sebong lasa na naiiiwan sa bibig. 
Dahil matagal ang pagpapakulo, natunaw na siguro ang lahat ng taba at litid -- natira na lamang 
ang nangingibabaw na umami at sarap.


Kung sapat na sa inyo ang sabaw at miki, subukan din ang loglog --  ang kapatid ng kinalas na
sibuyas, sarsa at itlog lamang ang lahok.  


Nung kinuwento ko sa isang kaibigang taga-Naga na kumain ako ng kinalas, tinanong niya ako 
kung ano ang tinerno ko dito.
"Baduya" ang sabi ko.  "Para ka ng taga Naga" aniya. 
Ang baduya ay piniritong saging,  maruya sa ating mga taga Maynila.  
Bago ko natikman,  wari ko'y kakaiba -- ang maruya ay merienda,  hindi pang terno sa mainit na sabaw.   Pero bagay nga sila.  Ito ang pares ng Naga -- kinalas at baduya!


Sarap na sarap kami sa aming unang pakikipag-tuos sa kinalas.  Maraming salamat sa mga taga Cordova's sa kagandahang loob at init ng pagtanggap sa amin -- kasing init at sarap ng kanilang kinalas!


Hanggang sa muling paghigop!  Dios mabalos, kinalas! 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

A Gentle Wind blew me to the Annual Furin Market in Sojiji Temple, Tokyo


Some people welcome the rains because raindrops on the roof make for a pleasant sound to fall asleep to.
I'm lucky that I need not wait for the rains to fall asleep to soothing, mellifluous tones -- 
I have a neem tree in the front yard laden with wind chimes that melodiously ring through the night. 
All my wind chimes are made of metal -- they are souvenirs of my travels to Japan where wind chimes are much loved summertime symbols -- in the sweltering heat, their light tinkling heralds the
appearance of a much needed cooling breeze. 


I can only surmise that it was a good wind that blew me, one sunny summer day in Tokyo, to the Sojiji Temple in Nishiarai.  Unbeknownst to me, the temple was holding its annual furin or wind chime market.   Someone at the temple told me that this furin market is one of the most popular in Japan.  What a serendipitous moment for me to visit!  


Japanese wind chimes are made of different materials -- from metal to ceramic to glass.  
Sojiji's furin market had hundreds of all of these types on display,  their different tones and tunes jangled merrily and somewhat chaotically each time a breeze blew by.  
These chimes had come from all over Japan, from many different regions and prefectures. 
I stood transfixed under the metal chimes -- these are the ones that I buy and collect.  
There were so many new designs that I had never seen before.  Metal chimes may not look as attractive or colourful as glass or ceramic chimes but I like their durability and the clear and round tones that they make. 
As I stood there enjoying the music they made, I was in a near state of panic -- I couldn't quite choose from among the hundreds just which ones I wanted to buy. 



The hand blown glass chimes gave off sweet, dulcet tones.   They looked like colourful and fragile bubbles swaying in the wind. Glass chimes are usually called Edo chimes since they date back to 
the Edo period when the  Dutch brought advanced techniques of glassmaking to Nagasaki. 
The Japanese quickly embraced the art of glassmaking and soon applied it to their wind chimes. 


Ceramic wind chimes come from areas well known for their pottery traditions.  This very 
kawaii ceramic chime of Kumamon could only have come from Kumamoto where their pottery tradition goes all the way back to the 17th century.  
Kumamon is my favorite Japanese mascot but sadly, I was afraid that this little ceramic bear would 
not survive the trip back home. 


All the chimes at the market were for sale.  Each one on display is tagged with a number and a price.  All I had to do was jot down the numbers of the chimes I had chosen and the ladies at the selling booth retrieved them from the available stocks, boxed, wrapped and ready to go.  
If I had a bigger suitcase I would have bought more but I was more than happy with my small haul -- quite a heavy haul as all the wind chimes were made of metal. 
Before I left, I breathed a silent thank you to the good wind that blew me here to Sojiji Temple to enjoy the symphony of sounds and colours at their once-a-year Furin Market. 








Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Visiting Kobo Daishi at Sojiji Temple, Tokyo


Adachi City in the northeastern part of Tokyo is a residential, working class neighbourhood.
Apart from a few parks and a kid friendly petting zoo, there is not much to see or do thus keeping
it well off the beaten tourist track.
However,  its relative anonymity is exactly what made it so appealing to me.  That plus the presence of Sojiji, a temple associated with my favourite Buddhist saint, Kobo Daishi in the Nishiarai district made Adachi a must-visit place for me. 


There are a number of options to go to Nishiarai Station one of which is the Tobu Line which has themed trains wrapped with colourful characters from the Crayon Shinchan manga series.  I travelled after rush hour so there was hardly anyone on the train when I got on. 


Nishiarai Station is about forty minutes out of downtown Tokyo.  It is the transfer point to the local Tobu Daishi Line which goes all the way to Sojiji


A two car local train whisks commuters from  Nishiarai Station to Daishimae station where Sojiji is nearest to.  It was just one stop or 4 minutes away --  if I could read or speak Japanese well, I would have ventured there on foot. 


Daishimae station was a few hundred meters away from one of the side gates of the temple.  On this hot summer day, I tried as hard as I could to stay under the shade of the trees lining the path.


The first thing that greeted me were these kiosks selling cold drinks and yakisoba cooked to order.  While the smell of fried noodles and meat wafted so appetisingly, I could not imagine eating hot food in this warm weather. 


Further in to the temple grounds were stalls selling potted herbs and flowering plants.
Sojiji is a famous for viewing flowers during different seasons -- there are sakura trees, wisteria and peonies.
A Flower Festival is held annually when the temples' hundreds of peony plants are in full bloom.


Amidst the riot of colorful blooms I spied our local gumamela which are also grown and are very popular in Japan


The largest structure in the temple grounds is the Dai-hondo or the main hall of Sojiji.  
Sojiji is an important temple of the Shingon sect of Buddhism founded by  Kobo Daishi.  
This temple was established by the saint himself when he visited this area in the ninth century.



Inside the Dai-hondo is this magnificent gold altar where the statue of Kannon Bosatsu is enshrined and venerated. 
Kobo Daishi himself carved this statue which protected the people from a plague at that time.  
Today, Sojiji is regarded as one of  three temples in Tokyo where you can come and pray for protection from evil and bad luck.   All of us can certainly use that kind of protection. 




A wide veranda goes around the Dai-Hondo giving the visitor a bird's eye view of a small pond ringed with trees. Can you see the large lotus plants rising above the water?   Lotus is a flower associated with purity and detachment in Buddhism. 


A stone bridge crosses the pond -- it is an idyllic place for a solitary stroll.



There is a small shrine to the Budhhist Goddess Benzaiten who is associated with music and the arts.  This lovely setting seems like a perfect place for her shrine. 



A little further on is this statue of Kobo Daishi dressed as a henro or pilgrim, complete with walking stick and wide brimmed hat.
I am reminded of  Santiago or St. James who is also depicted in many instances as a peregrino
or itinerant pilgrim.  
Both Santiago and Kobo Daishi have centuries old pilgrimages dedicated to them -- the
Camino de Santiago in Spain and the Hachijuhakkasho-meguri or the 88 Temple pilgrimage in the Japanese island of Shikoku. 




Because of his importance to Sojiji, there is a small replica of Kobo Daishi's eternal resting place
or the Okunoin tucked away in a quiet corner of the temple grounds.  The original Okunoin is in the sacred mountain of Koyasan, in the Kansai region. 




A three story wooden pagoda is called the Sankodo and was built in the 1800s.
Previously one could go in and climb the stairs where small statues of Buddha were on each step.  However, it now seems to be closed to the public.
The stall selling vintage kimonos and accessories is not an everyday thing -- apparently the temple hosts a small flea market on select Sundays. 


Such an important temple like Sojiji definitely comes with its own Shinto shrine.  Buddhism and Shinto co-exist many times, side by side.  This inari shrine with the guardian foxes is in one side of the temple grounds. 



I spent quite a bit of time just sitting quietly in front of this small pond.  Beyond it you can see a part of the main entrance or the Sanmon Gate which was unfortunately under repair when I visited. 
Despite the hot and humid day, I spent all morning enjoying the pleasures of Sojiji, in the company
of (I like to think) Kobo Daishi himself.
While it was hard to say good bye,  I am sure we will meet again. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Banaue Bound Part 5 - Our Bangaan Moment


Since I was very young, I had been reading about the Banaue Rice Terraces, they were included in our social studies and Philippine history textbooks.  Billed as one of the "seven wonders of the world"  I always wished that I could see them one day.  Somehow I never quite got around to doing that -- until a few months ago.


After our visit to Batad, our guide John had another surprise waiting for us.  Instead of heading  back to Banaue, he brought us to Bangaan Rice Terraces, a few kilometers away.   Like Batad, it is one of the five terraces designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.  
Our jeep stopped by the roadside and we spilled out to see this fantastic view. 


A cluster of native huts lies at the foot of Bangaan terraces.  You can trek down to the small village via a staircase (the area I have encircled in red).  This view was postcard picture perfect.  
We spent some time taking photos until John told us that he had an ever better vantage point  from which to see the terraces, just a few hundred meters away (the area encircled in yellow). 




From this point, we could see what was not visible from the other side of the road -- a cascade of terraces layered between the Cordillera mountains -- not as symmetrical  as the Batad "amphitheatre", Bangaan's  terraces look as if some giant hand had strewn them down from the sky. 
The small cluster of huts in the midst of the terraces enhanced rather than marred the scenery.
I cannot say the same though for the electric wires that were right in my line of sight.



It was hard to tear oneself away from this extraordinary sight -- after all that I had seen on this short trip to Banaue I now understand why these terraces are called one of the "wonders of the world". 
Long may they continue to exist. 

Monday, July 2, 2018

Banaue Bound Part 4 - Batad Rice Terraces -- from a distance.


Batad Rice Terraces have been called the best by many who have seen it.  From my research I knew that unlike low and sweeping Hapao,  Batad's rice paddies were planted way up high. 
These terraces also seem to be the most photographed and visited by tourists -- I read countless
blogs where travellers boasted of trekking up to the highest point and looking down on some truly amazing scenery.
But I am nothing if not practical and definitely self aware so I told our guide John that I had no illusions (and delusions)  of walking along Batad's tall terraces -- to see them from afar would be  enough for me. 


We reserved the trip to Batad for our second and last day in Banaue as our guide John  said it would take the most part of a day.  It was bright and sunny when we set out,  and it was certainly going to be a hot day for walking. 


Our first stop was one of the various Banaue Viewpoints -- one of the few vantage spots where you can appreciate the grandeur of the rice terraces.   Some have become quite commercialised --there are vendors hawking trinkets and locals dressed in native attire who will gladly pose for photos, for a fee of course.  


A few years ago, visitors to Batad had to walk over 4 kilometers of dirt road to reach the mountain path that would take them to the village.   Progress does have its perks -- today a wide paved road takes you right to the edge of the mountain, where the trail into the village begins. 



The trail starts as a jumble of loose rocks and stones, a very narrow footpath on the edge of the mountain.  It is quite a long drop below and I doubt that even the treetops could break a fall.


I wonder how I can possibly traverse that stretch.  John says that I have only to stay close to the mountain and not look down and that this seemingly perilous part is only a few meters long.  
I wait a bit and watch as others traipse through -- I finally gritted my teeth and with John hovering  at my elbow, I tentatively made my way down.


I survived!  It was heartening to see a few others who were as slow as I was but I also took note of the younger tourists -- particularly the foreigners who bounded down like long legged gazelles.  
Not to mention the locals -- children, old men and women, who walked past us carrying all sorts of stuff - pieces of hollow blocks, sacks of cement and animal feeds, 5 gallon water containers ... it was just amazing. 


The trail to Batad is just a 30 minute trek carved out of the mountainside.   I'm glad that it hadn't rained the past days as it would have been harder if the path was muddy.


I see my old friends from the Kumano Kodo, the kino ne (tree roots) so naturally, we have to take a selfie together.


Batad reminds me of the age old conundrum -- how to preserve ancient and historic sites yet make them accessible to those would should appreciate them.  
In this case, developing the road to Batad has increased tourism in the area, so much so that homestays, pension houses and restaurants have mushroomed.   This is definitely not a good example of sustainable  tourism. 


This sign marks the official boundary of the barangay of Batad.  As the faded signpost declares this is one of the five terraces that have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites.  The others are Bangaan, Hungduan, Mayoyao and Nagacadan


We walked a little farther on, on a paved footpath this time.  Tall reeds called cane grass make up most of the shrubbery.  John said that these are used as roofing material, in making roll-up window shades, and other various handicrafts.


Before we could even say "eureka" or "voila", we turned a corner and there it was -- the famous rice terraces of Batad.  We stood at a vantage point where we could best appreciate the overall grandeur of these amphitheatre style terraces.  
From where we stood, John pointed out three options for a better view of the terraces ...
1. The topmost part, encircled in red is where the fit and the brave walk to.  From there, John said that you get the best view of the terraces down below;
2. The middle part, encircled in yellow would take another 45 minute walk down to a cluster of houses where you can venture off and walk on the pilapil to enjoy a mid-level view and finally;
3. The green roof, encircled in purple is a restaurant where you can get a closer view of the terraces without having to balance along the heights.  John said they also serve a decent lunch.  
That clinched it ... we all voted  for option #3. 



The walk down to our destination took about fifteen minutes over uneven and sometimes tall steps.  Believe me, descents are always harder than ascents. Only the thought of a cold drink and some food at the end kept me plodding along.



Batad Pension House and Restaurant gives visitors this marvellous view -- the entire breadth, length and width of Batad terraces are arrayed right before you.   While quite stunning, I also felt that some portions of the terraces were no longer as well maintained and preserved.   Still, if you look past the crumbling walls and the paddies overrun with grass and vegetation, you can probably imagine how glorious Batad must have looked many many years ago. 



The owner of Batad Pension is an accomplished woodworker.  The furniture and the decor are all done by him.  The wooden benches were so interesting but how would I have lugged them out of here?   If you want to see smaller pieces, his studio is right below the pension.


The pension is in the midst of a renovation -- a large deck has been built, jutting out into space and giving guests a more unencumbered view of the terraces and the mountains that surround it.
It was too hot to stay outside but on a cool and cloudy day, this spot and a cold beer would have been perfection itself. 




We ordered a tuna flat bread -- not to be confused with a pizza.  The dough was thicker and reminded me of a dense, crispy naan -- decidedly more middle eastern than Italian.



This friendly pooch walked in and kept me company -- was it my dog charmer skills or was it the crumbs from the tuna flatbread that fell non-accidentally on the floor.



We lingered for as long as we could until John finally herded us all out of the pension for the trudge back.  Time to say good bye to the terraces behind us and climb up these dirt paths ... 



... and climb up some more.  As usual, the walk back to where we had left the jeep was a little bit faster than the walk into the village. 



We can rightfully say we had our  Batad "adventure" even if we did not experience walking on its seemingly sky high terraces. Admiring the breathtaking vistas from a distance was grace enough 
for me.  And the short but at times challenging trek was definitely a good walk ...  unspoiled.