Budou with Buddha: A Murakami Interlude

September 18, 2016

Christian and Bronwyn with Souma-San and her friends

Well, it’s been a few days.  When Bronwyn posted the last post, we were set up behind the Atsumi michi-no-eki; Bronwyn wrote the blog post on my hips as I was lying on my side half-asleep in the tent.

Sunrise at the Atsumi michi-no-eki

Sunrise at the Atsumi michi-no-eki

 

We made an early start and locked in 33 km to Sasagawanagale: it wins the award for having the longest one-word name of all of the stations we’ve stopped at, but not much else to speak of. We both made a video call our parents from that stop and tried to stay subtle about it.

The rest of the day was wild, including 63.2km of biking, stopping in a town called Murakami for some coffee and a lunch recharge snack. While we were there, we were stopped by a woman outside the 7-Eleven named Souma Tei who offered to feed us, give us something to drink, and let us have a shower at her house.

Some alarm bells (what did she want? Was she going to murder us?) and the contrasting feeling that we really shouldn’t pass up opportunities like that while we’re on this trip. It’s about saying yes to things. It’s like an improv game. It’s also how we’re going to connect with people. That’s part of what we want to do with this trip as well.

She offered to drive ahead slowly so that we could follow her in her car. We followed that purple car with our bikes and, as promised, she lived about 6 or 7 minutes from the 7-Eleven where she found us.

We arrived at her house and a whole gaggle of ladies and one elderly gentleman arrive immediately after. It felt like she had put out a call on all of the neighbourhood channels about our arrival. This must be how the Emperor feels. Everybody wave!

The group heads upstairs and Souma-San shows us to the bathroom where we shower.

(Look. I know I’m changing verb tense here. I want you to experience this in the present moment. It’s kind of a cool thing.)

We didn’t think to bring a change of clothes inside so we clean up and put our almost-disgusting biking clothes back on. It feels good to be cleaned up anyway.

We sit with Souma-san and her friend. I’m expecting at any minute to be greeted again by the welcoming party who were somewhere in the house when we arrived. It’s just Souma-san and her friend, however. They show us pictures of other foreigners who have come to visit and she gives us some sour juice and feeds us delicious local grapes and pumpkin cakes. She reminds us that she made the cakes. And the juice. And a number of other things that are in the room.

She asks me what our names are. And to write them down. I do. I even write our names in katakana. Wow! What a talented foreigner.

Please, write your address, too. And your phone number.
Well, sure… It couldn’t hurt, could it?

The other travellers who have been in this room – who have eaten these grapes – are they still alive or are they buried beneath the tatami mats somewhere? What’s her end game here, anyway?

I write our addresses, but we don’t have a phone number. I mean, we barely have a home right now, if you think about it. Those Canadian passports will get us back to Canada but it’s not like we’ve AirBnb’d our little homestead out to some folks while we do this trip. We’re effectively homeless.

So why does she want our addresses? And our names? And our phone numbers? She’s just a wonderful nice lady, that’s why. And she’s curious.

And she’s a Buddhist. Ah, sou. She’s a Buddhist and she’d love for us to come upstairs and pray with her.

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

After those pumpkin cakes lady, I’ll pray to whomever you’d like. Another friend of hers comes in and just loves the look of us. There are a couple of “love-love” words exchanged about us. Bronwyn’s so cute, they keep telling us.

She sure is.

Christian and Bronwyn with Souma-San and her friends

Souma-san and her new friends

Oh! Happy happy!

That’s the refrain, for now. Happy happy. That’s why we should go upstairs and pray with them. The first friend, the one who was sitting at the low table with us initially, doesn’t join us upstairs. Maybe she already finished her prayers? Did I mention the low drone that sounded like monks when we walked in the house before the shower

No? The shower was just that exciting, I suppose. We head upstairs and the second friend, whose name we never learned but was really into the whole happy happy aspect of this, is actually the priest or prayer leader, it turns out. She sits in front of a little altar.

Nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

That’s the new refrain. It’s the only part that I can work out during the prayer because it’s repeated about 50 or 60 times over the course of the praying. It’s really a soothing sound.

We’re sitting there in this wonderful little room in front of a wonderful little altar and enjoying the service. We’ve been given prayer beads and we hold them up to our face in a prayer pose. (This atheist actually really enjoyed it.)

After the prayer, Souma-san is simply ecstatic. She’s so happy we joined her in prayer. Guess what? More pumpkin cakes and more grapes. Those grapes are so good – they taste like a candy version of Welch’s grape juice. Budou is the Japanese word for them.

Budou and Buddha. Not a bad day.

After some more conversation (in my broken Japanese, I might add), we have our fill of grapes and Souma-san packs the rest up to take with us. She even gives us some cheese-cracker sandwiches for tomorrow’s asa-gohan (breakfast) and lets us take some warm pumpkin cakes to go. I give both of the women a copy of our card with the onlyamazingdays.com website address and the bicycle stamps. They go bananas with gratitude. Hugs for everyone. We get to keep the prayer beads too.

Like before, Souma-san gets in her purple car – the colour of those grapes, actually – and drives ahead of our bikes as we get back to route 345. It’s a gorgeous route south to Niigata city from Murakami (at least until it’s not the 345 anymore. At that point it gets pretty industrial) She stops to show us the way to go and bids us farewell.

Christian and Bronwyn bid farewell to Souma-San at the Route 345 intersection in Murakami, Japan

She seems really thrilled that we joined her and sad that we’re leaving. She gives us her contact information and we let her know we’ll write.

We get to the outskirts of Murakami and Bronwyn decides that it would be best if she could get a photo of her reading Murakami while in Murakami. How could I resist?

Bronwyn reading an e-book by Haruki Murakami near a sign in Murakami, Japan.

Reading Murakami on the outskirts of Murakami

Author: Christian

Middle school teacher on hiatus/budding permaculturalist currently cycling the world. Sometimes he acts in plays and film. Mostly he travels and blogs about it. Christian is one of the founders of onlyamazingdays.com

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