One afternoon when I was home with my children in Kita-Kamakura, Japan, we became aware of a great "buzzing" from outdoors. Faint at first, it soon intensified to a loud vibrational hum, but it wasn’t until I looked out my window and saw a flock of black-robed men in straw hats sprinting down the mountain path, that I realized it was chanting. The monks-in-training were coming down from their Zen temple to beg in a centuries-old tradition.
It was slightly alarming; no one had warned me chanting monks might descend from the heavens and knock on my door, austerely begging for food. But this was a much-loved part of my surroundings, and now that I’m so no longer there, I sometimes dream about it.
It meandered and curved at a gentle slope for about half a kilometre, and was bordered by all manner of quintessentially Japanese sights: a local shrine on one side, a graveyard on the other. Cherry, peach, plum, bamboo and cedar trees lined the way, rustling and speaking to us in the wind. Children's voices and laughter could be heard from the temple’s yochien (kindergarten), tucked far down off the path. For my own small boys, this trail was a natural playground. With its gradual ascent, rambling stairs, rocks, and shrine bells to ring, I could count on the excursion to tire them out. Certainly knees were skinned and noses scraped, but there were far less interesting places a child could learn to walk. And it was right outside my door.
On a really clear day, Mt. Fuji loomed in the distance, and junior high school students emerged in uniform from the mountain on the other side. They made their way like ants onto the busy Kamakura kaido , the main, narrow thoroughfare through the town.
I didn’t realize at the time what an effect the place would have on me, but the same thing happened when I left Canada years ago for Japan, and dreamed of green fields and grass. It’s proof positive that the land and environment have a profound effect on our psychology. Even though we may leave a place, we take home with us, wherever we go.
Cindy Graham is a Professional Writing student who lived in Japan for 12 years. Now living in Ottawa, Canada with her husband and two children, she explores issues facing adults who return to their home countries after having lived for an extended time abroad.