Day 3: Ginkakuji and the Philosophers Path

Today Carl, Ayami, Louisa, and I went to Ginkaku-ji and Fushimi-Inari. Although we didn’t it, the two temples were great contrasts to each other. Fushimi-inari is a temple at the the base of a large mountain. It has large orange (golden?) gates, and an extremely rambunctious tourist group. The crowd made it tough for us to get around but walking through the rows of gates was worth it. We had an interesting experience with one おじいさん at the first gate we went to. He politely alerted us to the fact that many of the japanese people that pray at the shrine were not praying correctly and that we should not emulate them. He seemed a bit annoyed by the fact that native Japanese people were not observing the proper protocol for praying at a temple.

I think this encounter has a couple different points of significance but two in particular stood out to me. The first is that it seemed as though he was upset, not because we prayed incorrectly, but because he felt that our transgressions were a consequence of learning incorrect practices from native Japanese people. At first I thought that this pointed to the larger thought of many Japanese people that foreigners are exempt from the cultural standards that should be upheld by true Japanese people. I even wondered if this is rooted in the popular belief that foreigners are seen as outsiders in Japan, no matter how long they have been there.

However, at the end of his lecture/lesson he taught us the correct practices and said that he would like us to spread the correct practices to all of our foreign friends. This brought my thoughts of foreigners as outsiders to a halt. If we were exempt the first time as foreigners, I doubt this man would be lenient were we to make the same mistake twice after his teaching.This brings me to the second interpretation of our interaction. Once educated, no matter what form that may come in (sightseeing, living, or any other form of cultural immersion) you have a duty to uphold and utilize the cultural knowledge you have received. In other seemingly common-sense words, the foreigner card is no longer playable once you have been educated on the subject. The caveat to this, and the true moral of the story, is that it only takes one learning experience to make a person accountable for their actions regardless of origin.  Every piece of cultural knowledge in the same vein as this one comes with an obligation to preserve that culture.

Along the lines of cultural pieces, the grains of knowledge we are receiving through books, talks,  and lectures create an obligation for us to preserve, at least in our minds, the culture that we learn. Although we do not live in Japan and are not sculptors, or buddhist monks, we have a duty to correct any mis-teachings that may arise. Thus, I have a renewed appreciation of this travel.

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