Message from micchan “English Kamishibai Teacher”
There is something about Japan that truly captivated me when I was younger and although I cannot explain what it was back then, right now I could summarize it in three keywords: History, Katana and Temples. Growing up, learning about world history in classes, I always felt as though they were distant; that they have nothing for me to latch on and relate to. However, when I was reading and learning about small parts of Japanese history, it felt like a story where I could find myself part of it, as if reliving the lives in those eras. It was not because the culture was too similar with my home country of the Philippines (in fact, because of Spanish colonization, it is quite different from Japan), and yet there were certain elements that I found myself believing to be quite normal and acceptable, such as the Sengoku Jidai, for the battles in this era were battles of honor, glory, conquest, and the test of men’s mettle. This is, perhaps, more evident in the way Japanese civilization differs greatly with most European civilizations. The fact that most wars and conquests done in European history (as far as I can remember) were about conquering neighboring countries and establishing monarchies, or subterfuges amongst royals at the expense of the people, creates an image that the one in power, such as the king, is often illustrated as hungering for more, but mostly for the his sole benefit.
In the case of Japanese civilization, particularly of the Sengoku Jidai, I’m always reminded by Oda Nobunaga’s ambition to unify Japan. Indeed, one may say it was a greedy ambition in order to rule over every territory of the nation, but his goal was also to unify the land that was in chaos and constant war. Thus, in a way, his conscious ideal of preparing a nation for the people had become his own personal ambition. From here, my fascination with history, later grew to my love for the katana, the second keyword. Strange as it may seem, I love the way the katana is made, or the purpose it has in the life of as samurai as I further did research on it. It was probably because of this that my mother would often tease me as having lived as a Japanese in my previous life. I didn’t mind it that much when I was younger, but ever since I started living in Japan, there was always a sense of awe and nostalgia that captivates me about this land, and perhaps it is also the reason why I decided to join my university’s Iaido club. There, I could practice and learn more about the katana that I love, and when I got my very own one, I was even very careful to name it, because I knew that it would become a part of me as it was the vessel of the warrior. Coming to the third keyword, “temples”, I came to realize after arriving in Japan that temples are quite different. I come from a country that is predominantly Catholic, having hundreds of churches and as ancient as 300 years old, but they never speak to me. On the contrary, when I first visited a temple in Japan, I could instantly feel that the place was trying to speak to me. There was a sense of harmony and peace, even with all the people and tourists flocking about. It’s difficult to put into words, but the history that makes up one temple easily differentiates it from another, which is why I believe each and every temple in Japan is of their own identity and uniqueness. And it is because of this, that I want to somehow preserve that for future generations and for others to understand that a temple is more than just a name or a place of beliefs; that it is also a family, one with the community and embracing of others. This is why, to my surprise at first, there are some temples where both Shinto and Buddhism can co-exist. This is hardly the case in religious churches or centers of the dualistic faith.
As such, I wanted to study more about the culture and the history of Japan because they are equally important in recognizing the significance of the temples. Hopefully, in the years to come in my studying in Japan, I would be able to learn more about their distinct architecture and historical importance, and perhaps help in their preservation. This is very important because with the rapid technological advancements and globalization process, temples are often relegated as tourist spots, but they are more than that. It should be noted and remembered that temples represent the soul and the history of this country. Each one preserves a part of the community, a part of history, and a part of the culture that lives in every person. This is why, as much as I would want to take out a camera and take pictures of temples, I find myself more at ease with simply being there, taking in the experience and admiring the centuries-old structures that embody so many meanings. And perhaps, if I were asked what would I say to the Japanese people about their cultural heritage such as temples, I would say that: first, they are lucky to be near them, or even be surrounded by them, as living proof of their history and identity; second, that they should care for them for they were at one point in time the protectors of the people, and still continue to serve the people; and lastly, that their significance will only fade if the people will choose to forget them, which is why they must be preserved because they are embodiments of the community.
They say it is strange and rare for someone to care for something that is foreign to them from birth, but in my case, it is not. We begin to care only when we create a relationship, and I believe my relationship with Japanese Temples began even before I was born. That if I were to explain the strange nostalgia and freedom I feel when inside a temple, I would simply say that it feels like I’ve come back home from a long journey. And I hope that others would also learn to feel this way and care for the temples as their home.
Carmel Anne “Mits” Abela