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Secrets to Longevity: Ikebana and Dharuma at Sojiji temple

Secrets to Longevity: Ikebana and Dharuma at Sojiji temple

Japan is the global leader of life expectancy rankings. People look young, their lifestyles are active, their diets healthy.

Meeting an artist at the Ikebana exhibition and talking to a monk at Sojiji castle gave me an insight to how Japanese people achieve longevity without stress, satisfaction without pills and long lasting beauty without botox.

While you enjoy the pictures, taking in a healthy dose of tranquillity, I will report about the temple, share Japan’s longevity secrets, explain why Ikebana apparently helps and introduce Dharuma to you.

SOJIJI TEMPLE: 2-1 Tsurumi, Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture 230-8686, Japan, www.sojiji.jp

Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

We were invited to Sojiji temple by our hosts who rent out their house to us in Tokyo.

Ikebana Japanese Flowerart

 

It was the 30th of March 2013 and we were lucky to still see some Sakura, which came very early this year.

Ikebana Japanese Flowerart

 

The petals were already falling and looked like snowflakes.

Ikebana Japanese Flowerart

 

The temple complex features a statue of Unsui monks who travel from monastery to monastery to exchange Zen teachings. These individuals have made it from the temple to Paris in the beginning of the 20th century.

Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

To commemorate the occasion, Paris has the exact same statue in a park on display.

Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

The impressive statue of Shokanzenbosatsu. She is a bodhisattva – a Buddhist existence who embodies compassion and enlightenment.

Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

Let’s go inside the temple.

 

Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

We shall start at Koushakudai Hall.

Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

This monk was our guide at Sojiji temple. He told us about his ascetic training routine and shared his wisdom on how to stay healthy and young – but most of all happy.

Looking like a teenager despite being well in his mid twenties. He had a smoldering charisma and a boyish grin, showing off a decent amount of humour, style and wit. Sort of like Jason Statham in The Transporter without the boom-action.

Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

We walked around the temple complex for one hour with our guide, starting at the information office at Koushakudai hall, where you can drop a few coins into the big wooden casket and make a wish.

Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

The sparkling smooth floor is cleaned twice a day with a simple cloth and water by the monks. Whenever we passed other monks we were greeted with a bowing gesture. To avoid collision we were  to walk on the left side, lining up like the monks.

Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

The original Sojiji temple in Noto burned down in 1898. The monks chose Yokohama as the new location to rebuild the temple in 1911 due to its proximity to the port, which allowed a wider religious exchange with east Japan. Sojiji temple is already 100 years old.

Fire disaster prevention formed the outline of the temple, being divided in east and west areas connected by a looooong corridor.

Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

Our guide was in his second trainee year and decided to stay for a third. He came here after he had obtained his university degree. He said that there are about 150 monks living here at the moment, but not everyone makes it through their first year – some find it difficult to adjust to strict temple life, which is following Chinese Zen Buddhism.

We did a round trip at the temple complex and walked through many halls:  Shuryou, Houkoudou, Koshoukutsu, Butsuden, Daisodou, Shiuntai, Taihoukan and back to Koushakudai.

Butsuden Hall.
Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

The names of ancestors are written on these golden spirit tablets (Ihai) symbolising the spiritual presence of the deceased.
Soji-ji Castle Japan

Soji-ji Castle Japan

Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

Sanshoukaku, the visitor centre.

Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

The temple has an open structure, so that you can walk out into the green areas.

Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

The views from the corridors are nice but you got to get used to the fresh breeze coming in.

Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

Tranquil it was.

Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

I am smiling here despite my teeth chattering due to the freezing cold.

Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

At this hall Zazen meditation is performed – visitors can sign up for sessions.

Ikebana Japanese Flowerart

 

The paintings on the doors were beautiful.
Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

Dragons are guarding a fountain.

Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

From Houkoudou up to Daisodou we walked through a tunnel-corridor. It was very cold and the monks were walking barefoot, some had thin white socks that looked like shoes.

Decorating the walls of the corridor were black and white pictures, showing scenes of their daily life which our monk elaborated for us.

Big bells are used to wake everyone up and to ring for meal times. Quietness is a virtue at the temple.

Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

This is not a ghost but bad photography showing a running monk calling (I mean ringing) for the day.

Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

And finally…

JAPANESE LONGEVITY SECRETS

1. Eat to live – do not live to eat.

Cut your calorie intake by half. Japanese monks look great as they are on a healthy vegetarian diet with no animal proteins and fat  – the main cause for diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and heart failure.

All chief priests of the temple are known for their longevity, living to be over ninety. Our guide told us that they have rice gruel, tea and pickles for breakfast, rice with vegetables for lunch and rice gruel for dinner.

2. Move around.

Walk at least 10,000 steps a day. Walking does strengthen your body physically and it activates your brain cells.

3. Think positively.

Socialize, enjoy the small things in life, set goals and keep yourself busy. Think about living long.

Be open minded and flexible … to new perspectives.

Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

And… practice IKEBANA.

I was told that Ikebana teachers are one of the occupation groups that live longest in Japan. Ikebana is the traditional Japanese art of flower arrangement.

The origins of Ikebana can be traced back to Shinto and Buddhist religious practices related to flower offerings. During the Edo period it made its way from a formerly aristocratic, male dominated practice to an urban bourgeoisie, nowadays mainly female hobby.

It is true that you will see a lot of grey haired people doing Ikebana but then remember the connection to longevity. I can see myself surrounded by flowers making flowery art when I am retired.

Here comes the Ikebana. The annual exhibition is housed at Sojiji temple, to which we were also invited by our great hosts. Thank you!

Ikebana Japanese Flowerart

 

Ikebana is not just about arranging flowers but about the interplay between spaces – occupied by flowers and air.

Ikebana Japanese Flowerart

 

This is one huge piece of art. About the size of that traditional sliding door behind it.

Ikebana Japanese Flowerart

 

The white tags next to the flower arrangements state the name of the artist and the art work.

Ikebana Japanese Flowerart

 

The sight of Ikebana is said to bring about a state of serenity and peace to the viewer.

Ikebana Japanese Flowerart

 

To reach a state of increased concentration and peace of mind before going to battle, samurais would perform Ikebana and participate in tea ceremonies – which was symbolic to purify the samurai’s heart and mind.

Ikebana is a way to ‘chill out’ and to appreciate nature and details that previously had gone unnoticed. The viewer is said to become more patient and tolerant to differences.

Ikebana Japanese Flowerart

 

It might seem like randomly thrown in flowers into a pot, but it is a complex process of intentionally leaving out and adding, in order to let this delicate balancing act get the centre stage and be visible from every possible angle.

Ikebana Japanese Flowerart

 

Ikebana is a disciplined art form with rules of construction. All material used have to be natural. Branches, leaves, grass, blossoms, weeds form graceful lines and colour compositions.

Ikebana Japanese Flowerart

 

Ikebana is all about a delicate and changing interplay between various flowers and plants.

Ikebana Japanese Flowerart

 

I really liked this rosy lightness which was shining in the cold air.

Ikebana Japanese Flowerart

 

One of my favourite arrangements. The pink branches look as if suspended in space with nothing supporting it. A pleasant sight.

I found myself back in the period of Edo.

Ikebana Edo period

 

This tremendous example was about as tall as I am. (By that I mean to say, it was very tall!)

Ikebana Japanese Flowerart

 

There are nine different plants involved in this arrangement, forming one perfectly morphed unity.

Ikebana Japanese Flowerart

 

For the artist it is a way to present plants in the most perfect way.

For the photographer it is to capture the artist’s vision.

Ikebana Japanese Flowerart

 

For the spectator the task is to find the right angle to appreciate the arrangements. The Ikebana artist (in the middle) explains viewing-rules to our hosts Asami and Akira (to the left), Tomek (to the right) and me (behind the camera in a weird angle).

Ikebana Japanese Flowerart

 

We had been trying to figure out the right angles, while Asami had found her personal perspective, using Ikebana decoration to turn the image of DHARUMA into a Roman emperor. Asami sure has the ‘right angle’ for great picture shots – she runs a photo studio with her husband in Tokyo (http://www.studioa2.jp).

Hilarious.

Dharuma Ikebana Art

 

Bodhidharma is the founder of Zen Buddhism and modelled after him is the Dharuma doll, a popular souvenir and symbol of goal setting and good luck to the Japanese.

Notice how the round dolls lack eyes. This is because the keeper of the doll draws one eye in when setting a personal goal and gives Dharuma full sight (‘enlightenment’) after the goal was achieved. Dharuma is meant to motivate and help realise plans and wishes.

Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

You can also hold the wooden doll to set your mind on something and focus on goals.

Soji-ji Castle Japan

 

Now that you have learned about Sojiji, Ikebana and Dharuma – stay focused on flowers and pick your favourite Hanami spots with us, if you like!

Ikebana couple

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