Mae Grace

a-MAE-zing GRACE!

Experiencing Life With the Monks at The Temple of the Sun

Taiyoji is a temple perched on top of the mountain range of Chichibu, a mountainous district 80 kms. away from the heart of Tokyo.  Amazingly, Chichibu is a purely non-volcanic mountain range that has a beautiful natural landscape and said to include a sprawling national park filled with dramatic river valleys, picturesque lakes and rugged mountain ranges.  It is an easy getaway for hikers, campers and mountain climbers and an important mountain in terms of its diverse range of landscapes, dense forests, a large selection of imposing peaks and an abundance of Buddhist temples all over the mountain area that shoots up to more than 2,600 meters at its highest peak.

Taiyoji literally means ‘Temple of the Sun’. It is probably named as such because the sun would hit the main temple early morning as it rises. I can just imagine why more than seven hundred years ago many buddhist monks would want to construct their temples up here on the mountains of Chichibu.

The first time I came to Taiyoji was thirteen years ago in 2010 when a colleague of mine invited me to join her for an overnight stay at Taiyoji Temple to experience life with the monks on top of Chichibu mountains. This has been her constant getaway place whenever work has left her feeling down and heavy. We were into telephone counselling work and many times during the course of our work and no matter how much we try to protect ourselves and practice self-care, we tend to absorb the stresses of our clients and it could be exhausting. We would always remind each other to ‘hug a tree’ but there have been days when a tree wouldn’t suffice anymore. We needed a whole forest!!!

Taiyoji Temple is being run singlehandedly by a Buddhist priest who lives alone with only his six labradors for company. Oftentimes though, he would ask for assistance from other Buddhists priests or some locals when visitors are more than a handful. His mission is to provide sojourners with food for the body and soul. Not to mention the peace and quiet of the deep forest of Chichibu. For the whole duration of your stay, wifi will not be available and cellphones become useless gadgets up there. All you will hear will be the sound of two waterfalls nearby as they flow down and follow a clear stream that courses down the mountain slope.

It took us more than two hours of train ride from Tokyo to the nearest station to the temple.  The Priest picked us up in his car and we were off to another 30-minute ride up the mountain towards the temple located in a deep forest some 850 meters up the Mitsumine mountain.  The ride itself was pleasurable as we were treated to some breathtaking views of this mystical place. Already, we felt the peace in our hearts as we breathed in the pristine air of the forest.


We barely put down our bags when we were asked to sit in lotus position and do the ‘shakyo’ or the copying of the Heart Sutra using brush and ink in a quiet, open room. Calligraphy writing quiets the mind and clarifies our focus. Shakyo is said to unify the mind by decluttering and emptying it.

Other activities in this temple included a meditative walk along its many walking trails; the ‘dokyo’ or reading of the sutras; partaking of a sumptuous vegan dinner all prepared by the chief priest; and, soaking in the ‘rotemburo’ or outdoor bath overlooking a picturesque scenery while watching some fireflies when it got darker. The healing sound of the waterfalls and the stream nearby, of the birds singing and of the gentle movement of the soft mountain breeze surely mended all our broken pieces together. ‘Ahhh, hello self. I am so glad to see you again!’


Finally, a visit to this temple wouldn’t have been complete without fully experiencing one of its most popular features, which was the Zazen or the Seated Zen Meditation. The zazen hall was impressive and the most comfortable structure in the whole temple premises. We had to sit cross-legged with the right foot on the left thigh and vice versa. Instructions were clear, to keep our eyes at 45 degrees open and stay focused to a spot to keep us from dozing and not to lose our concentration. Those who do zazen can also request for a quick whack on the shoulders with a kyousaku or a long thin stick when they feel they are losing their concentration or just for an experience. I tried it and it did sting a little more than I expected. Zazen Meditation is a technique to become ‘empty’ so that then we could be open to all the blessings and possibilities that are poured out to us from the universe. Sitting there in our meditative pose gave us the feeling of belonging to a higher deity and being aware of our higher selves.

Three times, I have traveled this same road to the Temple of the Sun --- so far away, so high from the ground, and so deep into the heart of Mother nature --- only to find myself each time.  Syempre, babalik po uli tayo doon.

a-MAE-zing GRACE!

History is Ever-Present in Nagasaki

Standing there, right at the hypocenter where the atomic bomb exploded and decimated the whole city of Nagasaki in a matter of seconds, 78 years ago, there was an eerie feeling that one cannot at all fathom and describe. A huge crater-like spot is the only remnant of that fateful day when time and life had stopped for the people of Nagasaki. Standing there, Andoy and I were speechless, almost like all the harrowing things we have read and heard about the aftermath of the blast came to flash before us amidst the eerie silence of the here and now. I looked around.  Thank God, this is the year 2023, not 1945. Many trees have grown around the hypocenter. There are huge and tall buildings around, young students laughing on their way home from school, the tramway audible from a distance. Ahh, life! Nature and humanity have regained their life and soul somehow.  


Fast forward, 78 years later, the city has now become a symbol of hope and resilience. How she has resurrected from the rubbles and ashes of the bomb explosion is something that everyone should know and learn from. Gustong gusto talaga namin ni Andoy na maka apak sa hypocenter na ito. Pero nandito kami para manalangin na sana hindi na maulit muli ang araw na ito. In fact, we were here stepping on the soil of Nagasaki as pilgrims of peace. Still looking around, we saw graffiti and banners all together one in their theme of “peace”, “an end to war”, and “let Nagasaki be the last one…”.  One can’t help but pray with them.


Five days in Nagasaki was not enough to discover the many fantastic facets of the city --- its history, people, food and culture. We decided to travel light and simple.  Exactly! By using the tram. The tramway provided affordable and convenient way to travel around the city and to almost all of the main historical sites and attractions that we wanted to see and visit. We could use our Suica cards that charges only a hundred and fifty yen each ride regardless of the distance. The tramway system is fairly simple with only four lines connecting and interconnecting us to all the places that were in our bucket list for this trip. The Nagasaki Electric Tramway was founded in 1914 and isn’t it amazing that the system still functions as efficiently as it does up to the present. This one is another part of history that is very much present here.

With one sweeping look at the city, I cannot help but compare it to my place of birth in the Philippines. The city does not look like your typical Japanese location.  Nagasaki has a church in every corner constructed in the designs of European architecture, the oldest of which is the Oura Cathedral built around 1864.  Christianity here, however, has flourished long before that, around the 16th century right in the middle of the Edo Period. 


We first visited the Oura Cathedral and were so impressed by its imposing façade.  Although it is not used for celebrating masses anymore, it still retains its original design and maintains an atmosphere of respect and holiness. To be sure, all churches here prohibits talking and taking of photos inside the church and most especially when masses and other religious celebrations are going on. Many faithfuls here still wear the white veil to church and with all their young children in tow. It is like walking back in time. Oh no, am I really in Japan? Is this in Japan? Watashi wa doko?


The Oura Cathedral was designed by French missionaries in the Gothic-style wooden architecture built in 1864 and presently named as the Church of the 26 Martyrs of Japan which is now designated as a World Heritage Site. Awesome!


Not to be missed when in Nagasaki is the iconic Peace Statue which was being prepared on that day for a grand ceremony to be led by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the Nagasaki Peace Park to be attended by representatives from all over the world and from Japan to commemorate the 78th Anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki.

 Capping our peace pilgrimage to this beautiful city was a taxi ride to the top of Mt. Inasayama, skipping the tedious booking of the free shuttle-bus to the summit and the ropeway ride up. The summit has a glass-enclosed viewing lookout with a 360 degree view of the harbor and the sea rising at 333 ft. above the city. There are restaurants that serve good food and drinks as well.


The view at the top was mesmerizing where city lights looked like heaven upside down with all the stars shining from down the city. I was so thrilled to see a huge heart-shaped neon light display from somewhere near the harbor and quickly caught it on video before it just as suddenly was gone. The breeze was cool, it was windy as a storm was on its way. But right now, let us enjoy the serenity of the night on top of Mt. Inasayama as I say my mantra of peace for you all and for the world!  Ah, Nagasaki, I’ll be back!

Mae Grace

a-MAE-zing GRACE!

Dr. Lotus

Lotus flowers have been around for thousands of years, which, according to some experts, had existed even as far back as the dinosaurs. Although said in jest, this is not exactly far from the truth. There are varieties of lotus flowers that have been associated with the mysterious Buddha, and his awakenings have been symbolized by these ancient effervescent and highly spiritual blooms. In the pages of this article, here, you will see some of the oldest varieties of lotus flowers known to exist today. This ancient lotus flowers are believed to be over 2000 years old. It was discovered by Dr. Ichiro Oga during an archaeological dig in 1951 at the Hanamigawa River in Chiba, Japan. Dr. Oga successfully germinated 1 of three seeds he found at the excavation and named it the Oga Lotus. The curators at the gardens received seed progeny of this ancient heavenly flowers that are now on display at some lotus ponds in Chiba and in the Tokyo area.


Dr. Ichiro Oga, a paleobotanist, who also happened to have lived and worked in Fuchu City, Tokyo, is also known as ‘Hasu Hakase’ or Dr. Lotus. He is credited to have discovered and revived these ancient lotus where more than 30 varieties of them are planted in Shukei Pond located in Kyodo No Mori park in Fuchu City. The city had a statue of him erected very close to the pond that displays his lifelong work and achievement. I am totally blown away and simply amazed that these ancient beauties that the Buddha once loved are still very much with us today. Thanks to Dr. Ichiro Oga.