Journals from Kanto Gakuin University, Japan
2013-11-18 Soba and Zazen
Dawn and I with our Soba sensei
It was a chilly Tuesday when I went to Nakamachidai to make soba. Although the walk to the soba house was particularly long because of the cold and wind, the park we walked through was beautiful— glassy ponds, quiet streams, and trees whose leaves were a vibrant portrait of autumn... But I digress.
As I approached the soba house, I noticed, with slight distress, that although we would be indoors, we would be no more sheltered from the chill— all the doors and windows were open, and it was more of a workshop than a house. I and the others received a warm welcome from the men and women working inside— and we were soon swept into the work area, divided into groups of two students and one mentor. Dawn and I rolled up our sleeves and soon forgot about the cold as we eagerly joined in the soba-making process: creating dough from scratch and mixing it by hand; thoroughly kneading the dough; rolling dough out in a very precise way to a precise thickness; cutting, cooking, and rinsing the noodles; until, at last, we could eat our fresh, hand-made soba for lunch! The most difficult part for Dawn and me was cutting the noodles— soba noodles are rather thin, but a good portion of ours turned out more like linguine...
Despite the cold, everyone was cooperative and enthusiastic throughout it all— indeed, it was hard not to enjoy oneself with our mentors’ warmth and geniality!
After soba (and free time in Nakamachidai looking around for a warm place to wait and drink coffee) we walked ten minutes to the temple for zazen. I had never heard of zazen before last week in class— let alone done it myself. At the temple, a monk welcomed us and explained to us the temple’s history, and the practice of zazen. I learned, then, that when you are unable to focus and calm yourself during meditation, the leader will tap, then [sharply] hit, your shoulder with a staff to ease and hone concentration.
We followed the monk into a plainly furnished tatami room, where he then reviewed and demonstrated what our zazen session would involve. With that, everyone went to one of the cushions set about the perimeter of the room and we readied ourselves for meditation.
Traditionally, zazen is performed while in a meditation posture (legs folded, feet tucked so they rest on one's legs), back straight, gaze tilted down at a 45° angle with one's eyes partially open. At the end of our 20-minute session, I was surprised by how revitalizing and calming zazen was for me— yes, including being hit with the monk’s staff during meditation!