This happened in my return to Sumida Park.
After my quick stop at the Ushijima Shrine, I began walking back to Sumida park grounds. As I was passing by the park with the pond (and with all the locals doing hanami), this memorable event started to take place. A young woman, around my age, who was walking alongside me that I didn’t immediately notice, said a friendly ‘Konnichiwa!’ to me. Of course I smiled and said ‘Konnichiwa’ in return also. She introduced herself as Emiko. Apparently she can’t really speak English at all, but I could tell she was doing her best to converse with me. I told her I am a tourist. She then handed me (from her backpack) a pamphlet of a nearby Buddhist temple. I thought okay, she’s just promoting this temple, cool. She said that if I wanted to visit the temple, she could accompany me, it would just be a few minutes (of course I understood this message after lots of hand gestures and few phrase exchanges… she might have said something else, but it was all lost in translation). By then I thought oh crap, I’m being recruited. Because I wanted to be nice and I was anyway just passing some time, I said okay let’s go.
As we started to walk away from the park, lots of things were going through my mind:
And this is how you’ll going to die, Kathleen! Why are you going with this person? You don’t know her!
Hey it’s Japan, it’s safe here. I’ll just listen to some stuff they wanted to teach then I’ll go back to the park.
But where are we going? There are only a few people here on the street!
My mind was on high alert at this point. I whipped my phone and opened up Google Translate (btw the conversation feature is a lifesaver!), and said something like “we’ll return to the park after this, right?” Of which she said “I will guide you back to the park.”
When we reached the temple (it was a modern building, with lots of signs and photos at the entrance), I noticed a group of two foreigners being guided inside also. At this point I was able to breathe more easily. Looks like they just really like to invite tourists in here. There were elderly grandmas there who greeted us and asked where I was from. They were friendly. But of course I didn’t still lower my guard totally. I was bracing myself for all the pep talk that they would all tell me so that I’ll join their temple.
And that’s what actually happened. They made me watch a 10-minute video about the history of the temple and the principles of their teachings (I was blinking extra fast because I thought this video might be subconsciously hypnotizing me 😅. I am really a worst-case thinker, another self-realization from this trip lol). I was also paying attention to my belongings.
After watching the video, a guy introduced himself to me (he’s around my age also I think, and he’s cute hehe) and he further explained the things on the video. He spoke great English. It got to the point that he was having difficulty expressing his ideas in English (these are heavy topics to discuss by the way: your belief, how you see life, etc.) so he asked another member of the temple to talk to me. Another man, around his forties, introduced himself (jokingly as Ajinomoto, because it would be easier to remember according to him). At that point, I felt he’s one of authority in their organization. He spoke fluent English as well. With all the pep talk that they were telling me, the end goal was for me to convert to the Buddhist religion, and if I was ready, they told me there’s a priest there who could bless me right there and there. As politely as I could, I told them that religion is a very personal topic and that changing one’s religion is a very huge decision. I want them to respect this, although I am of course grateful that they told me all these things because I learned something new about their belief and about their culture. They insisted one more time, I reiterated myself.
They told me that they were glad that I was able to respond kindly to them. He could tell through my expressions that I am honest and sincere with what I was saying, and that I have a shy but a kind soul (eheheheh domo arigatou gozaimasou, but that’s just a facade… XD). He said that it was not coincidence that I was here at their temple. Emiko-san have seen something in me that’s why she approached me (😅). He gave me the details of their temple’s address in the Philippines (hey they have one in QC!) and happily said their closing remarks.
Emiko-san wanted to keep in touch so we got our details on LINE. The guys from the temple took photos of us, of which Emiko-san sent me via LINE.
Emiko-san then walked me back to the park. Along the way we talked a bit (all through Google Translate). I told her I have a friend who practices Buddhism so I am somewhat familiar with the basic principles, and that the people back at the temple are kind. When we reached the park, she happily waved and said “Ja ne!” then she walked back the road where we came from. I wonder if she would search for another tourist to invite, of that I would never know anymore.
That was really a very unusual experience. Although it was a bit scary at first (things could have spun differently if they were bad people, and I am this unsuspecting solo traveler), I truly appreciated the interactions that I was able to have with them. It was an unexpected meeting, but that doesn’t mean that it was something not worthwhile of my time. Just like that Buddhist message that I got to read on Facebook, instead of “Why me?”, ask “What can I learn from this?”
My encounter with them sure taught me invaluable lessons. As I did some introspection of my own beliefs for the days that came after, I concluded that my belief on a higher being that controls this Universe supersedes the boundaries of religions. (I am not sure if there is a right term for this kind of belief). I recognize that each person has their own faith, and other people just need to respect that. Every religion encourages their members to spread the message and inform others about their faith and to ask them to join them. I believe that’s actually the challenge given by the Higher Entity, like how would you respond to people with different beliefs as yours? Will you respect them, or become this person that ostracizes others because they do not belong to your church?
I think that’s the biggest mindfake of religion. How would humans play with this mindgame?
I have a religion on paper, but I don’t practice all the principles. If you strip all the complicated rules down, it all boils down to aspiring for the good will of others. Do unto others what you want others to do unto you. I believe in karma. If you do good, good will return to you. If you do bad, then something bad will be returned to you. As a person of logic, I guess I’ll stumble upon these arguments and scenarios — what if I did all good, but still experienced something bad, or if something bad happened to me, does that make me a bad person? And this is where my brain melts…
Religion is such a complicated thing. With the belief I have now, I know that I won’t have all the answers to all the questions that I myself, or others, will encounter. All I know is that I strive to be a good person — to myself and to others.
Although we had different beliefs, my impression with Emiko-san, and the other people I met in the temple, is that they are good people, and that they just want more people to know about their religion. They are sincere with their motive.
A few weeks after my trip to Japan, Emiko-san still messages me. Thanks to Google Translate, I am able to respond. 😂 Her last message was a photo of their main temple, which was at the foot of Mt. Fuji.
I now have the pamphlet posted on my room, together with the other paraphernalia of my trip in Tokyo, because indeed it was one memorable moment that I have experienced in the city.