The Mom and Pop noodle shop

The Mom and Pop Noodle Shop                              by Andrew Atkeison


It was a rainy winter night in Kyoto. I peeked into the foggy window of my favorite little neighborhood noodle shop to see if they were still open. Yes, it appeared so. The wind whipped around as I stowed my umbrella. I opened the squeaky door and stepped inside quickly so as not to allow in any extra rain. It was warm and cozy inside. “Kon banwa,” (good evening) I called out. The sound of a TV droned on in the background. There was no reply.


The shop was quiet, no customers; only the old guy who I assumed must be the owner was there. He was sitting at the counter, watching a game show on television. It was a comedy, and every now and then, he would laugh in time with the canned audience laughter on the TV. He made no sign that he heard my greeting when I walked in.


This little restaurant was my favorite place to have lunch, but I had never been there in the evening. During lunch hour, it was always bustling with business people and other customers. During the day, a mom and daughter waited tables. They had always been friendly, and I always ordered the same thing — chicken ramen. The mom and daughter must have already gone home for the evening.


After entering, I waited a moment politely so as not to interrupt. When the old guy looked up, I bowed and indicated that I would like to sit at a table in the corner. He nodded without speaking, signaling — sure go ahead. He went back to watching the game show. He never said a word, so I sat down at the corner table and started watching the TV too. I figured eventually, when it would be convenient, he would come over and take my order, but he never did. The game show was entertaining, but I was hungry. I was starting to wonder, what’s going on?


Finally, he got up from the counter, and I thought, now, finally, he is going to take my order. But he didn’t. Instead he went back into the kitchen without even looking my way.


I sat there waiting, thinking eventually he would come back and take my order. There was plenty of time to think, so my mind tried to figure it all out. Hmmm maybe he was closing up when I came in and didn’t want to be rude and said I could sit down, but now he is not going to serve me and he’s just waiting for me to leave. Maybe I should just take the hint and leave. I thought about walking out but decided that by Japanese standards, that would just be entirely too rude. I should simply stay and see what happens. I could wait him out. If I stayed there long enough, sooner or later something had to happen. This was getting interesting.


Meanwhile I could hear him putzing around in the kitchen. It was hard to tell if he was cooking something or if he was cleaning up getting ready to close, but I didn’t say anything. I just sat there watching the game show and waiting for him to come out and take my order.


As I sat there, my mind kept rolling on. Maybe he is one of those old-school guys I’ve heard about who remembers the war and hates Americans. He had a tough guy look about him like the sumo / samurai type. But then I thought, nah, the mom and daughter had always made me feel welcome, I’m just over-thinking it, I figured, be patient. In Japan, there are always many things going on beneath the surface that a foreigner could never imagine. If there is one thing to be learned it is how to wait patiently and respectfully.


Finally, the Dutch doors to the kitchen swung open, and I looked up thinking, now, finally, he is going to take my order. The old guy strode out of the kitchen, carrying a platter with a big steaming bowl of my usual order: chicken ramen. Wow, I was completely stunned. He knew what my order was all along. That moment of realization felt sweet. This must mean that I’m being accepted as a local. With that thought, a feeling came over me that was as warm as the cozy little shop on a winter’s night.


Outside in the darkness, the wind gusts whipped at the umbrella rack, and the rain pattered softly against the windows. Inside, I sat there warm and snug at the corner table, savoring my noodles. The old guy and I silently watched the late-night TV game show together. It wasn’t necessary to understand the language to appreciate the humor. Now, though, the feeling was different. Estrangement had given way to a sense of camaraderie and belonging. Occasionally, the old guy and I would both laugh together when something funny happened on the show.


Finally, when the show ended, I got up and paid the bill in exact change. He accepted the money without ever looking up and nodded that the amount was correct. We both bowed courteously. I wanted to thank him. My gratitude was for so much more than the noodles. I kept saying, “arigato” (thank you) “arigato.” A moment of comfortable silence passed between us. He had heard what I said. As I turned and left the shop, he bowed again silently in parting.


That rainy winter night in Kyoto so much was exchanged with so few words.



Storinzan Darumaji visit

Syorinzan Darumaji is a Zen Buddhist temple located just outside of the city of Takasaki in Gunma prefecture. The temple derives it’s name after the Zen Partriarch, Daruma. Daruma is the Japanese pronunciation of Bhodidharma who is a renowned cultural and religious figure well known for bringing the teachings of Zen (pronounced Chan in Chinese) to China from India during the 5th or 6th century.


Syorinzan temple is of the Obaku denomination of Rinzai Zen. Obaku is a version of Rinzai that came several hundreds years later to Japan after Rinzai had already been established. It is the 3rd largest sect of Zen in Japan though often it is considered part of the Rinzai school. Obaku has retained more of it’s Chinese heritage and customs than it’s sister school the Japanese Rinsai sect. The largest sect of Zen in Japan is the Soto shu.


Fuku-Daruma, better known as the daruma doll. is considered a good luck charm. During new years season it is often purchased to bring good luck during the upcoming year. The Fuku-Daruma originated at the Syorinzan temple. The founder of this temple, Shinetsu began the custom of giving the local farmers pictures of Bodhidharma that he would paint with a single brushstroke. Several centuries later the tradition of crafting wooden images based on the brush paintings evolved. Eventually the local craftsmen started making these dolls for sale.


Cho zu or Water purification is an essential part of any Buddhist temple or Shinto Shrine visit. There will be a stone reservoir  of cold clear water usually near the entry way.




The custom is to take one of the ladles and dip it into the water first washing the left hand and then the right.


Last take another ladle of water and drink from it. Now one has been cleansed of worldly impurities and you are ready to enter the temple.




Rinsoin Temple visit

Rinsoin Temple is located in Yaizu city, Shizuoka Prefecture Japan and is the original home temple of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi who founded San Francisco Zen Center in 1962.

The trip from Kyoto to Rinsoin temple takes approximately 4 hours. The shinkansen bound for Tokyo passes through Shizuoka city. From Shizuoka one must transfer to a local train to Yaizu. It is three stops to Yaizu and takes about 15 minutes. From Yaizu station it is another15 minutes by taxi up the winding road to Rinsoin. The mountain that Rinsoin is located on looms tall behind the town of Yaizu.

Yaizu is a delightful rather run down small town. With the exception of the ocean nearby, it is somewhat reminiscent of mid west America. There are vibrant businesses and small restaurants and bars mixed in with abandoned buildings and overgrown areas.

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Yaizu is spread out length ways along the oceanfront. There is a working port with many ocean going fishing vessels but no tour boats visible at all.

The harbor is definitely not meant to be a tourist attraction. There are no trendy expensive places overlooking the bay but rather down to earth shops and ship maintaining enterprises. Walking along the street next to the harbor I saw this little Albacore fishing boat. These little boats go out on the open sea for days at a time.










In addition to commercial fishing, the Shizuoka area is known for large scale tea agriculture. From the shinkansen one may see many fields of tea plants dotting the hillsides and valleys.

DSCN1000  On the drive out of Yaizu one passes by smaller, more human scale fields that are planted in tea. The raw leaf of the tea plant does not taste particularly noteworthy. To transform the raw leaves into green tea it is necessary to bruise the leaves and then steam them to draw out the subtle flavors. The steam also removes the acidity from the leaves. Though black tea comes from the same tea plant it is put through a completely different process of curing. When the fresh tealeaves are harvested from the plant there are two cuttings.  The primary harvesting produces the most premium tea.                 DSCN0833    On the outskirts of Yaizu the narrow road begins winding up the mountain named Takai Kusa Yama or Tall Black Mountain. As it approaches Rinsoin, a large cemetery begins. This cemetery is well maintained and continues upwards in the valley and around the back of Rinsoin.DSCN0766This graveyard stretches up to where the mountain becomes so steep that it cannot go any further. From the mountain heights above the cemetery there is a beautiful view stretching down the valley to the ocean.DSCN0767  Along the driveway approaching the temple grounds are many clusters of beautiful Ajisa flowers (Japanese hydrangia) that have been planted there by Chitosi, the wife of Hoitsu Suzuki Roshi. She is a master sensei of Japanese flower arranging (Ikebana) and she has several long-term Ikebana students in Yaizu.


She creates several works a week and these beautiful arrangements adorn the entry to Rinsoin. Chitosi san is a very wise woman and she once explained to me about her duties. She said, “no mater what, a temple wife must always be with open arms” to visitors.





When Shunryu Suzuki Roshi moved to America and passed control of Rinsoin to his son and Dharma heir, Hoitsu was only 25 years old and his wife Chitosi was a mere 20. By tradition this is an exceedingly young age for a priest to be entrusted with the management and responsibility of a temple. Usually a priest must be 50 years of age before accepting the responsibility for running a temple, especially a temple so large as Rinsoin.


Rinosin was once a Tendai temple before changing to Soto-shu.


Rinsoin is such a large temple complex that there are old buildings that are seldom used.


Below is the small altar in the guest quarters.


Wooden fish outside the Sodo (Zendo) hall which is struck with a wooden mallet to signal time for Zazen .



There are 14 seats in the Sodo hall.



Altar in the Sodo.


DSCN0800The Abbots seat.



Main altar in the Butsuden. The hall can seat several hundred people.

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From left to right, Sungo, Marumi, Kumi and Chitosi in front is Chitosi’s little granddaughter.

Temple life 2016

I am now here at Fukojo-ji Temple for the month of June. It is mid summer so the weather is beginning to be very hot and muggy on some days and rainy on others. One thing about the weather in Japan though is that it is variable and it is rarely the same two days in a row.


The resident priest and provisional Abbot here is Jirai Reinhardt Mehl. He always has several work projects that he wants to accomplish during my stay. We work in the mornings but in the afternoons I am usually free to pursue other interests. Jirai is gone three days out of the week working at an International Zen Training center in Fukuyama. The International center is run by a private foundation. The mission of the foundation is to provide a place to allow professional people and others to experience the life of Rinzai Zen for a limited time. It is a place where self discipline may be practiced. This foundation has purchased several old Temple buildings from monasteries and rebuilt them at their site near Hiroshima. Sometimes companies send employees to the International training center so that they may learn mindfulness and self motivation.


During the days when Jirai is gone my job is to caretake Fukujo-ji. My duties consist of opening the gate in the early morning and closing the gate in the evenings. Additionally, In the summer I have to open the shoji screens in the mornings and close them in the evening. I am also responsible for carrying on the tradition of doing  Zazen followed by reading of the sutras in the mornings. I enjoy this time by myself and I never feel alone because I am always accompanied by the generations of Sangha that has gone before me. Sometimes the feeling is overwhelming that I have been entrusted with the solemn responsibility of care taking this beautiful home of the Buddha Dharma.

A typical day here at the temple begins with Zazen at 5 AM which goes until 6:30 AM. After Zazen there is Choka (service). We chant the Lotus Sutra, the Heart Sutra, the Dia Shin Dhrani and the Buchinson Dhrani along with several smaller verses and echoes. The chanting takes about a half an hour and it is done very fast so I find it impossible to keep up with the tempo.  Once I loose my place it is sometimes difficult to find it again. I find that I am always glad when the chanting is done.

After the choka (service) is done we then prepare breakfast which always consists of Okaiyo. This traditional rice porridge is very light on the stomach but at the same time quite filling. One of the most useful things I have learned  so far it how to prepare traditional Okaiyo.


Flying to Japan

Beginning of the trip

The direct flight on United / All Nippon Airlines from SFO to Osaka was enjoyable and it took only eleven and one half hours. The previous flights I have taken that went through Taipei usually took about 16 hours flying time. Because the trip seemed much shorter, I was not so tired when I arrived at KIX (Kansai International Airport). As I was walking through the airport looking for my taxi service a news crew  from a local television station accosted me. I don’t know why they chose me but they wanted to interview me as to why I came to Japan. I was obliging and I told them that I came here because I love Japan. That wasn’t enough though and they presented endless questions so finally I had to excuse myself from them in order to locate my prearranged taxi service. I did not want to get distracted and miss my ride to Katsura talking to a news crew.

Katsura is a western suburb of Kyoto. This small town is located along the Katsura River. The hurried and noisy atmosphere of Kyoto dissipates here giving way to quiet and more tranquil rhythms. During the Heian period members of the court found this area an elegant location for viewing the full moon and that tradition still persists today in certain places outside of town particularly near certain lakes and ponds that the reflect the moon. The Katsura tree predominates the landscape and in fall the leaves turn from green to beautiful autumn shades. Arishiyama is a district of Katsura that is well known for it’s temples and tourism. Arishiyama in Japanese means stone mountain. In the autumn the orange coloring of the Katsura trees cover it.

My final destination, Fukujo-ji temple is a small neighborhood Rinzai temple that is 1325 years old. It is located high up in the hills of Katsura adjacent to a thick bamboo forest. By coincidence I came to this temple on my last trip to Japan to attend the funeral of a friend that I had known from the 70’s at San Francisco Zen Center, Mike / Shunko Jamvold. When I subsequently came back to attend a Zazenkai on a Sunday I was invited to stay here in the guest house.

The priest is an ex-pat from Germany who is fluent in both Japanese and English and of course, German. He trained at a Rinzai monastery for 3 years intensively beginning at the age of 50 which is considered old for the strenuous training.  He told me that originally he had no intention of becoming a temple priest however his master (teacher) decided to turn the temple over to him after he was asked to become the head monk at a training monastery. I was very fortunate to be invited to stay here and so I couldn’t let the opportunity go by without accepting. I have come come all the way from Northern California in order to stay here for 6 weeks this summer to experience the authentic temple life in Japan and learn a little about Rinsai Zen. I am finding that I will also learn a lot about myself in the process.

A few weeks into it

I can barely stand the climate of Kyoto in the summer, it is so hot when the sun is out. It is always a relief when it rains for a day or so but after the rain when the sun comes out again there are suddenly so many mosquitos everywhere. Kyoto is really hot in the summer and I had not realized how intense the change would be to go from the rather cool Northern California climate directly to the heat of Kansai prefecture during the height of summer. It took me about 2 weeks to adjust to the heat.

The little grocery store right down the street from the temple is usually very busy late in the afternoons when people are heading home. It is a good time to interact with the Japanese working class up close and first hand. Of course you have to observe without it being noticed that you are observing.  As one of my senseis used to say Nihongo is all about ambiguity.

My Japan

I find Japan to be a place of unbounded esthetics and endless inspiration. The confluence of Shinto, Buddhism and the history of the Samurai form a culture that is steeped in honor for self and other, reverence for nature and respect for tradition. I hope you’re inspired by these images and essays of temples and shrines of Japan and moved by them to a better understanding of this deep and beautiful culture.

Kiyomizu-dera temple


Kiyomizu-dera temple is one of Kyoto’s most famous Buddhist temples. It is located in the eastern hills overlooking the city. For many centuries, it was affiliated with the Hosso sect, which in English means “Mind Only.” The Mind Only sect is one of the seven schools of ancient Buddhism that came to Japan towards the end of the 7th century during in Nara period. The temple was founded in approximately 780 CE and presently it is designated as a UNESCO world cultural heritage site.

In January of 2016 I visited there and created the photographs that make up the photo essay on this enchanting place. It is displayed under the Buddhist temples heading. I hope you enjoy the photo essay.



Konichiwa こんにちわ   +++   Greetings from Kyoto,

Today our class went on a field trip accompanied by two of the Senseis from Kyoto Minsai Japanese Language School. We took the subway to a small shop that makes Yatsuhatchi; a traditional sweet from Kyoto that is made from rice paste, cinnamon and soy flour. Inside are different sweet fillings.


This little doll is the mascot of the shop.     +++      Below are my class mates from Kyoto Minsai. The word Minsai means  “all of us together”.  The school’s policy is fellowship rather than competition.  The class I am in is a short term class. A student may attend the short term classes for as brief a period as 2 weeks up to 3 months. The school also offers longer term classes too with a more serious program of up to 2 years study.  If you attend a longer term course the school will help you get a cultural visa to stay in Japan for a more extended time than the standard tourist visa of 3 months.



There are a variety of fillings that are placed inside Yatsuhatchi such as chocolate, sweetened bean paste and different types of fruit fillings. The rice batter that the confectionary is made of is the same type of material as Mochi. Traditionally, the cooked rice was beaten with wooden hammers on a raised stone mortar.  In modern times however an industrial food mixer is used to beat the rice paste until it becomes a glutenous batter.


Below is the beginning set up to make Yatsuhatchi. The portion of raw dough is cut into small pieces. Beside the tray you can see the bowl of soy flower and the small dishes of fruit, bean and chocolate filling. There is also a wooden dowel that functions as a rolling pin. After the batter is kneaded by hand until it is softened and gains elasticity it is then rolled with the dowel until it is flattened out like a small tortilla. The wooden dowel is covered in soy flour to prevent the batter from sticking. The tortilla shaped piece is cut into a square, then the filling is added. Though they are entirely different pastries, the shape of the finished Yatsuhatchi is formed like an Empanada, which are deep fried pastries that are Spanish in origin but can be found in Mexico and other Latin American countries.



Yatsuhashi is a famous Kyoto sweet. It was named after Kengyo Yatsuhashi, a well-known koto player and composer of koto music. The koto is a long, 13-stringed instrument that is plucked like a harp or a guitar. In 1689, four years after Yatsuhashi died at age 72, a sweet that was shaped like a koto was named after him — “yatsuhashi” — and began to be sold on the approach to Shogoin Shrine. Soon after, the sweets began to be called “Shogoin yatsuhashi”. The main shop that made these confections was Genkaku-dou. “Gen” means “black,” and it was also used as a common name for Konkaikoumyou-ji Temple, which Kyoto people also referred to as “Kurodani-san” (“black valley”). “Kaku” means crane, and the cry of the crane is similar to the sound of a koto. This store has been in business for over 300 years. Around 1905, yatsuhashi became a popular Kyoto souvenir among Japanese visitors to Kyoto. At that time, vendors stood outside Kyoto Station and sold packages of yatsuhashi.    (Chiaki, 2006)



There are two types of yatsuhashi: baked and unbaked. Generally, most people think of yatsuhashi as baked. Unbaked yatsuhashi is called “hijiri.” The ingredients used to make baked yatsuhashi are only pounded rice with a little bit of cinnamon and sugar added for flavor. Baked yatsuhashi has been around since 1689 and is like a crisp cracker. Now it is made by machine, but until 1970 it was handmade and baked on a hot plate. During WW II, yatsuhashi couldn’t be made because of the scarcity of rice. (Chiaki, 2006)



Hijiri, or unbaked yatsuhashi, began to be sold around 1960. To make this kind of yatsuhashi, rice flour is kneaded with hot water and steam; it is then mixed with sugar, cinnamon, and sometimes poppy seeds and finely rolled out flat. It is then cut into 8cm x 8cm squares and soybean flour is sprinkled on both of its sides. Azuki red bean jam is placed inside, and then the hijiri is folded over to form a triangle. These days three new flavors have been added to the traditional taste of zuki red bean jam: macha (powdered green tea), strawberry, and peach.   (Chiaki Imanaka, April 16, 2006,  viewed, 1/20/2016, )

Take care my friends, life is short,   ++++   the message of the photo below expresses impermanence.




Below is a sign at the Kyoto Shin Buddhist Temple,  Higashi Hongonji  +++  Higashi Hongonji means Eastern Honganji. Basically, there are two schools of Shin Buddhism, East (Higashi) and West (Nishi). There are numerous sects among the Shin Buddhists, but East and West is the basic division. When I need a RESET, I like to visit Higashi Hongonjji. The place radiates deep transcendental peace. When I am near Kyoto Station, I usually drop in there. I go inside and get a folding chair from the stack and sit Zazen in the back. They have a noon service that is beautiful. During the service there is singing and incense offerings. The thought expressed on the sign below is inspirational. So much so, I wanted to share it with you. I hope you all have enjoyed this photo essay.    +++    AA