I have been here at Fukojo-ji Temple for about a week now. It is mid summer so the weather is 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 here, Jirai Reinhardt Mehl, has several work projects that he wants to accomplish during my stay. We work in the mornings but he allows me to take the afternoons off. He is gone three days out of the week working at an International Zen Training center for foreigners. The International center is run by a private foundation. The mission of the foundation is to provide a place to allow people to experience the life of a Rinzai monk for a limited time. The foundation has purchased several old buildings from monasteries and rebuilt them at their site near Hiroshima. Sometimes companies send employees to the International training center to teach them discipline and single mindedness.
During the days when the priest 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, I have to open the shoji in the mornings and close them in the evening. I also carry on the tradition of doing two periods of Zazen in the mornings. I enjoy this time alone especially when I am doing Zazen. During this time alone, the feeling is overwhelming that I have been entrusted with the solemn responsibility of care taking 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.