This post is just a bit edited version of Mike's (Tall comfortable Mike, if that's how you know him) original heartwarming message posted as a comment. Mike, please post directly as an author after accepting your invitation to be an author (it was resent today).
My name is michael and currently i am living in taiwan. i am running back and forth to Japan every three months for sesshin in japan. i am here in taiwan studying mandarin and such. last summer i lived in a Japanese temple called Bukkokuji. it is on the side of a mountain. i ve heard that most temples traditionally have been built on the sides of mountains. the town is called obama and it is on the west coast of japan. there is also a temple down the street from it called Hoshinji. last sesshin you could hear people yelling mu during our zazen period all the way from the other temple. i thought that was the sweetest and most inspiring thing. you really feel "in it", everyone is working hard.
dokusan is quite a challenge there. one time, i said to the teacher during dokusan "watashiwa gyogen". that means my name is gyogen (my dharma name there) in japanese. i think he went on and on in japanese about how much he loves his teacher because he kept pointing at him, smiling and holding his heart....finally i told him i don't speak a lick of japanese. he just laughed and said...continue, continue! ...so i did.
i am going back to japan in 4 weeks for next sesshin. possibly when i am finished here in taiwan with my studies i will go live in a different temple in japan south of kyoto... but i'll see how that all goes.
Text from an earlier email sent in 2008 (photo of his Takahatsu robes):
i did takahatsu (begging for alms) here. we do it about every 5 days or so. it was painful because we walk in these rice straw shoes. it rained all day! we walk around yelling HO! until we get to a door where we chant (and ask for alms). it is rather interesting. it's like some very old tradition juxtaposed to the modern world. this is the main way the temple is still supported along with donation and bukkokuji's small farms. i hope you enjoy the picture of my takahatsu outfit. i was getting ready to go out. we also have to wear a big hat. then we carry a bowl, small bell, and little papers we give to people..it is a blessing of sorts. we go out all day chanting and yelling!
do you know that most of these monks are not vegetarians. i was very surprised. they eat whatever is given to them. one day someone donated a sausage and pepperoni pizza! i ate a piece thinking it was surely vegetarian...
the sitting schedule changes depending on the weather. if it rains, then we sit 6 hours in a day. if no rain we sit 4 hours. we chant 2 times a day. we have to work in the fields if the weather is nice. the teacher's name is roshi sama. he is quite old...maybe 85. the temple is pretty laid back and people are very humble. i feel like a total beginner again.
From another mail:
i was lucky enough here to be assigned ringing the giant bell and chanting at 11 am. it is like a whole little thing that i do of chanting and bowing and ringing... i was a little nervous at first because everyone can hear you and i have to do it really loud! the bell must weigh 200 punds or more. i felt honored to do it.
Good Luck Mikey! You are missed here -- please post some pictures when you compose create new blog. It is very easy to upload pictures and also videos using the icons on the right side of the create post page! And please write more and often!