Eighteen Part Two
The continuation of Yura’s story. In this part, you’ll be introduced to Yura’s ditzy friend, Rikako, get a little taste of Yura’s humor, and see her brother wrestle with a life-altering decision that’s weighing heavily on him. Here’s Part Two of Eighteen!
Stay tuned for more…
Continued from Part I
Why a monk? Why the “way of the Buddha”? And first of all, can you really become a monk that easily, just by wishing for it, when you’re not born into a temple family? That was my doubt. My brother’s answer was powerful and reassuring: “You could if you enter the monkhood. That’s why I’m saying, as a first step, I’m going to a university founded on the principles of Buddhism.”
Ten to one, this devotion to Buddhism is influenced by the temple in our neighborhood. This distinguished temple, Anrakuji, has a history dating back 300 years to the Edo-period. Just last month, Taiei, the chief monk, celebrated his seventy-seventh birthday. My brother loves the chief monk of this temple.
Just like my brother, Taiei is free spirited, and far from the typical image of a monk. He can toss back drinks like nobody’s business… almost to the point where if he were drinking with Shuntendoji, that notorious, heavy-drinking, fairy-tale ogre god, it would end up pleading, “I give up!” I find it all a little concerning, but perhaps needlessly so. He’s also keen on cigarettes, although while I hear the number has declined quite a bit as of late, he still smokes today. So with these tastes of his, even though it’s not always, people naturally offer packs of tobacco and cans of beer to the temple as an offering. Still, no matter how much he drinks or makes merry, he never fails to wake up early at the appointed time, ring the bell of the temple, and perform morning and evening services in an orderly fashion, and with much love and passion. So it’s plainly clear he loves the Buddha. He has a good reputation of being an adept sutra-chanter as well, (although I’m surprised people assess a person’s sutra-chanting as either done well or done poorly).
My brother and I used to attend Sunday school, a little study gathering the temple held every Sunday for those of us in first through sixth grade. There, we learned lessons about morality (generally speaking), or the teachings of the Buddha (strictly speaking), for an hour from 8:30 to 9:30 in the morning. After riding our bicycles for five minutes to the temple, we’d park our bikes next to each other in front of the gate. I’d follow my brother to the main building of the temple, and with a crunch, crunch, we’d make our way through the gravel path inside the temple grounds. We’d spring up the dark gray, wooden stairs and spiritedly burst open the sliding door. There we’d find ourselves in an inordinately spacious tatami-matted room, filled with the aroma of incense, one oblong desk and a set of two crisp white zabuton cushions arranged neatly in two parallel lines. In the back, and in the dim light, and directly facing the altars to each of the Buddist statues, Taiei would light a incense stick and softly recite, “Namu Amida Butsu, Namu Amida Butsu…” to himself in refrain.
The session would always start with the singing of songs. Taiei himself would play the organ and we kids all sang a song “Shinran-san” (or, maybe that was the name of it) in unison with his relaxed, amazing voice that often made us wonder, “Is he an opera singer?” Then the session would continue with a sutra and a story. The stories Taiei taught were always fun. Though I was little, I looked forward to this time each week from deep within me. Only I wasn’t so fond of having to endure the sutra session, which consisted of about twenty minutes of resting upon the insteps of my feet (seiza style).
But nothing could possibly make me happier than the honor of keeping my brother all to myself, sitting diminutively next to him for an entire hour. Showing off this smart, handsome brother of mine also propped me up to feel a wee bit superior to those neighborhood children who’d otherwise have me feeling inferior. Shy, and generally lacking the guts to be haughty outside the house (I dared only be at home), and possessing no talent or redeemable qualities whatsoever, I remained reliant on my brother to protect me like a big bear. I felt at ease being next to him. Now, as much as then, I completely and shamelessly depend on him for just about everything. I set my brother as the standard in doing anything. Which book, music, or movie star to like, or what to eat for breakfast each morning, rice or bread? I continue to choose with confidence that which my brother chooses, as if those choices were my own. Everything he does, I follow in suit from A to Z with no substantial consideration to this tendency of mine for the time being.
By way of example, my brother has always had a fondness for flowers. When, as a child he’d see the beautiful flowers changing with each season in a local flower shop, he’d buy them with money out of his own pocket and place them on his study desk as decoration. He was that kind of kid. I did the same thing, imitating him, but because I couldn’t afford flowers with my little allowance, I had my mother buy a bundle for me.
Linen shirts and jeans are the same. He likes shirts made of linen, so in his closet there are all sorts of them, an assortment of different colors and patterns hanging in a splendidly organized manner, and all cherished by my brother. When it comes to jeans, he likes a pair that is slim fitting, with a fabric that feels soft and comfortable when worn, and whose color fades with continual wear, giving them a certain depth of character. He buys such jeans and these linen shirts at his favorite shop where they’re hand-crafted one by one by the shop’s craftsman who is particular about material and pays close attention to small details. Naturally, I would tag along with my brother and choose the same style of linen shirts and jeans as his.
My brother has never dyed his hair. Although people surrounding him would change their hair color, making it a little lighter or boldly bleaching it completely during summer break, that has never happened with him. He always keeps his handsome black hair clean and healthy. So again, imitating him, I keep my hair black as well, no matter how giddily my other schoolmates go to hair salons to have their hair dyed whatever color they wish.
There’s only one thing I haven’t begun to emulate when it comes to my brother, though: cigarettes. At some point in the past, my brother took up smoking, and smokes quite a bit everyday, with little attention paid to my mother’s disapproving frown. I can’t say I dislike the smell of smoking. You could say, rather, I’m fond of it. But for some reason, I don’t know why, I’ve never tried to set foot in the world of tobacco. There’s probably some force I’m unaware of that’s holding me back, but in the end I suppose I’m just a gutless wimp—a coward at heart.
Brother is me. No, he’s my ideal portrait of myself in the opposite sex. That’s why I’ve surrendered my decision-making to him without second guessing the choices he makes. I’m a younger sister completely devoted to her brother with the same degree… no, an even stronger degree of love than Toyotomi Hideyoshi had concentrated on Sen no Rikyu.
His extra hard work having paid off, my brother successfully passed the entrance exam of the Buddhism associated university he wished to get into. That was March of last year. The university is conveniently located where he can commute from home comfortably enough, distance-wise, and so there was no need for him to move out of the house.
My brother has never once had a girlfriend for these entire twenty-years of his life. It’s not that girls aren’t intrigued by him. To the contrary, a good number of girls do like him. Throughout elementary school, middle school, high-school and university, and at his part-time workplace, women have incessantly tried to get close to him. The reason for his popularity, though, is not just because he’s good-looking nor that he’s endowed with a nice physique. Even if these things weren’t true, he would probably be plenty well liked. My brother’s heart is untainted like the blue sky and his brain like a fluid engine continuously pumping out top-notch, witty humor.
When my best friend, Rikako, came to my house for the first time, she stumbled upon my brother in his light blue, linen shirt and black jeans, just as he was coming out of his room. I introduced the two of them, and as soon as she entered my room, she asked, “Is that your brother?!” about the handsome young man she had just met, towering above us like Tokyo Tower, and heedlessly placed her bag onto my bed. Her cheeks were colored a little red.
“Yup. Hey, Rikako, please don’t put your bag on my bed. That should be placed over here next to the desk, please?” Admittedly, I’m specifically fastidious about the hygiene of my bedding, pushing the boundaries of my family’s tolerance threshold, and immediately noticed Rikako’s apparently not-so-sanitary bag, which perhaps gazillions of germs had adhered to, as this lovable friend of mine tends to carelessly plop it around here and there.
“How old is your brother? Good God, he’s crazy tall! How tall is he?” Rikako said, moving her bag.
“189,” I answered, offering up his official height with at least a bit of regard to his feelings. “He’s two years older than me.”
“Oh my, your brother is super fine-looking! He doesn’t look like you at all. Daaaaamn, he might as well be a celebrity… Gosh, I was completely bedazzled by his overwhelming aura of handsomeness, and totally looked like an idiot, stumbling over my words… Yu-chan, please tell him your friend, Rikako, is not a dork one single bit.”
Rikako has this sorta carefree, cute, ditzy quality about her. I love this best friend of mine who has such an innocent and artless charm.
“Alright, I’ll tell him Rikako is a silly head and has a brain that’s a bit weak, and she actually repeated the same year for that.”
“No, no, no. please don’t. I strictly prohibit that! Hey, does he have a girlfriend?”
“No, no girlfriend.”
“Really?! Okay, okay, okay… Umm, can you fill him in about me?”
“Sorry, but no. He’s not interested in girls.”
“What? What do you mean he’s not interested in girls? Does he like boys?” Rikako said, quickly clearing her longish bangs off her face and to the side, her eyes wide open in surprise.
“What in the world are you talking about? No, he currently has no interest in that sort of thing. Unlike us, his brain is filled with more noble things.”
After my brother got into university, he met students from various areas as well as a jumble of Japanese and international professors, and what he’d learned and experienced through lectures and intramurals served as a stimulant that has caused him to develop a certain sense of conviction about, “the world.” Surely, he was soaking up everything he could learn as a Buddhism major, with his senses all fired up… but at the same time, a new interest and spirit of inquiry began to grow in him. The phrase, “the world” became his new motivating principle.
What happened, I wonder. What was swirling inside his head? Because the standard of my mental faculties haven’t matured to his extent, I cannot know. But, I imagine just as being tall and bumping his head with a thwack all over the place serves as an uncomfortable reminder of being different, deep down, I imagine there exists an uncomfortable feeling toward that literal gap he perceives between his sight of the world and that possessed by others—a fear and fret that he might end up being content centering on nothing but a place called Japan as his world, despite the great hope that he may know, witness, and expand his potential. He fears fitting into the mold and being forced into the mold more than anything. The reason why he doesn’t get a girlfriend might be because he’s resisting a conventional pattern where people copy one another. Like going out for each and every couple’s holiday, buying shoddy rings for each other’s birthday, introducing one another to their families, etc… etc… Or, in truth, he might really be interested in the same sex (!). Or, maybe he adheres to the principle of broad benevolence alongside the likes of the Buddha and Jesus. Anything can be possible. In any case, it’s not right for silly me to make a flappy fuss over what my brother believes to be good doing.
My brother is someone who reads a lot. There are always a few books he considers to be his current favorites, and without much thought I find myself noticing them resting on the table in the living room, or peeking out from his bag, or perfectly fitting into his left hand at the breakfast table where I’ll see him concentrating on reading and turning those dog-eared pages. By looking at the title of the book, I can pretty much tell what he’s drawn to at the moment.
For the first three or four months between having graduated from high-school and entering university, what I call the “books of yellow, orange and beige,” the three volumes of Tannisho (Notes Lamenting the Differences), and Syukke to Sono Deshi (The Monk and His Disciples) were his favorites. Because those books seemed to fit my brother’s aspirations, I didn’t consider anything about his reading of them to be out of the ordinary. However, one day to my surprise, Itsuki Hiroyuki’s Seinen wa Koya wo Mezasu (A Young Man Heads for Wilderness) joined in with the “books of yellow, orange and beige” and Syukke to Sono Deshi.
“Oh?” I thought in wonder. This sense of unity I saw in his current favorites vanished in an instant and Seinen wa Koya wo Mezasu suddenly felt like an intruder disturbing the overall order and harmony of things. Isn’t this a book about a twenty-year-old man named Jun who aspires to become a jazz musician and gets on a ship to wander the world? I gazed at Itsuki Hiroyuki’s book placed gingerly in a position vertically to the edge of the table, remembering having read it once and secretly admiring the main character who’s reckless, brave, and steadfast, undertaking his journey with not much more than a trumpet. Maybe because my brother will soon be the same age as the main character, he’s encouraged to read it again… I figured so.
Some time later, probably around the time when the university’s second semester had just begun, my brother became gravely vexed about the path he wanted to take in life. Day in and day out, he seemed to be contemplating one thought after another. The color of the linen shirts he wore in those days tended to be consistently black, and his eyes were often punctuated by dark circles. Looking at my brother in this state made my heart ache. “Is there anything I can do?” I was thinking about it all the time.
Then, shortly after the beginning of the following year, no further in than the middle of January, my brother’s face shifted back to being gloom-free, and one day, with an exhilarating air of confidence, he submitted his leave of absence notification to the university. Hardened by firm beliefs, he had decided to spring out of Japan. My brother, who had never been absent from home more than three days, and never traveled overseas, had decided to study abroad in America.
To be continued——