The best advice from the unlikeliest source

The advice I probably most agree with in life came from what could probably be the most unlikeliest of sources. When I was working as an Assistant Language Teacher just south of here, I made a pretty good friend in the junior high school’s 60-something chain-smoking farmer groundskeeper Mr. Otaki.

On sultry summer days, I would be sitting at my (air-conditioned) desk, and Mr. Otaki, with his deep smokers’ voice and carefree gait, would slowly walk up to me and whisper for me to follow him.

When I got to his office, a small 6-mat tatami room, the reason he wanted me to come was pretty obvious. Sitting there on the middle of the table was one massive watermelon. He just wanted me to have some of the watermelon he had grown, out of sight of the other teachers and the students of course. We sat there like innocent schoolgirls gobbling up what at the time felt like contraband, but was actually pretty innocent.

I’m pretty sure from the one bus tour in Osaka in the 80s Mr. Otaki proudly showed me a photo album of that he had never been overseas. He had spent his 60-odd years almost exclusively in and around the Shonai region of Yamagata, besides annual trips to Tokyo for the Sumo of course.

This man who ironically had hardly any experience outside this small area of Japan told me, ‘nandemo keiken’, ‘it’s the experience that counts’. These two words have stuck with me ever since, and I think it’s because they are quite powerful indeed.

Yamabushi training is all about the experience. The reason why (I think at least) we describe the Dewa Sanzan as a journey for rebirth is because that’s the closest proximation to actually having done the training. It’s the experience that counts.

Just thinking about doing something but not actually doing anything about it, that won’t get you very far. Until you’ve actually taken that first step, put in the hard yards, and experienced something for what it is, you truly don’t know much at all. That a secret-watermelon-loving retiree said that to me only made it that much more powerful as well, and I wish to share it with you too.



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Sakata City, Yamagata, Japan

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