Searching and questioning cultural authenticity at the top of the holiest Mountain in Japan.

Japan

 

Whilst seeking solitude and at the same time exploring Japan’s cultural authenticity, I ended up staying overnight in one of the Buddhist temples at mountain Kōya. Dramatic surroundings were hinting a phantasmagoric experience, however, soon I was brought back to a bitter reality: the village has slowly been changing due to visitors’ influx 

THE BAD APPLE AT THE TEMPLE

It’s a crispy cold morning and I am sleeping in a Buddhist temple at the top of the holiest mountain in Japan. My phone, which seems so out of place in this scarcely furnished room, sets off at 5a.m, and now, regretfully, I open my eyes. I start hating myself for staying up late last night, but I did it because I gave into the urge to take a natural hot spring (onsen) session entirely on my own. Just a little tip: tattoos and onsens are a big no go, so if you have any, you might be asked out. There’s a, let’s call it, recognition in Japan that only anti-social kind and members of illegal organisations would get inked. So I, the yakuza, am not ashamed to admit that I’ve been staking-out for at least an hour before taking a dip in an empty outdoor bath at a bedtime hour.

Anyways, now I roll out of the sheets onto tatami mat, Japanese-style woven-straw floors, and slowly but steadily start getting ready for the morning prayer ceremony.  But first, let’s get out the elephant in the room and let me tell you what brought me to the temple in the first place.

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THE LOST IN TRANSLATION SITUATIONS

My younger self-had an amazing opportunity to do a 3-month internship in Japan with a lot of flexibility to travel at the same time. Once I finished the programme I decided to explore the country as much as I can. And when I travel,  I try to learn more about the really authentic aspects of culture in a subject. From hanging out with local people and learning about regionally spread cuisine, traditions, religions (or lack of) to losing myself within the public transport systems, staying in small villages and gesticulating my way out of the lost in translation situations. This search of authenticity took me to Mount Kōya where I stayed a night with monks at the Buddhist temple, Fukuchiin, on my own. And together with other guests…

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GLUED TO THE WINDOW THROUGH THE HASSLE

I started the trip from Osaka, my love. I’ve purchased the Koyasan World Heritage Ticket and took the private Nankai line from Osaka’s Namba station towards Gokurakubashi. The train ride, especially at Koya-san’s base, left me glued to the window. With the train weaving in and out of the encompassing forest, you could see flashes of tiny rustic villages, forests and mountain streams below. At Gokurakubashi station, I transferred to the cable car which took all of the passengers on a steep, 5-minute thrill ride. Finally, from Mount Koya’s top station it was a ten-minute bus ride.

When I stepped outside the bus, immediately, I was hit by a mountainous breeze. I could only see the grey sky at the end of an empty street and when I started walking towards the temple, neighbourhood’s loudspeakers started playing folk music. It was already 5pm, and in Japan. Here they play music through speakers every day to test emergency broadcast system. Unofficially it’s called goji no chaimu, or 5pm Chime.

 FROM SPARTAN & RUSTIC TO “MODERN CHIC”

One of the highlights of visiting Mount Koya is staying at a temple lodging, shukubo. And, of course, here you shouldn’t expect to find conveniences of a modern hotel.  Silly me, I thought that natural and authentic are precisely the bait that lures people in.

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My Japanese-style room had futon bedding and a minimalistic set of furniture. And it could totally pass as spartan and rustic temple lodging, if not another oddball besides me and the phone. That’s the TV, of course.

TOURISTCEPTION

Even though fuming over a tiny a device with a screen for receiving television signals, doesn’t make much sense, but I guess for me it was more like the tip of the iceberg.

The TV was there, reminding me that my assumed needs are catered after. It was my totem, so everytime I looked at it, I knew beyond a doubt that in reality, I am a tourist.  And, like a lot of people, I try to escape feeling like one, when I’m abroad.

So this TV was grounding me to reality and not allowing me to fully immerse in the story-telling, in designing the architecture of my own real-time experience.

It was signalling the traces of altered infrastructure, compared to the past. Even though It’s also plausible that monks watch  TV nowadays,  I just couldn’t shake the fact that the temple village has now become altered to be more tourist-friendly.

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I hoped to get a symbiotic experience, but it felt more like a nonorganic purchase. I mean, would you pay someone to hang out with you? Monks livelihood depends on visitors and I happily aided in financial support towards the maintenance of the temple village. However, a rough price tag on pretty much everything as well as seeing a few locals that didn’t seem too positive about the cultural exchange calmed down the philanthropic wishfulness.

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FROM MONASTERY TO A TOURIST HOTSPOT

Mount Koya is a remote, sacred mountain at almost 1km above sea level and temple village located in the wooded mountains of the Wakayama Prefecture. In Japan, they call it Koya-san! Here are the headquarters of the Shingon school of Buddhism (or Orthodox Esoteric Buddhism) and a home to over 100 temples and monasteries.  As you can imagine, it’s an intensely spiritual and tranquil place which was originally established by the famous monk Kukai (or Kobo Daishi) in the 9th century.

 

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Koyasan was originally a peaceful and spiritual monastery, but today it has evolved into a significant place for both local and international travellers. The number of visitors has been growing so rapidly that the demand and supply dynamic has been evidently affecting how the village operates.

In fact, Nankai Railway released figures on foreign visitors in 2016, which has jumped to 70,000 from 131 back in the 1970s. Which makes it around 534 times more visitors compared to 1970s! And both the foreign influx, as well as the incline of local visitors, have already left a huge impact: souvenir shops, vending machines, TVs in temples and Wifi hotspots keep popping up.

There are so many catalysts that impact the shift from authentic and so it seems that it’s quite impossible for places like Mount Koya to stay unaffected. Unless there’s a time capsule that someone knows off?

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THE ELEPHANT HAS LEFT THE ROOM

And now back to me getting ready. I leave my room and follow a small group of foreigners, all looking drowsy and heading towards the same direction, to join the morning praying ceremony. One of the monks offered this perk quite nonchalantly upon arrival. We enter a small room crowded with monks, incense, and candles. All co-existing in a perfect and holly harmony.

I can’t help it, but I feel like a big European eel on the shore, sticking out like a sore thumb. Actually, I feel like all of us, the observers, are just a school of fish in the desert of this small room. Gasping for air amongst the confusion. Suffocating by the intense mantra, the language and the religious practices we knew little off. Somehow It’s still overwhelmingly beautiful and intimate.

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When chanting intensified, I closed my eyes and the sound, sometimes so quiet and at times punchy, left me in trance. My existence finally diffused with their sacredness and in the end, I blended in.

At the end of the ceremony, monks turned around and opened doors to the zen garden that was directly behind our backs: we were greeted by the rising sun. Everyone was quiet for a moment there: slowly taking in the view and truly living in the moment. And after this, I went to my room, packed and started my journey to discover Mount Koya.

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SOUVENIRS TO TAKE HOME

Koya-san, in fact, is a perfect place for those who seek solitude, peace and at the same time would like to know more about Japan’s history, religion and spend time with monks. I think overall, the experience was quite intimate and unique, yet somewhat wrapped up in a gift bag.

I couldn’t help but feel strange buying a fragment of an authentic culture. One thing is clear – times change, people change, and it only makes sense that various locations will be affected by those changing factors.

Of course, this is applicable to many other beautiful and unique places in the world. Is the change good or bad? Depends on the person’s perspective.

I think it’s safe to say that authenticity is not static. It’s dynamic and evolving, (whether into something good or bad) so I think it’s the time to adjust my definitions of authentic and accept that time capsules just don’t exist. Yet.

 

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An Afternoon of Art Hunt in Shoreditch

TEEN CLUB: Ethan on Fashion, Modelling & Being Yourself

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Photo by @chris_edfi for ASOS menswear

I remember meeting Ethan for the very first time over at our Hype Influencers’ BMW experience. He was carrying a skateboard with him while slowly approached the rest of the group — he immediately stood out from the crowd with his fresh and witty style, and laid back attitude. I remember thinking that this kid definitely has really good people skills, and I think for this exact reason I levitated towards the guy. It wasn’t long before I found myself enjoying Ethan’s company, kicking back with tunes by the late Prince, and exploring the city in a convertible. Later his smooth dance moves put my own to shame and from then on we really started getting to know each other. Ethan joined in at our Hype Influencer night a couple of days later and after hearing his opinions about lifestyle, skateboarding and art, I decided to catch up and ask him a few questions about his own ifs and buts, does and dont’s

Barbara. What’s your story?

Ethan. My name is Ethan Robert Richards, but people call me Bushy, ’cause of my eyebrows. I’m 20-years-old, I was born in Leicester, but grew up in London. As you can imagine, I’m so happy we won the league, this has been a good year for Leicester and for me. I guess my passions are fashion, skateboarding and I guess art in general. I am a full-time model and an amateur street skateboarder.

B. What are your favourite cities for enjoying life?

E. That’s a hard question. Thanks to my amazing mum, I was able to travel a lot as a child, but I would have to say Florida and New York, also Montserrat and Saint Lucia — they may not be cities, but they are beautiful places. My mum’s side of the family are actually from Montserrat.

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Photos by @deesixish

‘I want to create something beautiful — I love being a canvas for something someone has created. I’m inspired by my desire to explore and see the world, and by people doubting me at the beginning.’

B. What kind of places do you like to spend time at with your friends?

E. Anywhere we can skate or if there’s music. If I were to recommend places to go, I would say The Blues Kitchen — their wings are amazing — and places to go out, Ace Hotel or Visions Video Bar.

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Image from @bushybroweth

B. How would you describe your personal style in three words?

E. Cool, simple and edgy.

 

B. Anything exciting you have planned for this year?

E. London Collections Men is next month, and I have a skate advert that I shot coming out soon. To be honest, I try not to plan too much — I like to take each day as it comes.

B. Let’s talk modelling. What inspires you?

E. My love for art, I guess. I want to create something beautiful — I love being a canvas for something someone has created. I’m inspired by my desire to explore and see the world, and by people doubting me at the beginning.

B. Can you tell us what led you on this path?

E. My friend Meldon told me to go to this casting, ’cause he said I would get it, and I did.

‘My goals are to inspire people to live their dreams, anything is possible. I didn’t have the easiest time in school — I want people to understand that there is nothing wrong with being different.’

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Photo by @vickygrout for i-D Magazine

B. What’s your #1 good photo tip?

E. My good photo tip would have to be — treat the camera as your best friend. Let it compliment you.

B. From all of your photoshoots, which one stood out as being a real highlight and why?

E. The one I did for Pause Online. It was my first shoot for a magazine — it made me realise I had a future in modelling.

B. Do you have any limitations? Would you model any kind of clothing at all?

E. No. And I guess it depends if I agree with what the company stands for.

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Photo by @photographybysiri for ASOS menswear

B. How has social media helped you?

E. It has helped me a lot, it allows me to make a living doing the things I love — and funny enough the first time I got scouted was at a party.

B. What tips would you give readers hoping to grow their own following?

E. Be yourself.

B. Where do you see yourself in, let’s say, the next couple of years?

E. My goals are to inspire people to live their dreams, anything is possible. I didn’t have the easiest time in school — I want people to understand that there is nothing wrong with being different.

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Image by @eddyline for OurStory Magazine

B. What do you think about the industry’s beauty standards?

E. I think things have changed a lot in the past couple of years. Modelling is about being unique and standing for something.

B. What does get you the job: — look or attitude? Or both?

E. I think a bit of both. I’ve always been sociable and good with people, but i I think my look has gotten stronger with time.

B. What have been some of the most rewarding aspects of taking this path?

E. Free boards, clothes, food, travelling and I’ve met some amazing people.

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<- Image by @iamelikem | Image by @deanmartindale ->

FOLLOW ETHAN’s Hype Profile and Instagram for more from him!

You can find this post on Medium.

seeing things, seeing things, seeing things, scanning things

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I cannot get away.

From the sea,

From seeing things,

From scanning you,

From diverting my gaze,

From catching yours,

From keeping silent,

From breaking silence,

From trembling,

From the turbulence,

From tremendous thinking,

I cannot keep my mind occupied anymore.

As I’ve been thinking of you.

whiskey 🖖🏻

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tonsillitis interpreted

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z

so this week I am stuck in bed. tonsillitis came earlier than usual. boredom and pain is a killer combo. literally

Am I a mad woman? Feverish, yet empty.

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The bittersweet taste of wine dries my already sore throat. You see… it is hurt from the dozens of cigarettes that I smoked today. And of course, there’s a nosebleed with the rest of the problem wagon, telling me to quit bad habits. I ended up pushing table napkins down the nostrils aggressively, almost with the strength of a mining man trying to escape being buried several feet underground in a shaft.

Yes, these bibs were used as if my life depended on it and I guess my anxiety is to be blamed here. It makes me slightly overreact. But somehow unpolished roughness of my actions suited this run-down pub. What do you think…? Even the person sitting next to me didn’t blink. You’d be surprised what you can see at this rat’s hangout. Speaking of which, the old man is chugging down a second in a row glass of Spiced Morgan’s with rocks to the top. The fellow must have it hard, yet every sip he takes eases the pain away or perhaps just relaxes his face muscles. Numbness feels nice, I understand.

I always see the weirdest bunch in here. I can even put a wager that the interior matches each of our moral compasses. And as you guessed it, this place looks like a horse’s shit. Even more, smells like one.

Just look at what we have at the left corner circle booth. Those two ladies asked for the cheapest Sauvignon Blanc on the menu. Nothing bad with that, we all barely have green in our pockets, but I say choose something real if you’re drinking at this place. Wine is clearly outdated, but it went unnoticed. Rob (manager/owner/bartender and chef) rarely enjoys an occasion of opening a new bottle and the last time I checked – only a single one has been opened for a couple of weeks now. Minus the pretentious hags, others just admit reality and live peacefully with their stench: drinking all sorts of nonsense without even taking the flies out.

This all-encompassing blob of a phase leaves me lurking, talking to you. But a couple of Tullamore’s and I will shut you up for today. Sorry, you are a bit annoying sometimes. I really just enjoy being numb to people, to the breath-taking and sometimes ugly surroundings and noises that are passing me by in the slowed and more often forwarded motion.

Is that guy next to me choking or coughing? How funny… No one even lifted their heads, except Robert, but he looks kind of pissed. I hope this guy is not planning to die here. I don’t know what the old guy could do to a dead person, but I believe he could come up with something. creative. Like a little haunt for the rest of his life on the other side?

Haha – Came out loudly.

But as I thought, not a single glance towards me.

I wonder if a lack of sensation is a twisted outcome of growing-up? Throw a kid or two in this place and we would get totally different reaction to the freak show.

Oh, what the hell… This nose of mine started bleeding again and now it feels like my chest is carrying a weight of a grown-up man. The one who goes to a gym every other day and lifts loads, chugs down protein shakes and rounds it up with a t-shirt free selfie.

Am I a mad woman? Feverish, yet empty. A collection of clashes. I stopped for a second whatever I was doing. To take a breath and light up another cigarette… To find myself almost throwing up. I was far overdoing my limits, overdosing my capacities. This empathy was somewhat pleasing and I guess that kind of saddened me for a second.

Oh, here it is. An emotion and it is usually followed up with a shutdown.

Yup

I guess I’m/you’re drowning. Please, just have a single breath left somewhere in you/me. I/you will need it to find my way back home. Before you/I go, check the face. Does our grin look at ease?

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