2004, Japan. lecture tour

Travel #4: Japan Lecture Tour 2004

November 7, 2019

Reichiro Yanagisawa, one of the Japanese students in my class at Rudolf Steiner College insisted I go on a lecture tour of Japan based on my book Between Form and Freedom (which had been translated into Japanese). He organized  a wonderful month’s trip from Kagoshima in the south to Hokkaido in the north. Former students welcomed me and enthusiastically translated and introduced me to Japanese culture. I gave workshops at various Waldorf schools and initiatives.

Most of my talks were on child development, adolescence, and high school curriculum. The Crisis of Adolescence was a particular request. However, I also gave a weekend workshop on the Spiritual Destiny of America at Tsudajuku University arranged by Professor Toshio Niwa and his wife Yuko. The participants were inspired when they spoke Martin Luther King, Jr.’s  “I have a dream.”


Thanks to my former students Kyoko, Keiko, Nozomi, Haruhi, Yoshi, Tomomi, Yuko (many Yukos) , Tomoko, Kuni, Takahero, Mariko, Reichiro, and Akio, I visited important shrines, temples, museums, Zen monasteries, gardens, baths, stunning mountain scenery, as well as meeting new people interested in Waldorf education.


It took two weeks for me to feel acclimated to the language, the food, the heat, the train signs, remembering to take my shoes off when entering restaurants, sleeping on a futon on a tatami mat, and scrubbing my naked body in the hot springs. After that, I relaxed and enjoyed every minute.


It was especially moving to have Akio Takahashi as my translator for the second part of the trip. Akio lived with my family when he spent 12th grade at the Sacramento Waldorf School in 1982. He explained to the packed hall that he had been a school refuser in Japan and had been unable to go to school, feeling physically ill whenever he tried to get up and go. He didn’t feel accepted by society. This, I learned, was a common problem. During the 12th grade year in Sacramento, Akio found there were so many interesting things to do and learn about that he attended school regularly. He appreciated how guests were invited to classes to bring different points of view to political and scientific issues. After graduating, he was then able to attend college in Japan and find his purpose.

Highlights of the trip

Kyoto during Oban: a yearly ritual when people return to the cemeteries to clean the graves and invite the ancestors to return for three days. We walked through Maruyama Park, past all the lanterns set up on the road to the temple and shrine, walked up the trail of the mountain, then back down, walking past beautiful old streets with an amazing assortment of craft shops, textiles, pottery, sweets, pickled foods, restaurants and gardens. It was fun to be a tourist, not worrying about my next lecture. However, it was extremely hot again as it had been in Tokyo — cold cloths, umbrellas, fans, red face, and sweat running down my whole body.

The Temple Inn (a Ryokan) in Kyoto.

“Up at 4:45 a.m. when the announcement was made about the Buddhist service. I walked up hundreds of steps to the temple where I sat with my legs bent under me- agony at first and tolerable by the end of the service. Large golden statue of Buddha, hypnotic chanting, hanging metal filigree, monks hitting wooden clappers, big gong, incense, bowing. I reflected on attending Christian services in Germany and in Spain.  So many similarities and so many differences in the way human beings worship – altars, head priests, incense, some visual images, bodily positions, and most of all – reverence. I walked back to the Inn in the freshness of the morning.”

It was important to me to visit Hiroshima so I added that to my itinerary and was guided there by former SWS student Tomoe. We visited the A-bomb building and the Peace museum, and many monuments to survivors. I stood in front of the damaged buildings and inwardly asked forgiveness for all the pain and suffering experienced by innocent people.

The most unexpected and delightful experience was when Nozomi and her young son Yutah and I took the train out to the Sagano area of Kyoto, then boarded a narrow-gauge train which rode high up in the mountains over spectacular scenery. Then we took a bus to a boat launching dock where about 25 of us and three oarsmen boarded a long narrow boat. For the next two hours, we rode the Hozu River, over many, many rapids, saw cranes, herons, and monkeys. The narrow area we rode through had big rocks jutting above the water as well as beneath it, the mountains were heavily forested with vertical evergreen trees. We circled around mountains as we rode through the opening created by the river. It was cool and refreshing. At one point a shop-boat pulled up alongside our boat to sell us drinks and treats (rice balls with sugar and soy sauce, as well as chestnuts). After two hours, we arrived at the lower open part of the river, a summer picnic resort area. Departing from the boat, we enjoyed ice cream, and caught the bus back to Kyoto Station where we walked on the highest series of escalators I’ve ever seen inside what felt like an erector set enclosing several train stations, department stores, and restaurants. Such a contrast to the day we had experienced in nature.

The fortune I received in the Shino Shrine from emperor Meiji was:                                                                                       “We shall fall behind

Our fellows in the world

If, when we should awake

We make no move at all.”


I thought that was a fitting fortune for someone who loves to be on the move.