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Mottainai!

Mottainai is a Japanese word that conveys a sense of regret over anything that's been wasted: time, resources, an opportunity. I have mottainai days, usually due to my own stupidity. I do stupid spectacularly well. I'll give you a recent example.


I'm currently doing my own Kannon walkpedition – or pilgrimage, if you wish – specifically in Saitama. I've never been particularly interested in Kannon, but I recently discovered that this deity offers protection against Alzheimer's and dementia, and that tickled my fancy.

My family seems to have escaped this affliction. Our brains remain remarkably sharp until the very end; we all seem to keel over due to heart attacks. Such a Western disease, that, isn't it? I inherited a genetic tendency towards hypertension as well as high cholesterol from both my parents, although my non-stop walking plus a mostly vegetarian diet have controlled it so far.

However, I've read that Alzheimer's has replaced cancer as the most dreaded disease, and I figure it can't hurt to ask for extra protection. Heh. If I consider how scatterbrained I can be, I might be in more need of Kannon's mercy that I'm willing to admit.

So on a lovely sunny day I set off for a temple called Tōfuku-ji. Nope, not the famous one in Kyoto, but a Saitama version. I did everything wrong. I didn't research it properly, I didn't take into account that it's a popular name, I didn't check addresses on websites. Instead of going to Higashi-Tokorozawa, which should've been my destination, I not only ended up in Kōkū-kōen, but managed to get lost first in a rehabilitation centre and then in a massive graveyard. Then I got a headache. Then, when I tried to walk from Kōkū-kōen to Higashi-Tokorozawa (which is very do-able), I realized that my phone's battery was almost flat and I wouldn't be able to follow Google maps.

I returned to Kōkū-kōen Station, went to the park itself so that I wouldn't waste the entire day, encountered a group of (rock, not taiko) (taiko would've been cool!) drummers that didn't help my headache one bit, caught the wrong train, ended up halfway to Kokubunji,
had to return.

Mottainai!

Kannon is often depicted with many arms.

The only good part about that day is that Japan yet again proved how kind it is to stupid strangers. I went to the graveyard's information centre (yes, it's so big that it has its own information centre) to ask for help. Everybody jumped onto their computers and poured over maps to assist me, and eventually pointed me in the right direction. The whole office was gobsmacked when they a) heard I was from South Africa and b) realized I wasn't kuruma-ing, but aruite-ing (not driving, but walking). One of the men was so concerned about my exertions that he virtually took me by hand to the nearest bus stop. I meekly followed, waited until he'd left, and then walked.

That rehabilitation centre? That was an unsettling experience. As I walked along, I noticed what was clearly an institution: gated, fenced, lots of bureaucratic-looking buildings. I thought it was a collection of haikyo, abandoned buildings, but then I noticed laundry drying on balconies and a few cars parked in overgrown gardens. I finally clicked what was going on when I encountered a few residents: it's a centre for people with severe intellectual disabilities. (It's called 秩父学園附属保護指導職員養成所 in Japanese.)  I didn't take photos at the school, since that would be a gross invasion of privacy.

Just next to the school is a massive graveyard (所沢中央霊園管理事務所), which was better tended and clearly wealthier than the school.

That's just wrong. It made me sad. Respect the dead, by all means, but don't neglect the less-than-perfect living.

I don't even know why I'm writing this post, but … I will continue to visit Kannon, the goddess of compassion, and pray for every individual who has to cope with limitations in a world that doesn't have much mercy with the weak, the helpless and the unfortunate.

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