The sky was grey and the rain torrential. In the small coastal town of Oga, the station kiosk was closed for lunch. I was stuck until a shy man at the tourist information lent me his brand new umbrella.
Clutching it grimly, I climbed the hill to the temple. Halfway up the stone steps I passed a sign: “You are 27 metres above sea level. In the event of a large earthquake, evacuate to high ground.”
The temple was quiet. A monk gave me sweets, pamphlets and let me ring the temple bell. Over a cup of green tea, he told me the history of the building. I tried to be interested.
He smiled a lot. The constant grinning seemed a habit, a habit needing regular refuelling judging by the whiffs of nihonshu from his breath.
I wanted Buddhist wisdom, surely his forte. Instead he gave me more pamphlets, and a local legend.
“We do not have tsunamis here in Oga.”
“Really? What never?”
“Well. there was one 30 odd years ago that killed a few kids and a Swiss tourist. But that was rare. In the event of a large earthquake, go to the sea. It is safer. That is a local iitsutae (saying).”
The sea is safer? What kind of hills do they have around here?
Perhaps the monk had told me a koan, something to meditate on and help me on the way to enlightenment. I did not have time to dwell on it though. I had a train to catch and a shy man was waiting for his umbrella back.