The main hall of a temple provides a perfect environment for yoga. There is the calming smell of incense, natural air and light blown in through open windows, a high ceiling with a soft tatami mat floor to lie on, and in the centre of the hall, a gold-coated statue of Buddha comfortably (and a little smugly I thought) sitting cross-legged and looking down on everyone.
I joined the session of temple yoga after reading the notices outside Ryusenji, the Dragon Spring Temple. I went because partly because I wanted to do yoga, and partly as a way of avoiding the tourist view of a place and get a little local flavour.
The weather was atrocious: a biblical downpour accompanied by fierce cracks of thunder. The monk`s wife welcomed me instantly and naturally – a remarkable feat in the circumstances: a foreign stranger arriving unannounced on her doorstep during a thunderstorm wearing a bright yellow rain suit clutching a purple ladies umbrella. And as I write the word umbrella, I realise that I have left the bloody thing behind in the temple. I will have to return later to get it.
In a class of 8 students, I was not quite the only male, although I was the only male over 2 years old. One local lady handed everybody a couple of milkcakes, a Yamagata specialty before the session. Despite the english naming, I had no idea what they are, hardened slabs of condensed milk apparently.
The yoga sensei had more energy than the rest of us put together. Sitting in front of the Buddha, she confessed she was once forced to sing the Milkcake commercial song in front of the Hachiko dog statue at Shibuya station in Tokyo. “It was that kind of University,” she said with a smile. And you were that kind of student, I thought.
During a break, the conversation turned to hedges. The Milkcake lady said ukogi tastes “kidoi“. Kidoi? When I asked what the word meant, a couple of others confessed to not knowing. The Milkcake lady described kidoi as a natural green taste, close to bitter, like the flavour of udo – the fat, edible stalk of a mountain plant.
Kidoi seemed to be a Yonezawa word. Understanding the word defined if you were an insider or outsider. The sensei, who was born and raised in Yamagata city but has lived in Yonezawa for many years said she is starting to get its meaning. Two ladies from outside Yonezawa had no idea what the word meant. I was the only foreigner, but not the only outsider.