My great grandfather traveled with his family to the United States to seek his fortune and while he was there, my grandfather was born. After doing well as strawberry farmers, the family moved back to Japan and set up shop in a little town in Fukuoka prefecture. They were the first family in the village to have a tile roof and my grandfather donated a large wooden stand for the bell at the local Buddhist temple.
We drove out to Yame in Fukuoka Prefecture to visit that temple, Kozenji.
On arrival, we were met by our cousins - descendants of our grandfather's brothers and sisters.
From the bridge where our bus parked, we hiked up a steep hill, and then up a flight of stairs that led to the temple.
The temple itself was beautiful and old. Not too ornate, but rather simple and homey. In the back there was a majestic garden with raked pebbles and a koi pond.
After meeting everyone, we went into the Sangha hall for a service observing the seven-year anniversary of the death of my grandfather's brother Kazumi as well as to honor our grandfather. Being raised as a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist in San Diego, a lot of the aspects of the service were surprisingly familiar. It was a powerful experience to be there in the same temple that my family had gone to for decades.
After the service, we went back into the temple's entry hall for a large traditional lunch. We all sat on pillows in a giant square and ate, laughed and chatted awkwardly in terrible Japanese/English.
After dinner, the temple minister's husband performed on flute for us.
We finished the day with a family photo: four generations, thirty-two people making up just a part of what started with my great-grand parents and has become a huge multi-national family.
We also took a photo with the bellstand that our great grandfather had donated. If that isn't cool then I don't know what is.
Although Kozenji temple is beautiful - the memorable part of the day was getting to know my family members, making lateral connections in a family tree that until now had just been vertical. It was so amazing to talk to my grandfather's brother and sister, who were both characters in their own ways. Being in that temple with my family made my Japanese ancestry, always theoretical, feel so real and personal. Our visit to Kozenji will not be one I will easily forget.