11 October 2008

Japanese Tourism and Buddhist Sites in Central Asia

An article published in the Times of Central Asia today featured a discussion of Japanese interest in Buddhist archeological sites in Kyrgyzstan and gave some statistics about recent trends in Japanese tourism to that country. The article also covers Kyrgyzstan's participation in the Japanese Association of Travel Agents (JATA) World Tourism Congress and Travel Fair which took place in Tokyo last month. Unfortunately, the newspaper is subscription only, but I reproduce the relevant portions of the article below.

In Japan, outgoing tourism prevails over incoming tourism, said the Agency director, Turusbek Mamashov. Statistics indicate that over 16 million Japanese traveled abroad throughout the year. According to Mamashov, guests of the fair were interested in Kyrgyz tourism. They studied booklets printed in English and Japanese, watched films, and requested additional detailed information about the tours to the Tien-Shan Mountains. The most interesting tours for the Japanese were the cultural and cognitive types of tours. The Japanese are known for their interest in foreign architecture and landscaping, national arts and garments, and the taste of exotic foods. When looking at the Kyrgyz exhibition, they asked questions relating to Kyrgyzstan's ancient and modern cultures, the production of souvenirs, and traditional felt carpets, called shyrdaks. The second most popular aspects of Kyrgyzstan to the Japanese visitors were tours along the Great Silk Road, ecotourism and spa treatment tourism. The Japanese showed less interest toward trekking, alpinism, rafting, and auto safari in Kyrgyzstan.

Japanese tourists coming to Kyrgyzstan note that, despite the differences between these two countries, both Kyrgyzstan and Japan have similar ancient cultures. For example, a mysterious sculpture, which is located on a Japanese rock in Asuka, not far from Tatibana Temple, looks similar to Kyrgyz balbals - stone sculptures with human faces. There is an open air museum of balbals near the Kyrgyz city of Cholpon-Ata, which is often called the "Stone Garden".

The Japanese are searching for the traces of Buddhism, which was practiced by the people of Central Tien-Shan and Semirechye before the rise of the Karakhanid State. Buddhist centers in Kyrgyzstan were located in Navekat (presently Krasnaya Rechka or "Red River"), Suyab (today's Ak-Beshim) and Balasagyn (or Burana) settlements, which were founded in the 6th-7th centuries. Today, the cultural and historic center of Navekat has become the focus of Japanese conservation activities. Japan plans to begin projects on other Kyrgyz Buddhist monuments in the future. Experts believe that by the efforts undertaken to protect these Buddhist monuments, the above mentioned sites may become listed among the world's other historic sites on the World Heritage List. This represents a great opportunity for Kyrgyzstan to increase its popularity and energize the tourism industry.

The Tyup's territory, which is located along the Great Silk Road, is also interesting for Japanese tourists. They always visit a small park with balbals and stone millstones in the village of Shaty, where there is a small stone with a picture of an open palmed hand - a fragment of a much larger image. Japanese tourists believe this to be a Buddhist monument. Being that the sculpture is not very large, and because there are many millstones for flour and ore, experts believe this to be evidence of an ancient settlement of Buddhist monks.

The Japanese frequently visit the village of Tamga, which is located at the southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul. Its name is derived from the Turkic word meaning "patterned stone" or "stamp". Tibetan inscriptions, representing the historic and religious sights of Buddhism, are inscribed on famous stones that are situated two kilometers to the south of the village.

In ancient times, caravans of Buddhist pilgrims traveled great distances to visit the sacred waters of Issyk-Ata in northern Kyrgyzstan. They performed traditional ceremonies, received treatment and rested. The Tibetan image of Buddha sitting on a lotus, and inscriptions made by ancient artists on his granite image, are situated in the center of the Issyk-Ata sanatorium, evidence of a once great culture. Today, many Japanese tourists visit this place, showing their respect to these once great people.

- From "Japanese tourists interested in Kyrgyzstan's Buddhist legacy" by Irina Bairamukova

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27 September 2008

BPF turns 30, and some headlines...

Before I move on to some highlights from last few days, a quick note that the Buddhist Peace Fellowship has posted a special edition of its journal (published online and in print), Turning Wheel, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the BPF's founding.

Also, a bit of website business, I have added a new "About this blog" link on the sidebar explaining why I even bother.

Okay, let's get started!

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Not a day goes by that there isn't more "zoning board/angry neighbors vs. Buddhist temple" action going on somewhere in the US. I think I've posted before about the Thai temple in Berkley, CA that has gotten in trouble for serving Sunday brunch. Well, the Berkeley Zoning Adjustments Board just told neighbors and the temple to work something out. Great. That helps.

And in Virginia Beach, VA, things take a turn for the nasty as the monks of the Buddhist Education Center of America, Inc. sue the city on grounds that it violated their religious rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Which really is a step that should have been taken a long time ago.

It seems that South Korea's Buddhists, after protesting last month against alleged discrimination by the Lee administration, have agreed to accept President Lee's apology.

Police in Bodhgaya received an ominous SMS on Friday which read "बचा सको तो गया बचा लो" (Save Gaya if you can). An almost identical message was supposedly relayed to Delhi police officers Friday night threatening of the bomb which ripped through the Mehrauli market this Saturday morning. Several police officers were subsequently stationed around two holysites in the city, one of them being the Mahabodhi Temple.

Jailed Chinese dissident Hu Jia is reported to be in poor health as he has been tipped to be this year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, which, if it is true, won't make Beijing too happy.

And, lastly, a New York Times article about Thai people paying to play dead. Talk about deathpower...

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17 September 2008

Lots of Noise in Sri Lanka...

I've been following the story of Ven. Pannala Pagngnaloka Thero, a Sinhalese monk who was arrested for ignoring a summons issued by Sri Lanka's Supreme Court regarding charges of noise pollution brought against the temple he presides over. The temple had been using loudspeakers during its services, which lead to the noise pollution charges.

The case has ballooned into something quite a bit larger. The JHU, Sri Lanka's all-monk party known for its hard-line nationalist positions on just about everything, has mobilized to get the arrested monk freed and has reprimanded the Supreme Court for even thinking of arresting a Buddhist monk. This has brought up larger questions of what a Buddhist monk's standing is before secular law, and even whether a monk needs to stand when a judge enters the room (Buddhist monastic law states that monks do not need to stand in obeisance in the presence of a king; this current problem involving judges runs along the same lines).

Sri Lanka's president Mahinda Rajapaksa tried to skirt around this latter issue by ordering that all court houses be furnished with separate rooms equipped with closed-circuit TV systems (!!) specially for monks who want to attend legal proceedings. Wow, what a fiasco! A number of Sri Lankans have written in to newspapers decrying the JHU's divisive political tactics and the utter failure of its member at being proper Buddhist monks. So what else is new?

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In other news, zoning laws continue to cause grief for Buddhist temples across America. A quick look at the Buddhist News Roll will show you temples in California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts all at different stages of their own legal battles concerning their rights to hold services on properties which local governments have claimed aren't zoned for such purposes. Again I say, what a fiasco!!!

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06 July 2008

Recap, and the week ahead

Here's a quick recap of news from last week that's bound to stay in the headlines over the coming week.

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Buddhist groups in South Korea take on the government for what they say is pro-Christian bias in the Lee administration.

Joo Dae-joon, the deputy chief of the presidential security division, publicly stated, “My dream is to bring evangelism to all government agencies.” Cheong Wa Dae “mistakenly forgot” to send a congratulatory message to the major Buddhist temples on Buddha’s Birthday.

The fight over Preah Vihear, an Angkor-era wat claimed by both Thailand and Cambodia, continues and is being used to spark nationalistic ire on both sides.

Thich Huyen Quang dies at 87. He was Supreme Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, which has been outlawed by Vietnam's Communist government since 1981. Thich Huyen Quang was repeatedly imprisoned over the years for protesting against oppression of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam at the hands of the government.

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30 June 2008

Back! Also, much amiss in Bodhgaya...

Hi all! Back from my summer escapades, and just in time for an article about the deepening controversy in Bodhgaya.

One of three chief priests at the Mahabodhi Temple recently forced to resign under allegations of illegally cutting a branch of the Bodhi tree in 2004 now stands accused of having stolen precious jewelry and other ritual items donated by pilgrims to the holy site. The items, which had been known to be missing for some time, were found locked in a wooden box in his room.

Good to know that the Mahabodhi Temple is in such able and trustworthy hands...

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13 May 2008

Away, Back soon

Back in June...

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05 May 2008

Junta, Cyclone, and Merit

From a recent article featured in Thailand's The Nation discussing the possible political impact of Cyclone Nargis:

"With many of the town polling stations destroyed, I'm worried that they may now make people vote in more public places, like stadiums, so they can watch how they vote," said Win Min, a lecturer on Burma affairs at Chiang Mai University in Thailand.

"Many people are saying this (cyclone) is a bad omen for the regime and punishment for their crackdown on Buddhist monks last September," he added.

As if the junta had any legitimacy left to be undermined...

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