Japan: A Tale of 3 Pilgrimages

by Esther Elizabeth Suson

Whenever anyone asked if we (my best friend Angela and I) were going to Japan for vacation, I stuttered over the answer. “Vacation” suggested rest, and that was the last thing we planned to do. (To be fair, we did get to sleep a lot on that trip.)

My mouth sometimes formed “missions” before I remembered it was actually a vacation, but there was very little besides “vacation” to describe it, since it was neither for work nor school. However, in Japan and after it, I realized it was a journey of 3 pilgrimages all in one.

As Students of Japan and its History and Culture

When deciding where we wanted to go, Angela and I agreed right off that we wanted to encounter Japan through its history and culture. This pilgrimage consisted of a trip to the Tokyo National Museum on the very first day, although – like the aikidokas we and our hosts were – we went hunting for the weapons and armor.


The Tokyo National Museum: the Japan museum

We included in this general pilgrimage a visit to the grounds of the Imperial Palace, although the gates were closed. Our host told us it was open in the spring, when the sakura were in bloom. So, all we reached was the first line of defense: the Imperial gates.


The gates

The Imperial swans, fish, and turtles as well.



An Imperial swan

Our other main travels in this pilgrimage involved visits to the different famous shrines in Kamakura. We visited the Daibutsu or Great Buddha, Hasedera Shrine, and Hachimangu Shrine. These were a closer glimpse, for us, into the history and culture of the nation through its shrines and temples.


The Great Buddha in Kamakura



Inside the bronze-cast Great Buddha


Hasedera Shrine (a polite distance away because we can’t take pictures of the shrine itself)


(the stairs to) Hachimangu Shrine

On the other hand, an experience of Japanese culture would not have been complete without a glimpse of its modern and pop culture. Hence our visits to Akihabara, the anime and manga center of the world; and to Shinjuku, and Shibuya crossing.


Main Street, Akihabara


Night in Shinjuku


Shibuya crossing (we dragged our host over the diagonal pedestrian lane)

Nothing that we did, nowhere we went, could do anything but scratch the mere surface of what Japan and the Japanese are. We went where we could to see what we could, but this was possibly the most superficial of our pilgrimages. The next two were much more personal.


As Aikidoka

This is how our itinerary-planning went.

“So, Aikikai Hombu dojo.”


*long pause*

“Where else do you want to go?”

*longer pause*

“Let’s Google.”

Our desire to go to Japan was deeply connected to our lives as aikidoka (aikido practitioners). At the time of this trip, Angela had been doing aikido for six years, and I for three. Our closest contact with the hombu dojo, or the headquarters, was through the seminars regularly conducted with invited Japanese shihan.


Waka-sensei, the great-grandson of Aikido founder Morihei UESHIBA (picture from the Makati Aikido Club page)

Through our hosts, we had an opportunity to train in the headquarters, under the doshu or current head of aikikai-style aikido. On a personal level, it was a pilgrimage to the seat and house of the martial art we had both committed to.

On a professional level, it was a check for our own dojo, to see how closely we were keeping to the standards set by the headquarters. What did they do that our dojo was missing? What could we incorporate? How closely were we aligned to the style and function of the techniques taught in the class?


The Aikikai Hombu Dojo in Shinjuku (photo care of Angela)

After the training, we wound up at Sakuraya, a supplier of weapons (both practice and decorative), uniforms, and armor for different martial arts.



We browsed through practice swords and staffs, admired the sword displays on the shelves, and soaked in the care and excellence that went into the weapons and their accessories. It is heaven for any student of Japanese martial arts.

We are yet in the “mild” section of passionate aikidoka, however. All of our hosts had found their ways to Japan in pursuit of the training they could only find in their respective martial arts headquarters. One cannot be near them and fully resist the passion and fire they have for their art.


Our hosts in Japan

It was a challenge to either catch the same fire, or find what I would be passionate enough about to pursue with that much strength of perseverance.

As Christians

Our Japan itinerary included a visit to a Roman Catholic church, and one to Every Nation Tokyo in Shibuya. We wanted to see the structures of our respective faiths in Japan.

We did manage to enter the Catholic church, St. Ignatius near Sophia University. As a mass was going on, we quietly sat at the back until communion started.


St. Ignatius church. See the cross?

The second destination, however, we could not fully reach. The venue of Every Nation Tokyo is just a few blocks away from Shibuya crossing, surrounded by eateries, bars, and restaurants that only fully wake up on the weekends. It is also one of the most multi-cultural spots in Japan. However, we didn’t get any nearer than the building.


The building where the venue is located, in Shibuya


(a poster of) J-Pop Cafe, the venue

The venue was not open on weekdays, however, so the next Japan itinerary should have a Sunday thrown in somewhere.

Japan: A Tale of 3 Pilgrimages

Now that I’ve thought it through, it’s easy enough to say, “it was more a pilgrimage than a vacation,” and to explain why. This is what Japan gave us, what we brought back from her, and why we are going back.

The First Wedding and the Fifth Commandment

by Esther Elizabeth Suson

Weddings are fun things, especially when you are younger. You get to dress up and put on make-up, just like Mom. You get to pretend to be a grown-up. You get to toss flower petals or hold a bouquet. You get to eat and eat well – any Filipino wedding is practically the Promised Land.

Wedding_planThis is different, I told myself when I got the invitation. She is the first of our college circle to get married. Joyfully we chose dresses we could barely breathe in, heels that would strain our ankles. We brushed on ten layers of make-up and fell in love with ourselves in the mirror. The romance of this celebration demanded no less.

Yet, as we were waiting for the bride and her grand entrance, I couldn’t believe it. She is the first of our circle to get married. It was more than just delight, or shock; this wedding would set a standard for all of ours. 

white-rings-decoration-macroThe bride was one-fourth down the aisle, on her father’s arm, when I turned to look at the groom. I wanted to see his face as he watched her walk down the red carpet.

Instead, I caught the groom kissing his mother, who was beside him, and then his father. As the bride and her father arrived at the end of the aisle, the groom crossed in front of them to kiss his bride’s mother and younger sister. He then shook the bride’s father’s hand, while the bride went to kiss the groom’s younger brother, mother, and father.

wedding-322034_960_720Then, and only then, did the bride take the groom’s arm. Then, and only then, did they step towards the altar together.

That moment, out of the whole wedding and reception, burned into my memory. Flaring passions of the love-at-first-sight, what-about-what-I-want kind can never compare to a romance where, despite being made one in marriage, the bride and groom do not forget to honor their parents and include them in the relationship.

pexels-photo-71297This is different. This is not only the first wedding of my college circle, it is the wedding we can all aspire to. Not the grandness of it, but in the fact that it was deeply grounded, deeply rooted, deeply honoring of relationships rightly requiring honor.

We could not have asked for a better start.

Congratulations and God bless you!

Why We Do Not Write

by Esther Elizabeth Suson

My readers will (I frankly hope) notice I have not been writing much recently. This is my apology-of-sorts, and also a reflection.

To begin with, just writing under this title amuses me because I have an earlier blog called “Why We Write.” It was about my recognition of the fact that good writing, designed to communicate something, must above all other things engage the reader.

why_we_do_not_write_-_fountain_pen_and_paperHowever, sometimes, even knowing that one can engage the reader is not enough to keep us writing to be read. After all, writing is a medium of expression. When we stop writing, we are trying to hide something of ourselves.

Why I Stopped Writing

New Environment, New (Potential) Audience

In my latest blog on Faith Is a Martial Art, I mentioned that I had just joined an “international non-profit religious organization” (according to my office-mate) as a copy editor and proofreader. Suddenly the Facebook Friend requests started to trickle in. As I usually share my blog posts on FB, the mini panic attacks started.

why_we_do_not_write_-_panic_buttonWhat if my writing is not “Christian enough” for them? What if I misrepresent us? What if I thought I was being neutral but accidentally set off a chain of events that ends in the apocalypse and walking dead and winter arriving?

To avoid such a catastrophic ending to Earth 1, I subconsciously and then deliberately avoided drafting any blogs on this site. Sure I wrote them down: my diary has pages of blog drafts just sitting there. But until this blog, I have been religiously avoiding uploading anything that might betray my inner mind.

I Made the Mistake of Scrolling Down FB

It is election season in the United States, and the election season in the Philippines culminated in, well, the elections on May 9. Social media has not been the friendliest place on earth, to massively understate the fact.

why_we_do_not_write_-_social_mediaScrolling down one’s Newsfeed, at the height of the bloodiest FB battles, does not give one encouragement to write one’s opinion where it can be read. This is very relevant to this blog because I began the Disinterested Interpreter to dare myself to place my opinions somewhere they could be seen and even challenged.

To put it simply, I let the fiery, bloody comments and debates get to me. I subconsciously and then deliberately decided not to write, since unthinking words could be slung back at me without rhyme or reason.

My Job Has Made Me Paranoid

One does not hold the position “Copy Editor and Proofreader” without acquiring the fear that he or she might post something with a typo or grammatical error in it. My favorite comment to be scared of is: “And you call yourself an editor?”

why_we_do_not_write_-_proofreadingEvery time I considered drafting a blog, ghost-like threats began to flit through my mind. Remember you could not spell restaurant until you were thirteen. Remember you sucked at finding direct objects in English grammar. Remember when you put the glottal stop of “Qur’an” in the wrong place. Remember–

And I happily found other pastimes. Like writing in my diary about how much I wanted to write a blog. Basically, I suddenly stopped forgiving myself for my mistakes.

Why I Am Writing Again

I am definitely writing again because I want to share something. For many or most of the other articles on this blog, I wrote them because certain realizations or observations struck my heart in such a way that I wanted to share them.

I am also definitely writing again because I am kicking myself forward on purpose. Since writing is my primary medium of expression, not writing is the way I withdraw from my environment. We (God and I (with less-than-subtle-hints from my supervisor)) have decided it is time I stopped hiding behind fear and pride.

It is time to write again.

[Snapshot] If It Was Anything But A Bicycle

by Esther Elizabeth Suson

If he’d had a car, I can imagine he would drive her to work. If he’d had cash for a taxi, I can imagine him dropping her off at her workplace and then dashing off to his. If he’d had anything but a bicycle, I can see him bringing her as close to her workplace as he could manage it, just so they could travel together.


Image Source

But he didn’t. As our own tank (green pickup) navigated the streets by Pasig river, I saw him and her holding hands and walking towards the highway. He was holding her hand with his left, and wheeling a bicycle with his right. They were obviously walking leisurely, obviously talking leisurely.

As far as I could see, he was walking her to her commute stop, or maybe even walking her to work. What I loved about the picture was that he had the bicycle and could have saved himself the trouble of wheeling it by saying goodbye at the house. Or, he could have dropped her off at her stop with the bicycle.


Image Source

He didn’t, though. In a time when catching that ride is sometimes the most crucial part of an employee’s day, I can’t imagine how early they started, waking up and having breakfast (if they even did) just to have enough time to walk each other out and talk, hand in hand.

[BGC Snapshots] 3 Groups of 3 Friends

by Esther Elizabeth Suson


On my way to Market from the Every Nation building, I found myself walking in the opposite direction from three young men, side by side. They had the brown, bony, lanky builds of men in their late teens or early twenties. The one in the center was enthusiastically talking, gesturing with his right arm while his left was slung far over the shoulder of one friend.

On his other side, their friend was quiet, only half-listening to the conversation. He was facing outward, attentive to the movement around them. However, his left arm was bent at the elbow so it touched his friend’s arm, a quiet display of connection. As they moved all together, it could not have been more obvious they were all in one group.


Walking from High Street on the wide sidewalk to to Mini Cooper around 8:45 in the morning, I found myself walking behind three older (than the younger three) men. They were in their mid- to late-twenties, dressed in button-downs and slacks like single young professionals. Unlike the younger 3, these had no physical contact whatsoever. The only thing that betrayed their association was that they were walking side-by-side, neither going ahead of the other.

Until them, I had thought friend groups tended to walk in sync. However, these 3 were simply rambling whichever foot forward, but at the same pace. Despite the lack of physical or verbal contact as they walked, I noticed the center friend had both his backpack straps on, keeping both hands free. The friend to his right had his sling bag facing outward, while the friend to his left was swinging his backpack also on the shoulder facing outward. It was an adorably subconscious display of both inclusivity and exclusivity.


On my way along Market! from the bus stop towards the Every Nation building, I found myself behind a group of three men, probably in their late forties to early fifties. The center friend had his right hand on one friend’s shoulder, but was talking to the other.

To my amusement, this group of 3 was walking in sync. They were moving with the rolling, smooth step of people used to walking side by side. They did not just walk in sync, they actually moved in it, all turning their heads over their right shoulders when looking back; even turning to face forward at the same time.

There is no way I could have predicted seeing 3 groups of 3 friends, coincidentally all in BGC. However, especially seeing it by generation, it was a heart-warming pattern of friendship and its steadfastness that can last a lifetime.

The Picture of Professionalism

by Esther Elizabeth Suson

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been ensuring I wake up and work by heading to a Starbucks in Ortigas. The Starbucks opens at 7am, which makes it a perfect place for a slacker freelance writer to make sure she finishes her hours for the week. Lately, I’ve been arriving just after 7am, grabbing the warmest spot in the room (but freezing anyway).

That spot happens to be right at the end of a long bench against the wall, which is in itself perpendicular to three pairs of couches with their own coffee tables. They are right by the window, each pair arranged so that one faces the window and the other has his back to it.

For two days in a row, I was in Starbucks just as the clock struck 7:10. By 7:15, I was usually in place, right by the couches. And for two days in a row, I saw a businessman – not the same one per day – come up with a venti cup of coffee, sit in one of the couches, and – without even sipping his coffee – go to seep.

Each businessman was in full formal clothing: a well-cut coat of black or dark blue material, a button-down polo, a tie, black slacks and dress shoes. Each held a black leather briefcase. Neither of them were young, they had none of that brash showiness. They did walk with the upright step of men used to handling themselves.

In any other place, they would have looked powerful; well-dressed men with black leather briefcases always do. And yet, there was something so human about them when they just sat down and slept, without even a pause to drink. They were probably there early to beat the traffic and stay on time for the day’s schedules.

Each woke up without an alarm, with that sudden starting-up of people jolted by their subconscious. Each glanced at his wristwatch, picked up his cup of coffee and his briefcase, and strode out of the Starbucks.

Anyone on the outside would see a businessman who had just grabbed his cup of coffee before work.

Anyone on our side, however, would have seen where they allowed the stress to drain away from the surface, so they could hold their heads high and stride out to whispers of, They make it look so easy.

Clothes Are The Windows To The Soul

by Esther Elizabeth Suson

After deciding to go to a play at the University of Asia and the Pacific, my alma mater, my thoughts immediately turned to what I would wear. The importance of the clothing was so I could act courteously while my outfit kept its nose high in the air – showing me haughty even if I did not act it.

I decided to wear pink: pink for “Look I’m a girl” and pink for “Don’t you dare not notice me.” Paired with that would be dangling earrings, for “Yes I am a girl” and “See how girly I am.” Skinny jeans for the same reason, and then high-top boots for “Be nice to me, I can crush your toes with one step.”

A choker with a wing charm would say “I am a free spirit” and also “Rebellion.” And last, the finishing touch, a denim long-jacket that said something like, “Look how I ignore all conventions and invent my own trend.”

I was excited to wear it. Well, more the stomach-twisting emotion of someone with a new weapon (or toy), excited to try it out. ‘Excited’ to see reactions; ‘excited’ to impress. (Not that the outfit would be all that great – outfits rarely are, in reality. But the meaning was everything, and I meant so much by it).

In all the planning, I squashed down – as much as I could – my ulterior motive. Except, I knew I had one. When I dress up to be with my friends, I dress with more of a general happiness that I look pretty, and we all look pretty together. There is no malice in it because we simply love to dress up around one another.

And, at the end of the day, how we dress makes no difference at all to how much we love each other. For example, the wing charm on my choker, I wear around my friends because I know they will like it. That is the reason, and the only one. Which made my ulterior motive all the more pervasive in this case.

The worst part was, I did not even have to think to know the motive. I had very recently seen old friends, and had (to my egotistical, entitled self) been considered not worth noticing. Which is why the clothes I was planning to wear demanded attention.

Thankfully, I planned my outfit early enough that God and my rational self came to the rescue. These were the arguments they put to me:

  1. If I dress to demand attention, I will be allowing my emotional buttons to be pushed.
  2. I will be uncomfortable the whole night because my ulterior motive will make me upset if I am not noticed.
  3. Pink is a bright color and I might distract the performers.

After I persuaded my heart to give up its dream of crushing everyone in my path, I dressed for comfort on the day itself. My shirt was dark-blue instead of pink, a color I love for itself. I wore comfortable walking shoes, simple pearls in my ears, and a normal jacket-and-hood. The charm on my choker was a sun, which tends to mean “I am happy in my own skin.” (I still wore skinny jeans, because they went with the outfit).

All of which was good, because I only saw one person I knew from before. I was comfortable enough with that person, so I was happy I dressed for my own comfort.

The clothing I had been planning to wear was supposed to have been a wall, a barrier for protection. It would have said, “Get so distracted looking at me you do not get a chance to hurt me.” I would not even have been interested whether they talked to me or not. I would not have cared if they asked how I was, or what I was doing.

All I would have cared about was showing them I was doing absolutely fine on my own (with the assumption, of course, that they even cared. But then the egotists always assume others care). Of course the root was insecurity. I had felt ‘rejected’ by that earlier incident, so I was drawing on pride and bitterness as armor.

I like to dress up (now) as much as the next girl, but I must do it with a right heart. It is good to feel that check on my emotions: why do I feel like dressing this way? Who am I dressing for? My clothes are windows to my soul, no matter what I wear.