I got an email the other day from a former student in Thailand. She was a stunningly good student: super motivated, extremely focused and consistently topped my Geography class. Her brother is at high school in Japan and because his school was shut down over the winter break and he and several of his Thai classmates would be be staying at Wat Paknam Thai temple in Chiba, she wanted to know if we would mind being an emergency contact for him.
That was fine by us, it requires Hiro"s co-operation, because I am not likely to be all that much help in an emergency esp. if the communication was over the phone. In the shoes of a year 10 boy, probably the thought of contacting his sister"s former teacher who doesn"t speak Thai, doesn"t speak such flash Japanese is probably a bit daunting, so we took a trip out to Narita to meet him and check on how he was getting on.
Conventional Thai Buddhism is very different from conventional Japanese Buddhism.
In Thailand monks are celibate, live in communities. It is of the Theravada school which believes that most people don"t attain enlightment in this lifetime and the good done in this life time is to achieve 'merit' (essentially brownie points) for the next life. The monastries take in poor boys for education, and old women that have no where to go. There are also some monastry hospices. The monks have few possessions, eat two meals a day, and don't eat after midday. In Thailand the monks go into the streets each morning and people give them food.
Japan has Buddhist priests rather than monks in the main. Priests marry and have families and the temple is passed to the oldest son much like a family business. Rather than the Theravada school of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Sri Lanka, Japanese Buddhism is of the Mahayana school which sees the Buddha in everyone and strives for enlightenment in this lifetime, rather than doing good to build "merit" for the next life.. Japanese Buddhism seems not to be as active in social welfare for the old or the poor, but they also don't go to the community each morning to ask for food.
Thai temples also tend to be very gold, many in Japan are also gold, but the simple aesthetic of Zenlike temples is not found in Thailand, except perhaps for the Shanti Asok who shun all materialism.
The boys seemed happy and well looked after. They were getting up at 5.30 each morning to chant with the monks. They cooked and cleaned in the temple too. We had lunch there with them (I"d expected we could take them to lunch but it was so far from anywhere it was completely impractical - I was greatly relieved we had gone by motor bike and not public transport). The lunch was a real feast. A taste of Thailand in Japan.