(Dandavats.com) – Opening the First Temple in Japan By Chintamani dasi
It was the summer of 1969. A brahmacari came up to me and said, “I’m going to Japan to open a temple and I need a wife. Do you want to get married?” I was in shock, as I had never even talked to him before, and I said, “Ask Srila Prabhupada.”
Being a new devotee and excited about Krishna consciousness, the last thing on my mind was getting married, but I wanted to surrender and do whatever Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krishna wanted me to do. Looking back now, I don’t think I would have done it if I thought I had a choice, but I was told Srila Prabhupada wanted the ladies married. The next thing I knew, I was married by Srila Prabhupada in the La Cienega temple in Los Angeles and Sudama, my new husband, was on a plane to Japan with a brahmacari named Bali Mardan. When they found a house, I would join them.
Why did Sudama want to go to Japan? I was told later on that Srila Prabhupada’s plane had touched down in Tokyo, either going to or coming from somewhere, and that he had declared that he wanted a temple there so much that whoever would go there to start a temple, he would personally come at the time of their death to take them back to Godhead. The only Iskcon temples outside of the US at that time were in London, Montreal and Germany.
We had no connections at all with anyone in Japan, neither could we speak Japanese. But if Srila Prabhupada wanted something, by golly, Lord Krishna was going to somehow arrange it, even if it was using three neophytes to do it!
My marriage was more like a business arrangement, which was good in the sense that we were all simply focused on the mission.
So, I went there in the autumn of 1969 at the age of 19 to Kyoto. A small house was rented and we began going out on Hari Nama Sankirtan daily, except for the Sunday love feast. We would simply go out and chant and people would stare at us like we were aliens. They had never seen devotees before. They would ask if we were Indian or American, at least those who could speak English, which luckily some of the young students did.
We had fantastic Sunday feasts, as Sudama had been Srila Prabhupada’s personal servant and learned how to make samosa, gulab jamans, sweet rice, puris, subjis, rice, chutmeys, etc. We had quite a banquet every Sunday, even giving out chop sticks. I don’t know if the Japanese taste has changed since then, but we soon found out they were not crazy about sweets. We had plenty of gulab jamans left over, which was fine with me. We soon had interested people coming. In 1970, we moved to Tokyo and had a larger audience. We were featured in a magazine and also were invited on a television show. I don’t recall the name of it, but it must have been popular because after that when we were in public, people would often point at us and say “Hare Krishna!” Sometimes it sounded like Haley Klishna. What a time to be alive! That was the beginning of the Japan yatra.
In 1970, Srila Prabhupada visited Japan with his newly initiated sannyasis. I was so excited. I got to help Kirtanananda and Kartikeya cook the Vyasapuja feast for Srila Prabhupada and the Janmastami feast. Srila Prabhupada came again in 1972. By then we had moved to a larger place in a rural area, and when Srila Prabhupada arrived, we had many Japanese students and people greet him with a rose when he came to the temple. I remember him saying that these “Japanese people were very nice.” They still had much of their culture and especially in Kyoto many people still wore kimonos, and the men wore a dark blue cloth that looked something like a kimono. Also, they bowed down a lot when meeting and were generally very kind and polite.
One of the biggest challenges for me would be when I had to go out alone on sankirtana, which meant taking my kartalas and chanting at a certain area in the Ginza district, which would draw a crowd. Then I would take some Back to Godhead magazines we had printed in Japanese and I would go up to people who looked interested and say a few lines I had memorized in Japanese, trying to sell the magazine. Then they would start talking in Japanese and I couldn’t understand a word of it and would have to say I don’t speak Japanese.
Another challenge was no bathtub, shower, or washing machine. In a particularly cold winter in the last place we lived, when I would wash my saris out by hand and hang them outside, they would freeze, and after about three days they would dry out if the sun was shining brightly. Also, the water pipes froze one time, but fortunately there was a pure water creek nearby I could walk to and bring back buckets of water for the dishes, etc. I also had to put the produce in the tiny refrigerator we had, because if it was left out it would also freeze, even though inside the house. We only had a smelly kerosene heater, so we had to wear our coats indoors.
Another challenge for me was lack of association for those years. When Sudama could associate with visiting sannyasis, I was not part of that, and I also had to sleep in the car the first time Srila Prabhupada came because the house we were staying in was so small. I lived in four different places while I was in Japan.
The second time that Srila Prabhupada came, quite frankly it was becoming difficult for me with no god-sister association. When they brought Srila Prabhupada back from the airport and I saw him walking up that gravel driveway towards me, he said, “Chintamani, Chintamani, thank you very much.” Then it all became worth it and I thought “I could stay here forever.”
However, that was not meant to be, as Sudama asked Srila Prabhupada if he could take sannyasa on that visit. Srila Prabhupada told him he had to ask me first, and I gave him my permission.
The best thing for me personally was ending up with the original deities that were in Japan: Lord Jagannatha, Baladeva and Lady Subhadra, whom I still have. That is a whole other story for another day.
After Japan I went to Hong Kong briefly and then was asked to help open the temple in Manilla, Philippines, which was super exciting, and another story.
All glories to the most merciful pure devotee and great representative of Lord Chaitanya, Srila Prabhupada! It is not always easy but never give up. If you fall down or drift away, please come back, your future can be glorious.
Hoping to be your servant,