Journey from Japan

Through a friendship that began 40 years ago, T. Griffith Foulk (religion) brings Buddhist monk Yuho Takahashi to campus for Zen Week.

by Katharine Reece MFA '12

Yuho Takahashi

When T. Griffith Foulk (religion) traveled to Japan in 1973, he was interested in practicing Zen Buddhism. At Kaiseiji, a Rinzai Zen monastery where he began his training, he became friends with a young monk named Yuho Takahashi, who helped him begin to learn Japanese. They could not have foreseen that they would still be friends 40 years later, or that their yearly reunion would find them on the Sarah Lawrence campus last October, jointly leading a multifaceted event called Zen Arts and Culture Week.

Foulk is now an eminent scholar of Zen Buddhism. Takahashi is the abbot of three Zen temples in Japan and has become renowned for his masterful ink painting and calligraphy, an exhibition of which was the centerpiece of Zen Week. (Foulk translated the Zen sayings featured in Takahashi’s bold works of art.) Takahashi also gave two large-scale calligraphy demonstrations and led several meditation sessions.

Takahashi traveled from Japan with 17 people, including Suichi Noguchi and 10 of her disciples. Noguchi, a master of Japanese tea ceremony and flower arranging, led several demonstrations of those traditional arts. The women roamed the Sarah Lawrence campus in formal kimono, a sight rarely seen even in Japan these days.

No one in the Japanese contingent spoke English, including Takahashi, so Foulk and a number of SLC Japanese language teachers and students served as interpreters and guides, accompanying the group into Manhattan to visit a jazz club and watch The Phantom of the Opera. For Foulk and Takahashi, the week’s events continued a cross-cultural exchange they began in 1973—and that, Foulk says, was the most meaningful part of the week.