John Toler - 1931 - 2006
Wednesday, November 29, 2006

John with Alex Kerr
Photo courtesy of Alex Kerr via The Japan Times
I was given a newsclipping today from yesterday’s Japan Times announcing the passing of John Toler, 75, a Zen abbot living in Ouda, Nara Prefecture whom I had met on a number of occasions and I enjoyed an email conversation stretching over a few years.

I visited John at his temple in Ouda in 2000 with my friend Julie. Then he stayed at my place in Tokyo, had dinner with my parents in 2002 and I had seen him on a few other occasions and met some of his friends. I remember him as a lively conversationalist full of stories about Japan and the many people he had the fortune of meeting. He showed me his collection of ancient Japanese scrolls, antique but daily used sake cups and his clunky iMac that he used to communicate with the world from his remote mountain temple.

I cannot help but smile while I write this as I remember his vigor, his eccentricities and his fondness for good Japanese sake that caused more than a few hangovers for me. I tried to visit him a few years ago but was warned off by friends as he was not in good enough shape to receive guests - methinks it was the sake that was the contributing factor. Ironically it was only a few days ago that I thought of him and wondered how he was, if he was in fact still alive as our communication was dropped some time ago.

I will remember him fondly in all his irreverent glory. His stories taught me some interesting facts about Japan and his email communications helped me to settle some angst I had during my first few years living here. He was a character that touched and enriched my life and for that I am grateful.

Thank you John. Rest in peace.

Decreed by the goddess on 11/29 at 02:12 AM
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Tags: alcoholangstcomputersfriendsinterestingjapanparentssakesayonaravintage

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  • Kristen offered on 06/11/29 at 04:16 AM.....

    What a lovely eulogy. Your memories of him make me wish I’d met him, too.

  • MJ offered on 06/11/29 at 04:22 AM.....

    Sorry to hear about the loss of your friend.

  • the goddess offered on 06/11/29 at 04:44 AM.....

    He was SUCH an interesting character and was a wonderful story-teller. Many people tried to get him to write a book or collect his stories together in some way but I fear this has not and will never be done.

    At his house he showed me dozens of boxes off photographs spanning decades and they were in no particular order but he knew exactly where his most interesting ones were - eg Caroline Kennedy on her honeymoon, a visit by Keith Richards and other Rolling Stone members, Dali Lama photos etc.
    I sense that his mental demise happened a few years before his actual one last week. I do wonder who has the job of sifting through his house and if his “treasures” are going to kept or discarded…  actually I would prefer not to wonder and just remember him as I do - a fabulous ratbag who made me smile.

  • Sar offered on 06/11/29 at 09:24 AM.....

    Interesting tale T.  God rest him.  I would love for you to pass on some of the communication that helped to settle your angst and those which taught you a lot about Japan.  Even after many years and having married into it - I still need some boosters and knowledge from time to time.  Bring it on!  I will be interested to read more about his chap.

  • the goddess offered on 06/11/30 at 01:40 AM.....

    Sar, have been reading through the old emails and the trails are very convoluted. I used to rabbit on about stuff - angst - and he basically told me to pull my head out of my arse - he was an old Buddhist monk afterall.  Basically I was getting wound up about silly stuff and he just encouraged me to “not sweat the small stuff”. 

    I have kept most of the emails - there were hundreds.  Lots just “hows your mothers ducks” type of conversations but others were explanations of koans and other Zen principles.

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