Well I made it to Koyasan - finally! I seemed to have missed hanging a left at Osaka and had to backtrack but it's all good. On the backtrack I met a young guy who had spent a year in NYC on his own because he wanted to improve his english. He found a place to live on the internet before he went (can you imagine???) - and HE thought I was brave for being in Japan on my own - sorry, I think he is the brave one for heading to NY with only an internet contact! We had a great chat and both agreed that Japan is much calmer and cleaner than North America - and that I am in for a bit of a shock in China
. The train ride to Koya from Osaka is quite spectacular. I've said it before but I'll say it again - I am always surprised by the landscape here. At the end of the train ride - the end of the line - you get on a cable car that runs you up the last bit of mountain. At a 45 degree angle - and one is coming the other way as
well, but there is a loop in the middle where they avoid colliding.
On reaching the top you catch a bus to get to where you are staying and it is worth noting that the streets are extremely narrow. There are about 130 temples and monasteries here, and about half take in guests. I am staying in one of these which happens to be located right next to Okunoin, a massive cemetary leading to the Temple of Lights. My room here is about 5 times the size of my accommodation in Kyot and one whole wall is window (I was missing one of those in Kyoto). It is basic but spotless and they are doing some spring clean-up and repairs in preparation for the coming holidays. There are only about 5 other guests here at the moment.
Meals are vegetarian, prepared by the monks, and known as "shojin-ryori". Delicately flavoured mountain veggies and tofu prepared as they have been for many many years (Koya was founded in teh 860s - yes that is right, almost 1200 years ago).
I arrived about 2*30 and had a cuppa before exploring Okunoin. Impressive. Breathtaking. Peaceful. Inspiring.
Back for dinner
at 5*30 sharp, with two Irish girls. Then an onsen which was much needed in the very cold weather up here, and an early night because of the 5*45 call to prayers.
I stayed two nights and went to services both mornings, with the monks chanting and incense burning etc it is really something. I wish I knew more about what was happening - things are done in 30s though! Participated and offered up some incense and prayer.
The full day I was here started out very rainy in addition to the cold, so I made the decision to pass on Tsumago when I am done here(another mountain town) and head back to Tokyo for 4 days instead before going to China. Tokyo is warm and I can be rested to head on! Koya has been a definite highlight of my Japan visit, and I would strongly recommend a visit - but in the warmer weather. Temples don't have central heating, and it gets very frosty up here!
My last morning was beautiful with a sunny start (still frosty though), good for an early walk.
My last night I wanted to wander in Okunoin in the
dark with the lights coming on, and get some good shots. It really is incredible and there was no one else there. But at some point I realized - hey, I'm in a cemetary by myuself in the dark! Not so peaceful any more!
In Koyasan I visited the Daimon Gate (very foggy and rainy), Nyonindo, the Reihokan Museum, Kongobuji Temple, Kanon Daito and Kondo, and the Mausoleum of the Tokagawas. The Kanon Daito and the Kongobuji Temple made the largest impression and the Museum had some very impressive and awe-inspiring artifacts from the 11th and 12th centuries.
Everthing about Koya has been an incredible experience but I must admit I am ready for some central heating. I would highly recommend this place, but maybe late summer early fall due to weather. This has definitely been a highlight of my trip.
NOTE: I have added three videos to this entry: one of my room in the temple, one of the morning call/gong to prayer, and one of the evening call to prayer. You may have to crank the volume when you play the two calls to prayer.
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