Pursuit of Enlightenment

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Asia » Japan » Wakayama » Koyasan
August 22nd 2018
Published: May 16th 2019
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Statue of ZōchōtenStatue of ZōchōtenStatue of Zōchōten

Kongōbu-ji, Mount Kōya
Hello my fellow travellers!

I slept exceptionally well last night and when I woke up this morning I felt completely restored. The last remnants of pain in my legs and feet was gone and I really felt a sense of hope and anticipation for the six days of hiking that lay ahead of me with start tomorrow.

For today however I still had a full day of exploring the rest of Mount Kōya ahead of me before returning to Osaka to meet with Kenichi and Yumiji again to spend one more night at their place before the third and longest part of my pilgrimage begins.

The morning began with an early morning service at 6.30 am and there were actually quite a lot of guests that were attending it. To my disappointment though it didn't really feel like a participation, more like a light observation of the monk performing the service with no possibility of involvement from me or the other attendees.

I imagine it's hard to explain the customs to tourists though, but it would have been nice if perhaps it could have been explained earlier and then you could have taken part in some manner
Praying to BuddhaPraying to BuddhaPraying to Buddha

Shojoshin-in, Mount Kōya
at least, rather than being an observer. It honestly felt quite touristic and not all that genuine as we were sitting on chairs and watching the monk sermon.

After the service though I was allowed a few moments to pray there at the inner sanctum when I remained behind as the other guests shuffled out, most of them to return to bed. Breakfast was served right after the morning service but attendance was very scarce. Just like with dinner last night the meal was a shōjin ryōri, the Buddhist vegetarian cuisine. It was delicious and set me up well for the day to come.

I returned to my room and gathered the few things I had brought with me and then checked out. I'm not quite sure how I feel about my first shukubō. While it was nice to stay at a temple over night it didn't feel like the spiritual affair I had hoped it would be. In honesty this felt more like an hotel than a temple and I imagine it's because Mount Kōya has become such a popular site for this. I remember that when I made my reservation I had to inquire about several temples before I found a vacancy.

When I left the Shojoshin-in I decided to cross the street to another temple, the Hōzen-in, and see if I could get the shuin of this temple as well. I had this idea in the back of my head to fill my new shuinchō with shuin from Mount Kōya as there are so many temples located here. I figured that I could then purchase a new one for other temples once I left Mount Kōya and I would have a complete "Mount Kōya shuinchō" of sorts.

It took me a while to find anyone in the Hōzen-in but eventually I stumbled across a somewhat befuddled man who wondered if I wanted to check-in, if so I was to early. I asked him for the shuin and it took a while before he understood my request and I had to show him my shuinchō. He then took it and scurried back into a closed-off area for a while and after a while he returned with an, in my opinion, quite poorly written shuin for which I then paid the customary ¥300.

I must admit that I was beginning to wonder if this
Enkō-dō (Enkō Hall)Enkō-dō (Enkō Hall)Enkō-dō (Enkō Hall)

Kumagai-ji, Mount Kōya
place had become a hotel resort rather than a religious and spiritual centre. Both the Shojoshin-in and the Hōzen-in had felt more like hotels than temples to be honest. I decided then and there that I wouldn't go chasing all the shuin of Mount Kōya but rather be a little bit more selective of which ones to get.

From the Hōzen-in I continued down the road to the Sekishō-in. The gate of this temple is guarded by the two fearsome Niō, Misshaku Kongō and Naraen Kongō. I couldn't find anyone at this temple and decided not to linger there but rather continue down the road because I didn't want a similar experience as to what I had at the Hōzen-in.

The next temple that I came to was the Kumagai-ji and I entered the premise through the main gate, the seimon. This is a quite beautiful temple and from what I could gather it was built by the monk Hōnen who is enshrined in it's hall Enkō-dō together with Fudō Myō-ō. Because of this dual enshrinement the Enkō-dō of Kumagai-ji is simultaneously also the goma-dō of a temple in Kumagaya, the Yūkoku-ji.

Goma-dō means "goma hall" where
Karukaya-dō (Karukaya Hall)Karukaya-dō (Karukaya Hall)Karukaya-dō (Karukaya Hall)

Mitsugon-in, Mount Kōya
the goma refers to the ritual in which the offerings and ablutions of the temple are burned. In Shingon Buddhist temples this usually happens in the morning and evening and the deity invoked in the ritual is usually Fudō Myō-ō. Unfortunately the temple that I staid at don't have this ritual.

Just as with the Sekishō-in I was unable to find anyone here to request a shuin from so I continued to the adjacent temple Eko-in instead. As far as I can tell it was founded by Kukai as a treasury under a different name but was renamed Eko-in by the 8th Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune.

Not far from that temple I stumbled across a beautiful hall named Karukaya-dō which belongs to another temple, the Mitsugo-in. Upon researching the name, because it was unfamiliar to me, I learned of the sad story of Ishidōmaru and his father Karukaya. Take this with a grain of salt as I could only find fragments of this story in English and had to use a mix of English and Japanese texts and things might well have been misunderstood on my part.

According to the story Ishidōmaru was travelling to Mount Kōya
Path of ToriiPath of ToriiPath of Torii

Kiyotaka Inari Shrine, Mount Kōya
together with his mother in order to meet his father, a monk named Karukaya. As they arrived the mother of Ishidōmaru was prohibited from entering because at the time there was a rule that restricted women from entering the precincts of Mount Kōya.

Ishidōmaru therefore left his mother in an inn to go and find his father alone. When he found Karukaya, the monk couldn't admit to being his father but instead told him that his father was dead. When Ishidōmaru returned to the inn for his mother he learned that she had died from an illness. He then returned home to his village instead, only to learn that his sister had also died. Because of this he returned to Mount Kōya to train his mind to cope with his loss and ended up training under his father for 40 years without knowing of their relation.

I took a quick peek around the grounds of the Mitsugo-in before I crossed the street and also took a quick peek at the grounds of another temple, the Jizō-in, but I didn't linger at any of them not did I see any people around.

To be honest I really didn't
Haiden (Hall of Worship)Haiden (Hall of Worship)Haiden (Hall of Worship)

Kiyotaka Inari Shrine, Mount Kōya
feel all that connected to any of these temples and at the moment it felt a bit more like ticking of boxes than immersing myself. That's when a long line of vermilion torii came into my view. They stretched up along a long slope and I was intrigued as this was the first sign of Shintoism I had seen since I came here. I decided to take a closer look at it and I was greeted by a friendly sign offering me tea at the end of the path.

I decided that this was a good thing and followed the path until I came to the small, but beautiful, Kiyotaka Inari Shrine. There I was greeted by a friendly lady with a nice smile, a refreshing cup of tea and a small omamori, a protective amulet. She also gave me a beautiful origami crane and invited me to take a seat.

This was a lovely place, tranquil and spiritual so I asked her if there was a shuin available and she confirmed there was so I handed over my shuinchō for shrines and asked if it was okay to take a photo as she wrote it and she
Shuin (Seal Stamp) of the Kiyotaka Inari ShrineShuin (Seal Stamp) of the Kiyotaka Inari ShrineShuin (Seal Stamp) of the Kiyotaka Inari Shrine

Kiyotaka Inari Shrine, Mount Kōya
agreed. She was very kind and I was very happy that I was able to come here.

While she was finishing the shuin I offered up a prayer to Inari and afterwards I sat down and enjoyed the peace and tranquillity. While I was doing so I was joined by a friendly girl from the U.K and we chatted for a while before we both continued on our respective paths.

Next I came to the two temples of Kitamuro-in and Fudō-in and it was similar to the other temples I've visited today with a brief visit and none around. Fudō-in actually seems to have a quite interesting history and houses the mausoleum of Fujiwara no Nariko. I will tell you more about her later in this post.

From there I came to the manihōtō, a beautiful three-storied pagoda that belongs to the adjacent Jōfoku-in. The manihōtō is a strange mix of a Buddhist pagoda and a war memorial/museum with paraphernalia regarding the Japanese occupation of Burma. It is a bit concerning though because it paints the the occupation in a positive light and seems to treat it as an amicable affair despite the fact that the Burmese
Manihōtō (Treasury Pagoda)Manihōtō (Treasury Pagoda)Manihōtō (Treasury Pagoda)

Jōfuku-in, Mount Kōya
people suffered terribly under the Japanese occupation.

When I entered I met a lovely dog that belongs to the monk that was in charge of the manihōtō. Both the dog and the monk were extremely friendly and I ended up conversing with the monk for quite some time as people came and went. I enquired about a shuin and he confirmed that he was able to give it so I handed over my shuinchō and he was kind enough to allow me to take a photograph of him while he wrote it.

Inside the pagoda there was, beside the war paraphernalia, an underground passage with Buddhist iconography. I really liked this place despite it's somewhat unsettling war propaganda, the friendliness of the monk and his dog coupled with the kindness of the woman I met at the Kiyotaka Inari Shrine was really lifting my spirits and I had hope that this might still become a spiritual day.

As I left the manihōtō I noticed a path lined with stone lanterns marked with a handwritten sign in cardboard about another temple, the Jimyō-in. I imagined that this was a sign that this temple was also a place for
Lovely Dog Named RuruLovely Dog Named RuruLovely Dog Named Ruru

Jōfuku-in, Mount Kōya
shukubō and that I might just be met with another more or less empty temple with a hotel feel about it. However, with two lovely interactions behind me I felt positive about this and made my way up the path and through the gate into the temple.

Contrary to what I expected I actually found not only one, but two monks attending the temple, and the two of them were like night and day compared to each other. The first one approached me in a similar manner to how I was met by the monk at Hōzen-in, asking if I was checking in and being on the verge or asking me to come back later. I replied that I was there for to enquire about a shuin and the first one seemed hesitant, even reluctant, but and that's when the second one jumped in.

The second monk seemed to be in charge, at least he had a more authoritative aura around him, and he asked me to approach and present my shuinchō so I did. I asked my usual question if it was okay to photograph the process. The first monk was against it but the second one just smiled and motioned me to come inside and sit with him, much to the dismay of the other monk. It was almost comical in a way to see the difference between the two and I'm glad that the friendly one seemed to be in charge or at least authoritative enough to go above the other one.

When the kind monk was done he even presented the shuin for my photographic pleasure. I asked if it was the usual ¥300 and the grumpier monk confirmed this. I handed over the coins to him as he seemed to be the one handling the monetary aspect of the temple.

After I had received my shuin I thanked them, especially the kind monk, and then went to look at a plethora of statues located outside the gate of the temple. There were 33 statues of Kannon in one row representing one, or perhaps all of the, Kannon pilgrimages. I don't know which one it's meant to represent as I know of at least three different Kannon pilgrimages with 33 temples in them. Next to these were 88 other statues which represents the Shikoku Pilgrimage.

I then returned down to the main road where I soon came upon the Daien-in, another one of the many temples here. I didn't linger very long around it though but rather continued onward to the the next temple, the Saimon-in. It has a very beautiful gate called ryūgūmon which is similar to the kōkamon I saw in Nikkō last year. The name of the gate is written with the kanji for dragon, shrine/palace and gate so I recon that a translation of the name would be roughly dragon-shrine gate.

Speaking of gates I've started to notice, and recognise, a few different types of Japanese gates. It can be hard to identify them sometimes though as a gate can be named either by the type of gate it is, such as a yotsuashimon which means "four-legged gate" after the four supporting pillars on it. It can also be named from a deity or kami housed in it, such as the Niōmon. It can also be named from it's location or function, such as a seimon which means "main gate". I've come across all different versions of this today during my temple-jumping.

Almost all of the temples that I have visited today have been sub-temples to the famous Kongōbu-ji, I believe the only exception to this is the Kumagai-ji which is it's own temple. You can (generally) tell a sub-temple and a full temple apart by it's suffixes. The "-in" signifies a sub-temple while the "-ji" signifies a full temple. There are some exceptions to this though. In total there are 117 such temples here and the entire mountain is actually considered to be a single temple as well.

The last two of these sub-temples I visited before I came to the main temple were the Takamuro-in and Renge-in. Both of them were quite nice but I didn't stay very long at either of them as I really wanted to reach the main temple now.

I entered the main temple, the Kongōbu-ji, through the impressive higashimon, or the eastern gate. As I passed through it and came onto the grounds of the temple the first thing that I noticed were the ornate main entrance to the temple. It's known as daigenkan which means "great entrance" and it's closed off from entry as it's reserved for the imperial family.

To my left I could see the beautiful shōrō, the bell tower of the
Receiving the Shuin (Seal Stamp)Receiving the Shuin (Seal Stamp)Receiving the Shuin (Seal Stamp)

Jimyō-in, Mount Kōya
temple, which is built in the Heian period hakamagoshi style. It's the same style which is used for the shōrō at the Nikkō Tōshō-gū that I visited last year. To the left of the daigenkan I could see another closed off entrance which allowed for a view into the temple. To the right of the daigenkan is the kogenkan which is the smaller entrance that used to be reserved for priests but which is today open to general visitors.

I couldn't see neither a temizuya or a kōro, the Japanese censer, on the premise so I decided to go out the main gate, the seimon, to see if there was one located there. I wanted to cleanse myself in one way or another before I entered the temple.

Outside the seimon I found a temizuya and performed the temizu as per usual, being a bit in my own world as I just enjoyed the familiar rite of it. Suddenly I heard a lady to my left exclaim "that was perfect!" I turned to face her and she was quite ecstatic that I, a foreigner, had performed the ritual not only with a technical skill but with a sense of spirituality.

I was quite surprised, I hadn't even thought about it as I had just been in my own world when I did it. I was a bit taken back by her kindness and thanked her and we talked for a bit in a mix of Japanese and English before we continued on our separate ways.

When I came back into the grounds of the temple I noticed the small kyōzō where the scripture of the temple is housed. It looked very different from any kyōzō I've seen before and I wouldn't have been able to identify it if there hadn't been a sign posted outside it.

I decided to enter the temple and paid the required entrance fee, at the same time I also handed over my shuinchō at a specified window so that I could collect it after my visit and receive a new shuin in it. The first room that I came to inside the temple was the ohiroma, the main hall inside the temple. I didn't notice at first but there turned out to not be any photos allowed inside so I can't show you pictures of the remainder of the rooms but there were a lot of beautiful rooms with splendid paintings.

There was a path laid out for visitors so there were no free-roaming allowed inside the temple. I followed this path, past beautiful rooms such as the ume-no-ma and yanagi-no-ma, the plum and willow rooms, until I came outside to the Banryūtei Rock Garden and the okuden, the inner hall. The rock garden is laid out in a pattern to symbolise three dragons, one male and two female, that protect the temple.

The sand in the garden is meant to represent the streams of clouds from Kyoto that the dragons fly in. With it's 2,340 square metres it's the largest rock garden in Japan and was made to commemorate the 1,150th anniversary of when Kūkai entered into his eternal meditation. The okuden was built 50 years earlier than the garden and is reserved for noble visitors and the view of the two of them in harmony is quite beautiful.

From there I came to the shin betsuden, a newer addition to the temple where guests can relax and enjoy some complimentary tea and sweets. I stayed there for a while and drank a couple of cups
Higashimon (Eastern Gate)Higashimon (Eastern Gate)Higashimon (Eastern Gate)

Kongōbu-ji, Mount Kōya
of tea and meditated a bit on my day so far and what was to come. There was still much left to see on Mount Kōya and I imagine that it's possible to spend weeks up here and still not be able to see everything.

After some tea and sweets I began to make my way back out, passing by the mausoleum of Shinzen, the man who took over leadership of Shingon Buddhism after Kūkai entered his eternal meditation. The last part of the temple open to visit was the kitchen which is quite similar to that in Shojoshin-in.

With my visit to the Kongōbu-ji completed I retrieved my shuinchō and admired my new, beautiful shuin. I also took a photo of an informative pamphlet on how to read it if any of you are interested in decoding what's written in it.

I then headed to what might very well be the centrepiece of Mount Kōya, the danjō garan area which is a part of the Kongōbu-ji. A garan is a temple complex which contains at least seven certain structures or which is considered complete. This one contains far more than that and this might actually be
Shōrō (Bell Tower)Shōrō (Bell Tower)Shōrō (Bell Tower)

Kongōbu-ji, Mount Kōya
the most elaborate temple complex I've seen to date.

The first thing I came upon along the path was the Rokuji no Kane or the Six O'clock Bell. It's rung every day starting at six o'clock in the morning and was built in 1618 by Fukushima Masanori, an important retainer to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, in honour of his mother.

Next I came to a temizuya so I took the opportunity to cleanse myself before I entered the sacred area. The first structure that greeted me in the danjō garan area was the tōtō, the eastern pagoda. It was originally completed in 1127 at the behest of the retired Emperor Shirakawa. Unfortunately it burned down in the great fire of 1843 but was rebuilt in 1983 and it now enshrines Shajo, Fudō Myō-ō and Gōzanze Myō-ō.

After that I came to the sanmai-dō, a hall built for the purpose of performing the samādhi, a form of meditation that originated in India. The hall was built on it's current location in 1177 by the poet Saigyō but this hall also burned down in the great fire and had to be rebuilt.

The adjacent daie-dō, or great gathering hall, was
Daigenkan (Main Entrance)Daigenkan (Main Entrance)Daigenkan (Main Entrance)

Kongōbu-ji, Mount Kōya
moved here at the same time, by the same man, and suffered the same fate. It was originally built in honour of Emperor Toba by his daughter but today it is used as a gathering hall when services are held.

Right beside it stands the Aizen-dō which enshrines Aizen Myō-ō, one of the five Wisdom Kings together with Fudō Myō-ō. This might actually be the first time that I've come across him here in Japan. He's the patron god for landlords, prostitutes and homosexuals, an interesting mix. This hall was built in 1334 at the wish of Emperor Go-Daigo during the short-lived Kenmu Restoration. This hall also burned down in the great fire and had to be rebuilt.

Across from those halls stands the beautiful Fudō-dō which enshrines Fudō Myō-ō. It's not known exactly when this hall was built but according to tradition it was in 1197 at the behest of Princess Hachijō.

Next was the two centrepieces of the danjō garan area, the Konpon Daitō, or the Great Fundamental Pagoda, and the kondō, the golden hall, which is the behemoth main hall of the temple. The Konpon Daitō is the tallest structure on Mount Kōya and
Banryūtei Rock GardenBanryūtei Rock GardenBanryūtei Rock Garden

Kongōbu-ji, Mount Kōya
took 60 years to build. It has been destroyed five times for various reasons over the centuries and the current structure dates from 1937.

Across from the pagoda is it's bell, nicknamed Kōyashirō which means "Fourth Son of Kōya". Like the structures it has had to be redone several times over the centuries due to fires and the current cast of the bell is from 1547.

I decided to go to the small office located across from these buildings and enquire about a shuin. It turned out that there were two of them available, one for the Konpon Daitō and one for the kondō. I went with the one for the kondō. It's possible to get both but I thought it might be a bit excessive. As per usual I asked if it would be okay to photograph the process for posterity and the kind young monk graciously accepted my request.

He asked me to dedicate a prayer at the kondō in return, a request I happily obliged. Previously it used to be that you could only receive the shuin in exchange for donating a copied sutra to the temple, a prayer is far easier to achieve.
Tea and SweetsTea and SweetsTea and Sweets

Kongōbu-ji, Mount Kōya

From there I made my way over to a tree standing in the middle of the grounds with a sign in front of it. It turned out to be called Toten no Matsu which means "Ascent to Heaven Pine Tree" because in 1149 the monk Nyohō managed to ascend to the heavens from it.

His disciple Ko-Nyohō came running out and climbed the tree, asking to come with his master and the heavens appreciated his zeal and he was granted ascent as well. The ladle that Ko-Nyohō carried with him out fell to the grass beneath the tree and since then the area surrounding the tree is known as Shakushi no Shiba which means "Ladle Grass".

Behind this heavenly tree is the rokkaku kyōzō, a hexagonal sutra repository. It was originally built in 1159 and used to house the complete set of the Buddhists texts known as Tripiṭaka. However, after the great fire this structure burned down. Thankfully the texts survived but they have now been moved to the Reihokan Museum instead.

These texts are written in Chinese on indigo paper and in golden letters and were donated by the aforementioned Fujiko no Nariko. She is known posthumously as Bifukumon'in and she lived from 1117 to 1160 and was one of the empresses of Emperor Toba.

Emperor Toba was forced to retired as emperor in 1123 by his grandfather, the then retired Emperor Shirakawa who held the real ruling power. By that time Emperor Toba was only 20 years old but had already reigned for 16 years. It was quite common that the real imperial power lay with the retired emperor rather than the sitting emperor.

Emperor Toba was succeeded by his son, Emperor Sutoku, who reigned until 1142 before he retired to a monk's life. By now the retired Emperor Shirakawa had died to the real power now laid with the retired Emperor Toba and would continue to do so until his death in 1156.

Just the year before that, in 1155, the reigning Emperor Konoe had died as well so with the death of Emperor Toba a civil war erupted over the imperial control between the two retired emperors that remained, Emperor Sutoku and Emperor Go-Shirakawa.

This conflict was called the Hōgen Rebellion and it only lasted for about three weeks. However, Nariko proved herself to be a good tactician
Tōtō (Eastern Pagoda)Tōtō (Eastern Pagoda)Tōtō (Eastern Pagoda)

Kongōbu-ji, Mount Kōya
during this time despite having already become a nun before the conflict. The retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa won the conflict and as a result the retired Emperor Sutoku was exiled.

In this conflict the two different sides was each backed by a different clan of samurai, the Taira (Heike) clan and the Minamoto (Genji) clan. This conflict sparked a rivalry between these clans that would soon result in a new conflict, the Heiji Rebellion in 1159.

Nariko died after this second rebellion and was buried on Mount Kōya in accordance with her wishes. At this time women weren't allowed on Mount Kōya so this caused quite a stir but her wish was honoured.

The rivalry between the Taira clan and the Minamoto clan would however eventually lead to the Genpei War which was fought from 1180 to 1185. As a result of the war the young Emperor Antoku died and the imperial family lost the ruling power of Japan.

I was happy to find that it was actually possible to rotate the rinzō, the wheel repository that's inside the rokkaku kyōzō. I've wanted to turn one of these for a few years now as it grants you
Sanmai-dō (Samādhi Hall)Sanmai-dō (Samādhi Hall)Sanmai-dō (Samādhi Hall)

Kongōbu-ji, Mount Kōya
the merit of reading the contained sutra. Unfortunately the texts here have of course been moved but I hope that it will still give me some benefit at least.

As I continued my walk around the premise I came to a beautiful vermilion torii guarded by the two statues of komainu. Behind them I saw a beautiful shrine called Miyashiro which was originally built in 1594 to enshrine the ruling kami of Mount Kōya, Niu (female) and Kōya (male) as well as 120 lesser kami. The area of the shrine is closed to visitors though so I had to be satisfied with a view from the outside.

In front of the shrine stands the sub-temple Sannō-in which is used by the monks for theological discussions and rituals on fixed dates. It was built at the same time as the shrine and was constructed in honour of Niu and Kōya.

Beyond them, at the edge of the danjō garan, is the saitō or western pagoda. It was originally built by Shinzen in 887 but like most of the other structures here it's been rebuilt several times over the years. This current structure is the fifth one and dates
Fudō-dō (Fudō Hall)Fudō-dō (Fudō Hall)Fudō-dō (Fudō Hall)

Kongōbu-ji, Mount Kōya
from 1834.

Close to it is the Kujaku-dō, a hall which enshrines Kujaku Myō-ō, the benevolent Peacock Wisdom Queen. This hall was originally built in 1200 at the behest of the retired Emperor Go-Toba and inside it is a statue of Kujaku Myō-ō which was made by the noted sculptor Kaikei. The hall burned down like the others and was rebuilt as late as 1984, the statue inside is still the original one though as it miraculously survived the fire.

Behind the hall is a wisteria which grows over a simple construction. This wisteria dates to 1016 when the monk Kishin came here to rebuild the temple after a fire that had left the site deserted. He planted the wisteria upside down but it was still able to take root and blossom. This was taken as a sign that Mount Kōya would thrive again and ever since then this wisteria is known as the Sakashi no Fuji, the "Inverted Wisteria".

Next is the Juntei-dō which enshrines Juntei Kannon. It's the first time I come across her here in Japan but she was apparently very popular in the late Imperial China.

The final hall left for me
Daie-dō (Great Gathering Hall)Daie-dō (Great Gathering Hall)Daie-dō (Great Gathering Hall)

Kongōbu-ji, Mount Kōya
to visit was the miedō, the great portrait hall. It was originally built to be Kūkai's own training hall but now it enshrines an image of Kūkai and is considered the most sacred site on Mount Kōya.

After I had visited the last hall I decided to pass through the massive chūmon, the middle gate, to take a look at the surrounding area. Before I came there though I passed the Taimen Zakura, literally "Face-to-face Cherry Tree". It stands in the location where Taira no Kiyomari, the man in charge of the reconstruction of Mount Kōya, met the spirit of Kūkai in 1156. Kūkai praised Kiyomari for his efforts and then vanished to return to his eternal meditation.

The chūmon is truly a work of art. It's the newest of all the structures here as it dates from 2015, the original one burned down in 1843 and for 170 years only the foundation stones of it remained here. The gate houses statues of the Four Heavenly Kings, Tamonten, Jikokuten, Zōchōten and Kōmokuten and they are imposing deities. The statues of Tamonten and Jikokuten are the originals that survived the fire while the statues of Zōchōten and Kōmokuten are new.

Outside the chūmon is the beautiful Lotus Pond and in the middle of the pond is a small island with a shrine on it. It enshrines some of the ashes of Buddha as well as Zennyo Ryūō, a dragon-king that is a god of rain. According to legend Kūkai managed to summon Zennyo Ryūō during a rain-making contest at the Kyoto Imperial Palace in 824. According to lore Zennyo Ryūō lives in the Ryūketsu Cave on Mount Murō in Nara Prefecture. This small shrine was constructed in 1771 during a devastating drought and once it was completed the drought miraculously came to an end.

From there I continued past the small temple of Zōfoku-in to reach the Kōyasan Daishi Kyōkai which is the central site for teaching and promoting Shingon Buddhism. It was built in 1925 and it's possible to listen to sutra sermons as well as perform shakyō, sutra copying, here.

And that's the reason why I came here. I've wanted to perform a shakyō for a long time now and I felt that this was a good time to do it, here at the heart of Shingon Buddhism. I entered the reception and asked
Receiving the Shuin (Seal Stamp)Receiving the Shuin (Seal Stamp)Receiving the Shuin (Seal Stamp)

Kongōbu-ji, Mount Kōya
the lady behind the counter if it was possible to do shakyō and she confirmed that it was still possible to do it for a couple of hours and she gave me the paper upon which to write the sutra and a pamphlet on how to do it and then showed me to the study room.

There was a Japanese couple sitting there and writing when I arrived but they were almost done and left soon after I came. After that I was alone for the duration of the session. Just writing away at the sutra, careful as to not make too many, or too grave, mistakes. It's fairly easy though as the kanji is written on the backside so that it shines through when you put it on a light surface, making it possible to trace it.

Even so I made an error at first so I went down and retrieved a second paper (this was because I used a dark surface at first instead of a light one). I then completed the sutra but managed to mess up the date at the end, hence the doodle at the far left side of the sutra. The sutra
Kondō (Golden Hall)Kondō (Golden Hall)Kondō (Golden Hall)

Kongōbu-ji, Mount Kōya
that I wrote is known as the Heart Sutra and counting the one I messed up it took me about two hours to finish it, much of that time was on the failed one against the dark surface though.

When I came back down with the finished sutra I was asked if I wanted to donate it to the temple for ¥1,000 or bring it home with me for ¥100. I opted to bring it home with me as I wish to place it in my butsudan, the Buddhist altar that I have at home. Now all that was left to do was to figure out how to bring it home without mashing it completely in my backpack.

By now it was getting late and my time on Mount Kōya was coming to an end. I decided to make my way towards the daimon, the great gate, which is the traditional main entrance to Mount Kōya as the pilgrimage trail (which I didn't walk yesterday) comes up through it. On my way there I kept an eye open for any bus stops to check the time table to make my way back to Osaka.

Right before the gate I found a bus stop and checked the time table, I had about seven minutes until the next bus, tight but enough to check out the gate as well. So I ran up the hill to where the daimon is located so that I would be able to at least take a quick look at it. It certainly lives up to it's name as it's a behemoth of a gate and I imagine how powerful it must be to see this come into view as you ascend the mountain. Almost makes me wish that I had walked yesterday, almost...

With that I made my way back down the hill and jumped on the bus, it's been a long and sweaty day as the sun has been up in all it's glory for the entire day. I'm tired but my legs and back have been holding up well throughout the day.

When I got on the bus I was unable to find my tickets, neither for the bus, the cable car nor the train back to Osaka. The bus driver was kind enough to let me on anyway though and I rummaged through my wallet and backpack over

Kongōbu-ji, Mount Kōya
and over again on the bus, hoping to find my tickets.

While doing so I also tried to take a look at the nyonin-dō, the hall reserved for women before they were allowed full access to the sacred sites on the mountain, but it proved difficult to get a proper view from the bus and I didn't have the time to get off.

As soon as I stepped off the bus I thanked the kind driver again and then rushed over to the staff at the station and explained the situation. They took me over to a map of the routes and I showed them where I had started my trip yesterday and then printed a new one-way ticket for me. The kindness here is, as always, amazing. I boarded the cable car and then switched to the train bound for Osaka at the foot of the mountain. Down there I began to ransack my memory and was able to find my tickets, hidden inside my shuinchō.

It felt good to know that I could still present the original tickets if necessary but it wasn't, I had no issues exiting the train and switching to the Osaka
Chūmon (Middle Gate)Chūmon (Middle Gate)Chūmon (Middle Gate)

Kongōbu-ji, Mount Kōya
Loop Line. Just like the day before yesterday I logged into the wifi at the convenience store and contacted Kenichi. He asked if I was hungry which I confirmed so he asked if I was able to find my own way back and I said I should be able to do so.

I managed to find my way after a couple of wrong turns and when I arrived the dinner was almost ready so I just took a quick shower and bath ton rinse the sweat from me and then sat down to share a meal and a couple of beers with Kenichi and Yumiji.

This was a real lifesaver because I hadn't eaten a single thing since breakfast, 13 hours earlier. This is what happens when I get my tunnel-vision in a place with so much to see, experience and learn like Mount Kōya. I simply just forget to eat and truck on.

With food in my belly I felt refreshed and relaxed and we spent the remainder of the evening talking about my experiences on Mount Kōya and Mount Fuji. I showed them the shuin I've gotten, the sutra I'd written and I showed them my kongō-zue from Mount Fuji again as Kenichi really wanted to see it once more.

Kenichi and Yumiji have been such an important part of this pilgrimage, to be honest I'm not sure if I had been able to do this without being able to recuperate in their gentle care. Thanks to them I consider Osaka an important hub on this trip so I've decided to return to the Osaka Tenman-gū tomorrow to ask for their shuin as a memory of this. After that I will make my way to Tanabe where the third, and largest part, of this pilgrimage will begin.

I feel satisfied with my time on Mount Kōya but there are a few sights that I didn't have the time to see, such as the Tokugawa Clan Mausoleum and the Reihokan Museum, not to mention about a hundred or so temples.

Some day I might well return there and see the rest of it, but for now I will focus on tomorrow and what lies ahead of me with a week of trekking through the mountains. It seems that the road will be even more difficult than what I had anticipated. We watched the
Performing Shakyō (Sutra Copying)Performing Shakyō (Sutra Copying)Performing Shakyō (Sutra Copying)

Kōyasan Daishi Kyōkai, Mount Kōya
news in the evening and it seems like there's a typhoon heading for Japan and it might well hit Tanabe tomorrow, I guess I will see how it goes tomorrow.

Until tomorrow I wish you all peace and happy travels!

Additional photos below
Photos: 271, Displayed: 49


Going to the Morning ServiceGoing to the Morning Service
Going to the Morning Service

Shojoshin-in, Mount Kōya
Stone LanternStone Lantern
Stone Lantern

Shojoshin-in, Mount Kōya
Yotsuashimon (Four-Legged Gate)Yotsuashimon (Four-Legged Gate)
Yotsuashimon (Four-Legged Gate)

Shojoshin-in, Mount Kōya
Bonshō (Buddhist Bell)Bonshō (Buddhist Bell)
Bonshō (Buddhist Bell)

Shojoshin-in, Mount Kōya
Monk in charge of the TempleMonk in charge of the Temple
Monk in charge of the Temple

Shojoshin-in, Mount Kōya
Small Butsudan (Buddhist Altars)Small Butsudan (Buddhist Altars)
Small Butsudan (Buddhist Altars)

Shojoshin-in, Mount Kōya
Beautiful Interior of the TempleBeautiful Interior of the Temple
Beautiful Interior of the Temple

Shojoshin-in, Mount Kōya
Small Butsudan (Buddhist Altars)Small Butsudan (Buddhist Altars)
Small Butsudan (Buddhist Altars)

Shojoshin-in, Mount Kōya

20th May 2019
Manihōtō (Treasury Pagoda)

Treasury Pagoda
You have visited heaps of pagodas. This one is a beauty.
21st May 2019
Manihōtō (Treasury Pagoda)

Treasury Pagoda
I really liked it as well. It was nice to go inside for once, a lot of pagodas that I come upon are closed to visits but this one was not only open but also very welcoming. =)
21st May 2019
Path of Torii

To take photos of "corridors"/"tunnels" like this is my trademark. I love those photos. /Ake
22nd May 2019
Path of Torii

They are really beautiful =)
24th May 2019
Path of Torii

Path of Torii
I have seen picks of the Torii at another site so this one with a more rustic feel is a delight to see.
11th June 2019
Path of Torii

Path of Torii
It was indeed a lovely rustic path, I enjoyed it immensely. =)
24th May 2019
Statues Representing the Shikoku Pilgrimage

Shikoku Pilgrimage
Fascinating depiction for posterity.
11th June 2019
Statues Representing the Shikoku Pilgrimage

Shikoku Pilgrimage
Thank you. =)
25th May 2019

Yay! Great to see you were able to receive your special shuin. I imagine indeed that some of the temples have become more like hotels, but glad to see you were able to find some hidden and friendly gems. What a lovely day of temple visiting for you 😊
11th June 2019

Aye, the good ones that I found was truly refreshing amongst the hotel experiences. =)

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