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Published: July 10th 2009
We get the shinkansen at 8:15 from Hiroshima to Osaka, we buy some little pastries and ice coffee for the journey, very civilised. I love these trains.
In Osaka we store our big bags in a locker and take the city loop train around to a station south of the city where we buy a combined train, cable car and bus ticket to get to Koyasan. It's very humid and we're glad not to be carrying our big bags, we have lunch at a brilliant, really cheap and tasty stand up noodle joint at the station - slurpy slurpy.
We have to take 2 more trains to get to the cable car at the base of Koyasan, the urban areas thin out a bit on the way out and we see rural Japan for the first time (not travelling at 300kph). The cable car is waiting for the train to arrive and within 5 minutes we're up the hill and on a bus which is also waiting to take us into the centre of town. These Japanese don't mess around when it comes to public transport. The information office reserves a night for us in one of the 50
monastaries/temples in Koyasan, they call it a Shukubo. It ain't cheap but it includes dinner and breakfast, we hope it's worth it. We have a look around one of the big temples then buy a snack from a local shop. They don't have much so we pick up some packaged buns with unknown things in, they turn out to be a jam butty, chocolate spread butty and some kind of sweet kidney bean mush butty - mental.
We walk to our temple, it's amazing. Immaculately maintained, traditional rooms separated by screens set around a couple of little Japanese gardens, one of them with a pond filled with carp. This is what we expected Japan to be like. There are communal bathrooms so I check them out, these are equally stunning with little wooden stools and barrels in individual wash stations set around a bath which is more like a swimming pool, there is a wall length window which opens out with a view of some temples. Nobody is in there so we get involved, afterwards putting on the robes and feeling like a million dollars/quid/yen.
Dinner is served in the room and turns up at 6pm, it looks
unbelievable, the monks bringing in little tables with even smaller plates and bowls of crazy looking food. We are very excited, however this soon turns into amusement as we discover that it tastes how it looks. There are various blocks of wobbly and sticky things of different colours and wobble/sticky coefficients. We tried to eat it we really did, we also really wanted to like it but it was like food from another planet. Fortunately there was plenty of rice and also tempura vegetables so we weren't too hungry afterwards but we were more shocked than anything else. The worst meal of our trip so far was a plate of dried up hotdogs with a bowl of smash that we were served in Bolivia, I think I would rather have had that.
After dinner we head down to the mausoleum to see all the lanterns at dusk, it's pretty cool to walk amongst all the little shrines at dusk, the best bit is a couple of big temples in the middle of it which are lit up by thousands of lanterns, the walkway up to them is lined by massive pines and little fireflys fly between them like fairies,
incredible. We walk back to the temple where the wobbly stuff has been cleared away and replaced by our beds. Before going to sleep we get our moneys worth and use the bathrooms again, this time though the mens bathroom has some other dudes in so I make good use of the little privacy towel they provide you with! Say no more.
We planned to get get up at 5:50 to watch the monks morning service at 6:10 but I was a bit thick and set the alarm for 6:50. It didn't matter too much as we were woken at 6:30 by a monk wanting to take our bed away while he setup breakfast. We caught the last 15 minutes of the service which was an interesting combination of chanting and ringing little bells. We weren't looking forward to breakfast much and it was much the same as dinner but with less variety of wobbly things. After such a rich feast we felt like we deserved a nap and had a sleep for a couple of hours on some cushions on the floor (as there was no bed).
We packed our little bags and left them with the
monks while we walked around some of the amazing temples in the town. One of them, painted bright orange, was very complementary to the tshirt I was wearing. We walked towards the original entrance gate of Koyasan running on empty, fortunately we came across a little bakery that did a good line in hotdog pizzas and little cheese buns that we washed down with one of a million varieties of canned ice coffee that you can buy from streetside vending machines.
Refueled we continued from the entrance gate on a cool little hike over a bill to the other side of town, passing through lots of little Japanese arches on the way. At the other side we washed ourselves down at a handy fountain which had small pans attached to long handles. I think there is some religous significance to this but there was nobody about and we were hot and anyway we had eaten their ridiculous food and had our bed taken away at half six so I think it was fair enough.
We walked back to our temple passing many other beautiful looking temples on the way, all of which you can stay at - wonder
if any of then do a BBQ?, picked up our bags and then took a long journey back to our big bags in Osaka via bus, cable car and 3 trains. We collected our bags from the locker and took the Shinkansen for a short 15 minute journey to Kyoto. From there we took a bus across town where we were met by a very nice Japanese lady who walked us round to the guest house she runs with her mental young daughter and Brazilian boyfriend, we're here for 3 nights. The area we are in has quite a laid back feel to it and has a good balance of new and old buildings. We went out for a cracking Thai curry (no wobbly things) and then a nice walk home before bed.
Update: Looks like the wobbly stuff has a name - shōjin ryori
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