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Published: April 19th 2014
As I parted ways with Kyoto, it was a pleasant farewell as I was looking forward to expanding my introduction to Japanese Buddhism. Koyasan was first settled in 819 by a monk named Kukai and is the birthplace of the Shingon sect of Japanese Budhism also known as Esotentric Buddhism. I hopped on the train which began to wind it's way through the mountains. It was nice to get above sea level and as the ceder trees began to line the tracks, it felt a little bit like home. It was cool to see some rural mountain Japanese homes dotted throughout the hills as well. The train reached the end of the line and it was time to ride the cable car up to Koyasan, which was an experience in itself.
I managed to find the temple I was staying at and was quickly greeted by one of the monks who showed me to my room which showcased one of the many gardens outside of my window. This was a traditional styled lodging also known as a ryokan, so I was excited to live a little more like traditional Japanese. The monk gave me a thorough introduction to
how the events of the evening would be laid out. The Japanese figured out the concept of "spa" way before the word was even introduced and I was happy to hear that all that was on my schedule for the evening was to have a bath, eat, and relax. So, I slipped on my yukata (casual style kimono) and went into the public bath. Because I checked in a little early, I was able to have the bath room for the majority of time all to myself, so soaking in the giant, nicely decorated tub and getting cleaned up was just what my weary body needed. Afterwards, I strolled around the temple hallways and grounds in my yukata, gazing at the magnificent Japanese styled gardens all around and spending some time to ponder life and reflect. It was such a welcomed pace after the overloaded activities of the past week. I loved being able to walk around in areas that were like the ones forbidden when touring the temples in the city. However, my wandering had to be put to an end, but for good reason, it was dinner time. Another one of the monks brought my dinner to my
room along with some sake and I ate like a king. The thing about Koyasan is that it's primarily vegetarian cuisine, which didn't matter, because it was absolutely delicious. Served was some sort of soup, rice, gomae, mountain veggies, tofu, tempura, eggplant, a few more items that I didn't know and fruit for desert. It was excellent quality and filled me up plenty. I even splurged and got another bottle of sake, which hit the spot. After dinner, another monk made my bed on the floor which was a traditional Japanese futon. The only thing that was a little less traditional was the fact that there was a small LCD television in my room, so I couldn't resist but check out a little Japanese T.V. and there was a baseball game on showcasing the Hiroshima Toyo Carp vs. Hanshin Tigers from Osaka, which would be a nice preview to the game I had tickets to in 2 days. After some TV, I decided to go to bed at a decent time as it would be a 6am rise n' shine for the morning prayer viewing. 6am came way too early, but I was interested to view the morning prayer. It
felt freezing crawling out of my warm bed and the thermometer outside read a brisk 5 degrees Celsius, typical for the mountains. The guests and I shuffled into the main temple and the head monk began the morning prayers, which the Japanese people there joined in on. Although I'm not Buddhist myself, it was a really unique thing to experience. Afterwards, breakfast was served in my room, which was a little different than dinner, but the premise was the same. The miso soup was fantastic, but unfortunately the other menu items weren't as big of a hit to my taste buds as dinner was. That said, I ate as much as I could and managed to finish nearly everything and hit the town to explore a little more of Koyasan. As I was staying in a temple, I didn't find it all that necessary to check out many more, so my only destination was to one of the most sacred in Japan, Okinuin, home of a vast cemetery and mausoleum of Kukai. It was definitely atmospheric walking through the vast graves amongst giant old growth ceder trees. The temple and mausoleum at the end of the walk was impressive as
That pretty much wrapped up my time in Koyasan. Having an up close and personal experience of traditional Japanese living along with a sect of Japanese Buddhism was definitely an authentic and touching experience. The Japanese had things figured out pretty early (bath, food, drink, relax) and getting back to those roots was a highlight. Combine that with the beautiful surroundings, delicious food, and first class lodging, Koyasan was definitely a main feature and I'm glad to have experienced it.
Next up is a short time in Osaka, then onto Hiroshima for a Japanese baseball game followed by some serious reflection of a tragic past.
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