Koyasan #1: Muryokoin Temple and Danjo Garan

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September 26th 2015
Published: October 19th 2015
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I had tried to get a few hour shut eye on the bench near my check-in desk. However Incheon is a bloody noisy airport, so when they started setting up the barriers and I saw that the desks would open at 4:50, I headed to the bathroom to change and sort my face out. I was impressed with t'ways (the airline I was flying with), that they opened check-in three hours before departure, Jeju Air and the other budget carriers only open two hours before. There was only a small queue and I had checked my luggage and got my boarding pass pretty quickly. I always fly out early on Chuseok morning, but this time I was flying out earlier and it wasn't as busy as it gets later. I got through baggage inspection and immigration and had loads of time on my hands. I headed over to the other terminal. Since it was so early there wasn't much open. I found a Dunkin' Donuts that was open and hot a coffee and a beef and potato burrito. The burrito was tiny and canny rank. I sat and read my book until my flight was called.

The flight was pretty quick. We left on time and arrived pretty much on time, too. Kansai airport was a breeze. I normally am always asked if they can search my backpack, but not today, the customs official was happy with only asking me a few questions. I headed to the train station and bought my ticket to Tengachaya station (1,190 yen) from the machine. The whole process had been so quick, I could have caught an earlier train, but decided to stop and buy a drink instead. I got the train at about 10:10 am, it was more like a subway than a proper train. I saw the very posh looking limited express train on the opposite platfo, but didn't want to fork out the extra for it. I'm saving that money for sushi. The train took about 30-40 minutes to reach Tengachaya Station.

I alighted the train and headed out of the ticket barriers. The ticket office is right next to the barriers and I was able to purchase my ticket for Koyasan there. My friend had told me to get the Koyasan 2 day World Heritage Ticket. This ticket cost about 2,900 yen and included return train tickets to Gokurakubashi, return cable car trip to Koysan, 2 days unlimited bus travel on the buses in Koyasan and some discount coupons for temples and shops. Not a bad deal at all. I did pay about an extra 800 yen, making my ticket 3,400 yen, so that I could take the limited express train.I had a bit of time to kill before my train and since I was starving had a little wander around the small station on search of some food. I ended up gpong to the bakery opposite the ticket desk, which had beeny initial choice as everything else looked like proper sit down restaurants. The bakery was called Vie De France. I think I would have bought everything in the shop, if I had enough money. I love it when you travel somewhere new and there are so many new and interesting things to try. However I did manage to settle on two things.

I headed to platform one, which is where my train would depart from. My train turned up on time, it looked quite posh compared to the other trains that had passed through the station. The carriages were marked on the station platform, but I was a bit confused as there were different types of trains and their carriages were all in slightly different places and I didn't know what type of train I was getting. We left on time at 11:17 am. The journey took around an hour and twenty minutes. The train was really nice and comfortable inside. It wasn't busy either, so no one ended up sitting next to me. I was sitting on the left side, I think it would be better to sit on the right side as you would be able to see the view better. I opened my goodie bag from the bakery. The first thing I ate was the toastie thing I had bought. Inside the bread there was spinach and mushrooms in some kind of creamy sauce and on the top there was an egg and cheese. It was good! I wish Korea made toastie things like this, instead of insisting every sandwich has to have ham in it. It was a good job that no one was sitting next to me, as the other item I bought was probably a bit smelly. It was a sandwich with a fried fish fillet and lettuce, and then topped off with a good dollop of egg mayonnaise. Delicious! I idled away the journey taking in the view, reading and napping.

We arrived at Gokurakubashi Station at 12:40 pm. It was a short walk through the station to the cable car. Everyone seemed to be a bit of a rush, so I hurried to the cable car too. I got on and expected it to leave straight away, but it didn't we waited there for about another 5 minutes. I think people must have been rushing to get a seat, as it was standing room only by the time I arrived. I have to say the cable car smelt a bit bad, it was a bit musty and there was a lingering smell of BO, I don't know if it was the able car or its inhabitants. The journey up the mountain took about 5 minutes. It was nice, but there isn't much to see just the track ahead and below, and the forest. When we arrived at the station, the buses were all lined up to the left in typical orderly Japanese fashion. I knew which stop I needed to get off at, however I didn't know which number bus I needed. There was a very helpful attendant, who told me to get on bus number 2, when I pointed at the stop I needed on the map. The bus journey took about 15 minutes. The road that the bus takes is rather quick and it is the most direct route to the centre of Koyasan. The road is only open to Nankai buses, no cars or other forms of transport or pedestrians. The road was very small and windy, although there were two lanes, there was only really enough space for a bus heading on one direction.

I alighted the bus on a quiet street and followed the directions to get to the temple. I walked down the street to the right and looked out for the temple. The street wasn't too long, but I soon reached the end of it without finding the temple. I walked up and down the street a couple of times trying to figure out which building was the temple I was going to be staying at. There was a distinct lack of English signage. I had downloaded a small map of the town on my phone so using that and the one temple near by that had an English name, I managed to find Muryokoin, the temple we were staying at. I had arrived pretty early and the monk looked a bit confused when I gave a Japanese name. I couldn't check-in until three pm, but I was able to leave my backpack. The temple dates backs over 1,000 years, Muryokoin and Shicchiin were two separate temples, located in different places in Koyasan. However, they were combined into one temple and moved to their present location after a big fire occurred during the Meji period in 1888. Muryokoin means temple of immeasurable light, what a beautiful name. It refers to Amida Nyorai, the temple's main deity. He was the Buddha of infinite light and of infinite life. He is working for enlightenment for all beings by visualizing the world as a paradise.

I set off to have a look around the town, thinking I might go back at three to check-in or wait until my friend arrived around 4:30. I headed back down towards the main street, the street had a few temples along it, before it turned into shops and restaurants. There was this really retro looking hair salon, I wish that they'd had windows I could see into. I would have loved a good neb at what was going on inside. When I reached the main street, I decided to head right and see what was along that way. I passed a big temple on my right, with lots of people coming and going from it. But I decided to keep on walking, saving that place for later or tomorrow. I could see a nice looking path ahead, it looked pretty with the trees lining it starting to turn to their autumnal shades. I walked a couple of hundred metres along the path and reached Danjo Garan.

Danjo Garan is one of the most important places in Koyasan. Garan comes form the Sanskrit and means quiet and secluded place where Buddhist monks can train. Well, as I got nearer to the centre, it was anything but quiet and secluded, it was heaving with people. There were large groups lined up allover the place. I was wondering what they were all waiting for and why they were numbered. There were still a lot of people wandering around. I wandered around the temple complex, it was beautiful. On one side, there were loads of chairs set up and the area was cordoned off. I had found out where all the people were going. I don't know what was going on maybe a concert. I waited around for a while, but nothing was happening so I decided to keep on wandering. I really liked the back part of the temple area as it was quieter and shaded.

I decided to wander along the street and find some lunch as I was starving again. I passed a couple of places, but I didn't feel that drawn to eating in either of them. I kept walking along the road to the other end of town. However when the road started to fork, I decided to turn back and I chose the closest restaurant, Kamikishiya Koya. Since it was well past lunchtime, it was quiet, there was only one other table of diners. I was well pleased when they gave me an English menu, although I had been prepared to go outside and point at the dish I liked the look of most. The menu was so sweet, it something written on the front like take you time, there's no rush to decide or eat. I ordered katsudon and a coffee. The staff were so attentive asking me if I wanted my coffee with my meal or after, it was really nice of them to make the effort to ask me that in English. Katsudon is a bowl of rice topped with pork cutlet and egg. It was delicious. Pork cutlets taste better in Japan, they taste like real meat, not reconstituted crap. I made quick work of my meal. I took my time over my coffee, enjoying the rest time.

I still had a bit of time to kill before my friend's arrival, so I decided to wander up past the temple and see what was on the road, that the bus had used to enter town. The street was so quiet. It really did feel like a sleepy village, great for a visit, but too quiet for me to live in. There was a gorgeous temple, which I had a nosy around the entrance of. I think it was Nanin temple. It has some amazing statues guarding its entrance. The street was really quaint. There were a few shops or workshops, since I can't read Japanese I have no idea what they were for. There was also a gorgeous postbox, so old school looking. I wonder how long postboxes will continue to exist for.

When I got back to the temple, my friend was in the office checking us in. After she had dealt with all the paperwork, we were escorted to our room. The monk that took us there had such a baby face, he looked so young and innocent. I think the shaved head and plain clothing added to this, making him look younger. Our room was right at the far end of the temple. The floor was very creaky as we walked along it. We were showed our room, it was massive. I couldn't get over how big it was, it was beautiful, traditionally decorated. The monk brought us some tea and a little snack, and he explained the temple rules, pretty straight forward. He said that dinner would be served at 5:30 pm, so to be in the room from 5 pm, since it was almost five, we decided to stay put. We had a good natter and sorted out our stuff a bit. One of the walls was pretty thin, as it was more like a screen dividing our room from the one next door. It had a gorgeous picture of Mount Fuji on it.

Our dinner arrived pretty promptly. I had had a late lunch, so wasn't feeling too hungry, but I was excited to try the temple cuisine. I had read online that temple good was meant to be really good. It is called shojin ryori, which means devotion cusine. It originated in China, but has been adapted by Japanese monks over the centuries. The food is totally vegan in accordance with Buddhist teachings and is based on the concepts of five flavours, five cooking methods, and five colours. There was a lot of food, as they had to incorporate all these aspects. We had two small tables each that were covered with plates and bowls. There was a grilled dish, a deep-fried dish, a pickled dish, a tofu dish, and a soup. We were also given a big pot of rice to share and a flask filled with tea, this was black tea, not green tea like we had been given earlier. I'm not sure which dish was the grilled one, maybe it was the random pinky-purple one or the sweet potatoes. The food was really good. I enjoyed eating it. The tofu was just amazing, the texture was different to the tofu I normally buy. The tofu, tempura veggies, and black bean/nut things were my favourites.

After dinner we were going to go for a walk, as my friend hadn't seen anything of the town. We didn't get very far when it started to rain! So we hurried back to the temple. Bath time was until 9 pm, and you are not allowed to use the bathing room after that or in the morning. We changed into our Yukata and the small jackets that go over them. We headed along to the bathroom, it was at the other end of the temple. It was traditional onsen/bathhouse style. We stripped off in the outer room and then took our toiletries into the bathroom. There are little stools to sit on and you wash your body and hair, before heading into the bath. The tub was quite small, but there was enough room for two or three people to stretch out. The water was lovely and hot but not too hot. I spent a while relaxing in there, it was glorious after a long day of travel. Back in the room, we chilled before going to bed very early, ready for our early start the next day.

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