Day 9: Koya-San

Long entry for today. Less than 24 hours after being in Okinawa, I found myself on my way to Koyasan mountain and the nearly 60 Buddhist temples offering temple lodging called shukubo. I wanted to have a taste of traditional Japanese life, and how the monks pursue their enlightenment through prayer and meditation. I had been unable to get reservations at a temple because all of the temples I had requested were not open at this time of year, and they asked that I call after the first of the year because the tourist office would have an English speaking staff member. So the first of the year passes and I call to make reservations and I’m told they cannot make reservations over the phone -_-; and they ask me to drop by the office when I am at Koyasan to see if there were any openings. I was half tempted just to call it off and go to Nara after hearing how beautiful it was by a couple tourists I’d talked to, but I didn’t want to give up on one of the things I had been really excited about for this trip, so I decided to give it a try, and if there were no openings I was sure I could get reservations in Nara over the phone with the help of the internet. The train up to Koyasan is run by a private company and since my rail pass expired I bought a round trip ticket including a bus pass and some discount tickets that turn out to not be needed during the off season for $25, and went up the mountain. Near the end of the trip you get off the train and transfer over to a cable car that goes at probably a 60° angle right up the mountain side. The road from the train station to the town is by law no pedestrians allowed, and so after a short bus down the tight and windy road I found myself in little koyasan town. I found the information center easily, and apparently the English speaker had the day off, so I had to try to make a reservation with no one speaking a word of English, but thanks to a phrase sheet I got from my Osaka hotel I was able to make the reservation. My temple for the night was just down the road a block, where I checked in to leave my luggage before finding lunch at one of the two shokudo (a common Japanese style quick food restaurant with plastic versions of the meals in the window). I then went looking for some of the famous icons of koyasan, Kongobuji Temple, Konpondaito Pagoda, and Daimon Gate. Kongobuji was this very large temple complex with several buildings, and almost every room have these spectacular paintings on the sliding doors. I wanted to take any number of pictures but the rules of the temple were no photos… I then moved further down the road to Konpondaito, which did not allow access, which is sad because I hear that the temple interior is especially beautiful with much work done in gold leaf and hand painted. I then moved onto Diamon Gate, which was a bit disappointing, the paint wasn’t particularly well kept but, though I guess that’s not too surprising in retrospect. There was a sign that had a temperature reading on it, 3.4C or 40.3F which was at the warmest part of the day. I walked back to my temple and was greeted warmly, and was joined in my room by a monk who spoke really quite good English, good enough to probably pass the TOFEL test, and she explained the layout of the temple, some of their beliefs, that morning prayer was at 6am, and what was good to visit in Koyasan. Dinner was served in my tatami-mat room at 6, and was a vegetarian affair, serving rice, two types of tofu which were actually quite good, miso soup, and some assorted fruits and vegetables from the area. After diner quite tired and wanting to wake up without an alarm at 5am to be awake in time for the morning prayer ceremonies.

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