Day 10: Fuji-San

I actually slept fairly well considering it was on a futon and it was -5C in the morning when I woke up. I had some rather weird dreams last night, very vivid and real, and what was almost disturbing about it, was how mundane they were, as if I were in normal life, or even dreaming about checking my watch in my tatami room for what time it was only to find I couldn’t read my watch. I managed to get up in time, and put my room back in order, packed up, and what not before morning prayer because I knew I had an incredibly long day of travel ahead of me. 6AM rolled around, and I went down for the morning prayer, which turned out to be very bit as interesting as I had hoped it would be. I didn’t come to Koyasan for the sights, but for this experience. I’ll do my best to describe the details, but I’m sure there will be parts that will get left out, and I have no pictures.

The room itself is dark, and to my right as I enter are a row of seats for the pilgrims who’ve made the trip to Koyasan, the center of Shingon Buddhism. The room is unheated and ice cold, I can see my breath even in the near darkness of the room. What little light there is in the room is coming from candles. I am instructed to take a pinch of incense from a cup by the door and rub it between my hands and take a seat. The room is divided into two rooms, the one on the left is taken up by a single table and seat, at which a woman is praying silently, she sits almost completely still. The second room is more open, and I can make out several cushions around the main table and another monk is sitting at the head of the table. The two monks I see are dressed in white with a yellow shawl, the man’s head is shaved like all of the others, and what seems almost odd to me, the woman monk has long hair though the other women I’ve seen at the temple have their heads shaved. I’m under the impression this is to unfetter their Chi. Soon what I assume is the head monk of the temple enters, and unlike the other two, he is wearing all white. A bell begins ringing starting out slowly, before speeding up, and then finally slowing down right before it stops. Soon the rest of the monks trickle in, along with a Japanese family who obviously have strong Buddhist convictions. The daughter of the family, around my age and very cute, kneels down in front of the chairs, and takes on a prayer position, that she holds the entire time. It looks uncomfortable to me, and she doesn’t move at all. The other months take their seats on the cushions around the table to my right, and soon the prayer begins. I’m told that today they are doing the fire prayer. The sound is very beautiful, and entrancing. I can’t help but be moved by the sound. The monks chant/hum in harmony. After I would guess after 15 minutes or so, I notice the woman monk in the room to my left has a fire going in the center of her table, and shes feeding it larger and larger, the room is a thin layer of smoke building up. I can understand this, because I know everyone has been entranced staring into a bonfire sometime in their lives. Another 15 minutes or so we are lead through a ceremony where we are given a glass of green tea to be offered to Kobodaishi, the leader of their sect who they believe is not actually dead, but is in fact in a deeper level of prayer in his mausoleum. We then are given a pinch of incense we are to sprinkle over a small candle, each time giving a prayer, and then lead to our seats. Once everyone is back to their seats, the head monk who was sitting with the woman giving a silent meditation of his own, moves over to the students doing their prayer who finish moments later. He then lives a prayer in much of the same style as the previous fire chant, but clearly the language is now Japanese. I catch the words Kobodaishi a couple of times, and a few other basic Japanese words I know including the word 18. He then comes over to us and bows down to the floor, says good morning, and thanks us for coming. He then addresses the family of the young woman who had been in silent prayer in front of the seats through the entire time. I have no idea what he says. He then thanks us again, and everyone gets up to leave. The young woman is the first out the door, and one of the monks congratulates her, and I now believe that she was going to become a monk at the temple, and the head monks address to her family was regarding that. I went back to my room to wait for gohan(breakfast) which was also vegetarian. This time there was again some tofu, rice and miso, but much less of it, and some other vegetables and some things I couldn’t figure out what they were but tasted fine. I realize I still don’t have much of a taste for miso, and I can say I haven’t ever, even before finding it out its made from fermented soy. I never intend to try natto(fermented bean sprouts) either.

I then took the train back into Osaka. I made a detour to the post office to the post office to get more cash since the tourist office didn’t except credit cards, I had to use 11,000 out of the 13,000 yen I had, leaving me with only 1,500yen after my lunch(about $12). I then went to find out how to get to my hotel outside Fuji. It turns out that my hotel is in a little mura(village) and has no direct trains, nor did the information office have any idea how to get there. I made a call, and luckily the daughter of the owner speaks perfect English(even better than Shintaro I think haha, she had no accent at all even). She told me I needed to go to Mishima and catch a bus to Fuji-Yoshida. To my disappointment there are no rapid, express, or even limited express trains to Mishima, only local trains and super express (Shinkansen). The Shinkansen that far I think is nearly $120, and the local train is 8hr and the bus is another 2 1/2, which would leave me at my hotel after they close their office(its a small family hotel). I decided to make sure with the ticket office, and if necessary get the cheapest Shinkansen ticket possible. I went to ask the ticket officer if it was possible to get an extension on my Japan Rail Pass, and she misunderstood and asked if I had one, I showed her it, and she was like “ok reserved seat then!”(the more expensive ones). She never once noticed that it was expired, and printed me the ticket. I have used my expired rail pass before for local trains because the gate guards almost never check, but never expected it to be useful with a Shinkansen ticket agent, although I don’t see how she could miss the HUGE font, perhaps she looked the other way for a poor college student traveling abroad, or maybe its an example of the Gaijin Smash =O If it weren’t for the Shinkansen my 10 hour trip to Fuji would have taken an impossibly long time. In fact with local trains I would have never been actually able to make it to Fuji because bus service ends at 8pm, and even if it ran all night it would have been 4am when I arrived if not later haha… My hotel in Fuji is actually quite nice, its a small family run place. The owner’s daughter went to middle and high school in Costa Mesa as it turns out, and her husband is Canadian, so I can speak English freely. Its also a very pleasant, relaxed place, with a real hospitable friendly atmosphere. Only draw back is how hard it is to get here.

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