Thursday, 29 December 2011

A night on Koya-san

Our destination was Koya-san, some 50km south of Osaka, one of Japan’s holiest mountains.  The town itself is in a high, ceder-filled valley near the top of the mountain, 800m above sea level.  This group of temples among the clouds is a complete contrast to the futuristic sensory overload of modern Japan city life.

We took the train from Osaka’s Namba Station to Gokurakubashi Station (journey time around 1 ½ hours), and then a cable car to Koya-san Station (5 minutes).

We admired the views as the cable car started its slow ascent up the mountain.  As I was taking pictures, there was someone else doing the same – Hori-san.  A well travelled Japanese resident, this was his first time to Koya-san as well.  Good natured and very friendly, we were privileged to have him join us for this part of our journey, we made a good friend and we’re still in contact.

At the top of the cable-car station we took the 5 minute bus ride along the winding road through cool, dark cryptomeria forests to Shojoshin-in, our temple lodging for the night. 

On arrival we were greeted by a monk.  We exchanged our shoes for sandals and after wiping our luggage over with a cloth, our monk showed us to our room and explained the meal and bath times. He warned us of the incoming typhoon.  We had seen pictures the previous day on television.  The weather had been windy in Osaka, but so far we had been fortunate in managing to avoid the worst of it.

Our room was Japanese style overlooking beautiful gardens.  On the table were two origami doves and a note, congratulating us on our marriage.  It was a lovely gesture and meant a lot to us.  During our stay the monks made us feel really welcome. 

After dropping off our bags, we left the temple and started our walk through the mysterious forest of Okunoin.  Koya-san’s vast cemetery, the forest floor is scattered with more than 200,000 stone stupas of all shapes and sizes.  A large number of historical characters are also buried here.  Wondering slowly along the mystical 2km path, it takes about 45 minutes to reach the cemetry’s spiritual centre.

It started to rain.  And rain.  And rain.  We took shelter beneath a temple roof where me, my wife and Hori-san chatted while waiting for the rain to ease.  I’m not sure if it was just getting married, or being back in Japan, or making a new friend, or the religious overtones of the forest, but it seemed like a pretty special moment.

As we headed back we found this Panasonic grave.  To Hori-san’s great amusement this picture was taken with my Panasonic camera.  When we got back to the entrance, Hori-san had to rush to catch the bus back to the cable car station so we said our goodbyes.

Back in our temple, it was time to enjoy a traditional Japanese bath.  There were two baths, one for men and one for women.  Fortunately I had the bath all to myself.  Large, wooden and filled to the brim with piping hot water, the bath was immensely relaxing. 

After the bath it was time to get ready and go for tea.  The meal was excellent, consisting of seasonal vegetable and tofu-based dishes cooked without meat, fish onion or garlic seasoning.  A lot of the dishes we were unable to identify, but it was delicious and beautifully presented.  It was still raining heavily and rained throughout the night.

The next morning at 6am we attended prayers with the monks.  The monk’s chanting was captivating and strangely hypnotic.  During the ceremony, the monk who had shown us to our room invited us to prey with him.  Up in this beautiful, mysterious mountain-top hideaway, the monks have their own strict way of life, their lives devoted to their religion.  During our stay they showed us warmth and kindness.  It’s clear they’re very friendly people and accepting of other cultures and beliefs different from their own.

The rain had stopped.  It was a beautiful day.  The mountain top air felt cool and refreshing.  We thanked the monks for their amazing hospitality, said goodbye and set off back to Osaka.  Koya-san was an unforgettable experience.

No comments:

Post a Comment