Saturday, July 28, 2007

Monks on a Mountain

My second weekend with Danomi, we went to Koyasan, a sacred mountain in Wakayama prefecture about 2 hours by train from Osaka. It was another destination that was on the top of my list. Unfortunately, Julian was sick so he wasn't able to join us. Even though it was the middle of May, it was cold in Koyasan. We wore jackets and scarves.

The train ride from Osaka to Koyasan is beautiful. It's a slow ride through the mountains. Once we arrived at the bottom of Koyasan, we had to take a cable car to the top. It's as steep as a roller coaster and is a very slow ride up but it only takes about 5 minutes to get to the top.
Koyasan is the headquarters for the Shingon Budhism sect. The priest Kukai or Kobo Daishi founded the place twelve centuries ago in the early 800's. Situated on top of the mountain is a complex of temples, halls, pagodas and statues. There are over 120 temples and at least half of them provide lodgings and vegetarian meals for visitors and pilgrims. We stayed at Rengejo-in temple.

We got there late in the afternoon, so we decided to walk around for a bit before dinner.
At the temple lodging, we went to an evening meditation in their shrine. I can definitely cross off Buddhist monk from my list of possible future jobs. The meditation was about 45 minutes long, but I was so happy and excited to be in Koyasan that I couldn't stop thinking or quiet my mind, so I shifted a lot.

Dinner was included with our stay at the temple. Koyasan is known for their vegetarian cooking and sesame tofu. It was delicious. There were many young monks in training helping around the temple, serving us food and drinks and preparing our rooms.
The mother of the chief priest, stopped by during dinner and told us about herself, a bit of history about Koyasan and the temple. She is 87 years old and had lived in that temple for over 60 years. She talked about the war years, not having a lot of food and the temples being in disrepair. She also talked about the history of Koyasan and monk life. Before the war she had studied English literature at a university in Tokyo, but she moved back to Koyasn when the war broke out. Her English was excellent.
After dinner, we took a long hot bath and went to bed early. The next morning, we got up for the 6am morning prayer service. I was told that sometimes, the head priest translates the service into English, if there's enough of a demand. There were a group of around 30-40 Japanese pilgrims staying at the temple, so they conducted the service in Japanese. It was really amazing. I've never had an opportunity to attend a Buhddist prayer service, so I really enjoyed the experience. Mostly we sat, watched and listened to the monks and priest chant. The shrine is dark and has many candles and ornaments. It's really beautiful.

After we checked out of the temple, we headed to the cemetery. There are anywhere between 200 to 500,000 graves in the cemetery which is in a cedar forest. It's a really beautiful and quiet setting. We walked around for 2 to 3 hours.

At the end of the cemetery there is a temple with thousands of lanterns and behind there is Kobo Daiashi's grave or as I've heard and read his eternal meditation place. We were not allowed to take pictures. There were a lot of pilgrims praying by his resting place.

In another part of the cemetery, there were graves from companies such as Nissan, a famous coffee brand place and this rocket ship, but I'm not sure who is buried there or the purpose of a corporate grave. Some even have boxes where you can leave your business card.

Koyasan is well worth a visit especially if you are interested in getting a glimpse into monastic life.


Tinz said...

Seems like a really interesting place to visit.

Gwynne said...

That place looks totally rad.