Koyasan – Days 7 and 8

posted in: Coffee, Running | 0

Hello from Osaka! We’ve just spent a great evening in Koyasan, staying in a Buddhist Temple. With the monks. Crazy stuff.

Sunday started with a final run along the Kamo river in Kyoto. The paths are fantastic and although I only ventured two miles along before I turned back, I bet you can run miles and miles.

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Even at 8.45am the area was super busy with people running, walking their dogs, cycling or hanging out with their children.

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Here’s where we had dinner on day 6, taken from the opposite side of the river (obviously). We had the corner table on the balcony, which I have decided was the best in the house.

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We quickly packed and hopped in a cab down to Kyoto station. Here started the only bit if the journey I really thought would suck.

  1. Kyoto to Shin-Osaka on the Shinkansen.
  2. Shin-Osaka to Namba on the subway.
  3. Namba to Gokurakubashi on a non JR (and fairly unclear/unplanned) train route.
  4. Gokurakubashi to Kyokan on a cable car.
  5. Then a 20 minute bus journey.

ALL WITH OUR MASSIVE CASES. Dread.

A few things made this a lot easier. The hotel we’re staying at tonight (i.e the following night, at that point) in Namba (Osaka) took our cases leaving us with a much smaller bag. It also had direct access to the Nankai Railway we needed to catch; escalator from hotel lobby to ticket office. Absurd unexpected bonus.

We then bought direct and reserved seats to Gokurakubashi, which included the cable car and unlimited bus travel. The trains here always have forward facing seats. On the Shinkansen the cleaners move them. On the Nankai Railway it’s automatic.

I have no words.

[And this blog ends there? Oh, it turns out I do have words. Shock].

Then the train ride gave us AMAZING  views as it climbed the mountain. It was single track most the way and really went uphill. Probably not surprising since we were headed to the top of a mountain.

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The cable car was actually, by my reckoning, a funicular which was less scary than envisaged. Very steep, but less wobbly.

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Here’s a video I took on the way back down. It felt so much steeper than this looks.

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Then the bus was easy. The map was in English, stops were numbered, the route was colour coded and it was super straightforward. See? I don’t even look angry.

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You can see why you’re not allowed to walk along this road from the cable car station into the town.

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Look how beautiful our temple was! It’s called Shojoshin-in, and I really recommend it. There are about 120 temples on the mountain, and roughly half offer accommodation. It’s notionally basic (I thought this was beautiful), you get dinner and breakfast and you go to prayers. In honesty, it is a bit gimmicky – in that you have to be there for 5.30pm and have to wake up at 6am, which somewhat limits your activities. For a night though, it was a fantastic experience.

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Here’s the view from our room.

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This is a fully functioning temple so there are all sorts of rules about footwear.

These ones for indoor corridors but not in the rooms, which require bare feet. (I immediately got this wrong).

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These ones for the toilet.

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Scenes like this are common.

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First things first, a spot of tea in our room.

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Then we went for a wander, and up to Okunoin to see the mauselium of the founder of Shingon Buddhism; Kubo Daishi Kukai. He’s now inside in eternal mediation (i.e. notionally still alive), where he’s been for some 1200 years. No photos, as it’s a sacred place.

The 1.5km walk up/down is lined by the tombs of 200,000 people, in light of their faith in the holy mountain.

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The trees were amazing.

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I find the role of branding and sponsorship in sacred places in Japan bizarre. This was far from unique; money can buy you gates, pillars, stones etc.

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Dinner in the temple was at 5.30pm (like being oop north) and we were asked to wear yukata.

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Only one miserable looking American couple didn’t bother. Some others wore jeans or leggings underneath. Matthew and I manned up and wore it as you’re supposed to. Let’s leave that there.

Served by the monks, you all eat in a big room and dinner consists of an amazing vegetarian feast. There wasn’t really anywhere to hide my camera in the yukata . I was too chicken to brazenly waltz in with it, and then felt sad when the huge tour group came in with huge cameras and no shame. So no photos from me, but no doubt thousands online from bolder guests.

Bathing was available 4pm – 9pm and was traditional Japanese style. You strip off, give yourself a proper wash with soap and so forth. Rinse off, then sit in the bath. This is segregated on gender, but otherwise public. The shower and bath is all in one room and is all made of wood, giving it a wet room/sauna vibe. The bath was lovely and warm. No photos for obvious reasons.

Early to bed then early to rise around here. After bathing, I fell almost immediately asleep (yes, at 8pm) and slept until 6.10am. It was quiet and fresh up in the mountain, and our room was basic but delightful.

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[In case it needs saying, I didn’t run this morning].

Day 8 started with morning prayers at 6.30am, which were  compulsory (but of course we’d have gone anyway). One thing I’m sad about is how little I’ve learnt about the actual beliefs here. I’ve seen Shinto and Buddhist shrines, read about the history and characters and seen the practice. But I have little idea what the beliefs are and we’ve not had much downtime to read up ourselves. In honesty I only want a rough summary, which is never easy to find anyway. No photos AGAIN. God, staying in a temple isn’t going to be great for my Instagram presence.

Prayers involved chanting-slash-singing (them, not us) for 45 minutes. Matthew did admirably not to sneeze at one point.  Another guest did less well, poor chap.

Soul dealt with, it was body time (once again). Breakfast! Another vegetarian feast ensued. I had my camera this time.

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Then we set off to see the other sights in Koyasan.

The East gate “Daimon” marking the entrance to Koyasan.

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The Dando Garam area had so much to see. Now, another thing I’ve learnt is that when you make buildings with wood, plonk metal on them and locate them at the top of hills, it doesn’t go well. Everything we’ve seen has burnt down at least once from lightening strike and this was no different.

Incidentally, now most of these temples have very obvious lightening conductors. Better late than never.

The Chumon Gate; destroyed by many fires, most recently rebuilt after fire in 1843.

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The Kondo main hall; built by Kobo Daishi in 819, destroyed by fire six times and finally rebuilt in 1934.

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Konpon Daito also started by Kobo Daishi (although completed after he entered eternal meditation); rebuilt six times after fire, most recently in 1996.

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The Fudo-Do is Koyasan’s claim to an old building. At what point does it stop being that building?

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The Rokkaku Kyozo originally would have entirely rotated. We guess to catch sunlight? Anyway, here’s a video of Matthew rotating it (now not moving the building, and just for show; the original burnt down in 1843 and the subsequent replacement burnt down in 1926).

You get the idea. I will pop all the photos from this holiday in an online album, properly labelled, but that’s not for here (and is probably of little interest to anyone). Temple, shrine, temple, gate etc. You the idea. There is SO MUCH amazing religeous architecture, none more that 200 years old. Very unusual seeming to a European, especially for a country so dedicated to tradition.

Lots of shoes on off on off action again. The clever people wore slip ons. The morons wore walking boots. Actually I perhaps sank even lower down the “looking shite on holiday” scale. (Sod the shrines, I know this is the kind of photo you’re here for….)

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One thing I’ve discovered on this trip is silken tofu, which we had for dinner at the temple. We were on Hannah Time for the cable car (WHO KNOWS HOW FREQUENT THE BUS IS???) so had e.g. an hour and a half to kill before our reserved train (I have a sickness). A cafe packed with locals did the trick. Ramen with silken tofu!

It’s like eating blamanche with chop sticks. Fortunately, the etiquette guide says it’s okay to slurp.

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Now we’re back in Osaka where we’re spending two nights. I wasn’t sure how successful the temple stay would be so I booked us into a fancy pants hotel here. Now we need to strike a balance between lounging at the hotel spa and getting out and seeing Osaka. We’re both a bit tired….

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….but unusually for us, it’s me who’s most keen to plough on and Matthew thinks it’d be nice to relax a bit after eight days of sightseeing.

What to do eh? Better go and get a drink somewhere whilst we think about it.

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