(The little guy with orange cap in the first picture is the mascot of Koyasan and you can see him everywhere there)
Koyasan was the last place we visited before going back to Tokyo. It is an UNESCO‘s world heritage site and the center of one of the Buddhist sect in Japan. It is a small town located in mountain with more than 100 temples. I put Koyasan in my Japan list at the last minute after i read an article about travelling for the first time to Japan in Tofugu by Koichi (Koichi, I am a big fan) and boy am i glad I did.
We took a train on a foggy morning from Kyoto station where we purchased Koyasan World Heritage Pass. It covered train rides to and from also bus rides in Koyasan. The uphill ride was a treat for the eyes, with its greenery and glimpse of Japan rural living. Once we reached the last station, Gokorakubashi, we had to take a “cable car”, it’s a 45 degree slopped thrilling train ride surrounded by thick forest. We reached before noon, the weather was chilly and it started to drizzle. Glad, I brought my Minnie sweater in my backpack. There were busses waiting outside the station so we hopped into the crowded one hoping that the bus would take us to town and after a few bus stops away we saw our inn, we got down and dragged our luggage to Fukuchi-In, the temple lodging (Shukubo).
We were staying overnight in a Buddhist temple, an actual temple with lived in monks. It is a lovely place with serene vibe and picture postcard garden views. We explored the inn, being awed and took pictures of new things. We were exactly behaving like tourists. We put our luggages and ordered room services for the cheapest dinner, which cost us 3000yen (my two days meal allowance) and headed out.
It was still drizzling when we entered the main gate of Okunouin, the biggest graveyard in Japan, a sacred place and a popular pilgrimage spot. It has hundreds tombstones and much of it looked unusual and interesting. The whole atmosphere of this place gave me some sort of tranquil feeling and I think the others felt the same way too. We walked on our own, taking our time and enjoying the effect of the surrounding in the rain. After sometime I reached Torodo Hall, a praying hall with thousands of lamps, it was a gorgeous sight.
We read before that it is believed that Buddha will come and raise everyone who are buried in Okunouin and that if you want to be taken to heaven one day you should at least leave a part of yourself too. Yin was intrigued by it and left her eyelash there. She surprises me at times, but I guess we all are looking for a better place, if it is Nirvana for her so be it 🙂 We looked around for a while and since the rain had gotten worse, we decided to go back to the inn.
It was cold outside, once we reach our room, we changed to Yukata and went to the Onsen. Oh yes, i forgot to mention Fukuchi-in has Onsen, both outdoor and indoor. Onsen is a public bathing in Japan with hot water from natural hot spring. Believed to have healing power derived from its mineral content, it is a part of Japanese culture. I remembered what Yasusi, the Mount Fuji guide told us, he said “Japanese love two things, dearly, their rice and hot spring bath” and what is not to like about soaking yourself in warm water in a cold day?
To enjoy Onsen first we have to clean ourselves thoroughly. Usually at an open place near the Onsen itself, my guess is so that we can’t cheat cleanliness before you nakedly join others in it. We were given a small towel before going in, we were supposed to put it on our head like in those Japanese cartoons.
It was a 40c hot water and we dipped slowly to adjust to the heat. Once we got comfortable with the temperature we could really feel our body slowly relax, muscle knots loosen up and it was just aahhh…. Lucky for us, it was only the three of us on that day. Saved me from unnecessary stares and post naked body image crises.
Soaking in the hot spring water was heavenly. We were uber relaxed and I was getting hungry, so we returned to our room. To my pleasant surprise dinner had been served. I have been looking forward to this Shoji-Roju cooking. It was a typical vegetarian monk meal. Everything was tofu and vegetables based. Tonight, the meal (prepared by the temple monks) looked mouthwatering and even though cooked without oil and no garlic was added to it, it was delicious. Dinner was followed by a lovely dessert, but too bad I and I were still full from dinner. This time Yin managed to finish all three (she really loves Japanese food and she has been sending us pictures of it every now and then until now).
We put out the futon and I was getting ready to sleep when I checked my phone and I saw two messages from my friends back home, they said they miss me. Awww, it had been an awesome day.
The next day they held a morning prayer by 6am, guests were welcome to join and observe it after that we had another round of onsen, ate our breakfast and kept our luggage at the entrance. We would be going to Danjo Garan before leaving for Tokyo later.
It was a beautiful autumn morning to explore Danjo Garan, the birth place of Koyasan.It is a big monastery complex used to train monks. Danjo Garan has many temples in the complex, the most famous one is Daito. This striking red temple stands magnificently against the blue sky. We walked around the complex, enjoying the perfect morning view before taking the train back to Tokyo.
Koyasan has a calming effect and definitely an interesting experience. If you have a day or two to spare, do visit and stay in a Shukubo.