My best day in Japan.
Koyasan Travel Blog› entry 22 of 251 › view all entries
April 9th, 2008 – by: cmgervais
Woke up early -- before 6 -- in anticipation of an early departure to today's destination: Koyasan. Koyasan, listed on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sights, is a monastic center at the top of Mount Koya with a whole bunch of temples and sights to see. According to information we could find, it would take somewhere between 90 minutes and 3 hours to reach our destination (it was close to 3 hours all said and done).
Despite best intentions, we found ourselves on the 8:19 Nankai train... a later start than we had planned. The train took about an hour, and dropped us at Hashimoto, where we boarded a local train that stopped at every single little station until we got to Gokurakubashi station (say that five times fast!).
Our plan was to visit Okunoin, a memorial park and cemetery. The Fodor's description was enticing, but even so, did not do this place justice. It is a 1.5-mile paved walk through an ancient cedar forest that is also a cemetery. The trees are so big, and so breathtaking, photos can not capture their enormity and words won't do them justice. This type of old-growth forest has sadly become rare in the world. Clustered amidst the trees, the mausoleums and grave markers ranged from incredibly old to fairly new.
Along the way, we saw many statues outfitted with red bibs and little hats. [This prompted a subsequent Google search for "Buddhist bibs on statues" and I learned these little guys are called "Jizo Bodhisattvas" and represent the souls of miscarried, stillborn or aborted children. Apparently there are fears that these children are unable to cross the mythical Sanzu river because they have not lived long enough to accumulate the required number of good deeds. The deity Jizo, however, saves these little souls (perhaps by hiding them in his robes...this is not exactly clear) and is therefore much beloved.] I took about approximately one million photos.
There were some large tour groups along the way, but much of the time we felt we had the place almost to ourselves.
We were shy about going into the Torodo, but mimicked everyone else so as not to make a big offensive blunder. Inside there were thousands of softly glowing lanterns stacked on shelves and hanging everywhere. It was dim and moody, with some monks picturesquely tending several flames (Fodors said that one of the flames has been perpetually lit since 1016!).
Back outside, we continued on the path. There was a pyramid of old looking Bodhisattvas that we wondered about. There was a rest stop along the way and Buddhist pilgrims were having their books stamped (one down, 87 to go!) .
The path finally spilled us out of the wonder and onto a regular street near the town. Just in time for lunch! I wanted to try shojin ryori, a multi-course vegetarian meal prepared by monks. I inquired in the tourist office and was told to go to Hanabishi, down the street. Although the food was not prepared by monks, it was sensational, and I will write a review soon.
We wanted to take the 2:30 train back to Osaka, so we started to walk back to the bus station.
Can the perfect day get even better? Why yes it can! Back in Osaka, we decided to try the vegetarian restaurant that had been closed on Monday: Maman Terrace. We both had a fantastic meal! (I will write a review soon.)
So, my advice is to skip Kyoto and go to Koyasan. It was my best day in Japan.
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!