Mount Koya / Koyasan
I woke up the following day only to find out it was still raining. I hopped on the local JR line on the way to Osaka
station, from where I will transfer to Shin-Imamiya station for Koyasan. The JR pass is not valid on the Nankai railway which leads to Koyasan, instead I bought a Koyasan World Heritage ticket valid for 2 consecutive days for 3300 yen for a limited express train or 2900 yen for a regular train. Well I missed the limited express train, that train stopped for a minute before leaving, so I ended up taking the local line.
The heritage pass gives you roundtrip access to Koyasan from Shin-Imamiya station, the cablecar at Gokurakubashi station which will take you to Koyasan station and all the buses in the Koyasan area. It also gives discounted admission prices to select Koyasan temples. But before you board the local train, make sure you are in the first 4 cars, because the last 4 cars separate in one of the stations along the way. But the conductor will give you a heads up as to when that will happen, thank goodness. The train ride going to the mountains was very scenic, and I met a married couple who were also from California. Apparently they arrived in the same day that I did in Japan, but we took different flights. And the mother of the wife was born in the same city that I currently live in now.
Wow, what a small world we live in. As soon as I arrived at Koyasan station I obtained a map, and the bus routes; one of the ladies working at the bus counters directed me to which bus stop I should get off at after I told her where I will be staying. Some people call Koyasan the holy mountain, and is the center of Shingon Buddhism. Koyasan is also famous for providing overnight temple lodging for travelers. I chosed the cheapest accommodation, which cost me 10,100 yen for the night. The name of the temple I will be staying in is Shojoshin-in, and it’s one of the oldest temples in Koyasan, which was built 3 years before Kongobuji Temple. Check-in time wasn’t supposed to be until 2 pm, I got there around 1130 along with 3 other travelers who were staying that night.
I was glad that they let us check-in early, and stored my bag in the traditional style Japanese room. I went out afterwards to explore Koyasan.
Shojoshin-in is just next door to Okunoin temple, but I decided to come back to that later. The Koyasan area is small enough to practically walk around, despite the fact that bus stops are all over the place. The rain was still pouring down, and one of the first sites I visited was Kongobuji, which is the head temple of Shingon Buddhism. Kongobuji is covered by the discounted Koyasan World Heritage pass, and the discount is applied at the counter to the entrance of the temple. I highly suggest visiting this temple because it gives a quick history of how Shingon Buddhism was introduced to Japan, and eventually the founding of Koyasan to practice and teach the religion.
Kongobuji also contains the biggest rock garden in Japan. At the end of the temple is a big hall where you can sit down on the floor and relax with a hot green tea and a cracker snack to enjoy.Garan Complex
I left Kongobuji, opened up my umbrella and headed towards the Garan area. The site contains a variety of temple complex, and again most of the temples in the area offer the discounted price if you have the World Heritage pass. Instead of paying 500 yen, I ended up paying 200 yen. I must have spent 5-10 minutes each in the three temples covered by the pass. I’ve read people get “Templed Out,” after seeing so many temples and shrines in Japan; however I never felt that way considering this is the first time I’ve traveled, so I still had the adrenaline enjoyment of how exciting it is to travel.
Garan area temple complex.
The clouds started to clear up, and the rain went away around the afternoon, and I was so happy I don’t have to hold that crazy umbrella anymore. I felt free as a bird. I wanted to check out the Daimon gate and the pilgrimage trails, but I wanted to be back at Shojoshin-in in time for dinner. So I went back to visit the last site for the day, Okunoin temple. Okunoin
Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, can be found deep in Okunoin, which is one giant graveyard with thousands of gravestones sticking from the ground. It was a sight to behold, and this was my favorite site in Koyasan. It took me nearly 30 minutes to reach the bridge that leads to Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum and the hall of lanterns.
Signs were posted all over the place that pictures are not allowed beyond that bridge. I was looking at my watch thinking to myself whether I should visit the hall of laterns, but they were about to close, and I had to be back at the temple for dinner, so I went back instead.Night at Shojoshin-in temple and morning prayer ceremony
Back at the temple I put on my yukata, drank the green tea provided and ate the snack next to it. One of the monks knocked on my door and he said it was dinner time. I thought they were going to serve dinner in my room, but they had a dining hall where they served dinner. Most of the temple only provides vegetarian meal. At first a vegetarian dinner and breakfast didn’t sound too appetizing.
In a typical Kaiseki style meal set up, I had some rice, tofu, soup; some pickled vegetables and tempura vegetables, as well as some beans in place of meat. It tasted really good and way better than I imagined, and I was extremely surprised how filling it was. Breakfast was also similar, and exceeded my expectations. I went back to my room to organize my luggage and bags, as well as recharge some of the batteries. Afterwards I went to the bathing area to wash up, and dipped into the bathtub filled with hot water to soak and relax. It was a small bathtub, 2 other travelers were there also soaking in. We talked for a bit before I went back to my room.
I woke up around 530 am, got dressed up to attend the morning prayer ceremony at 6 am.
Shojoshin-in temple lodging from the outside.
I thought I was going to be the first one there when I arrived at 550 am, but no, I was one of the stragglers. I sat on a wooden bench along with what seemed like 18-20 other travelers, while the monks sat on the floor and chanted a deep song-like prayer for the next 40 minutes. The chanting was so soothing and relaxing; and I could feel the echo of their voice penetrate my heart and body. Towards the end of the prayer ceremony, we all got up in line, lit up a candle incense and placed it on an ashtray. We each kneeled and said our prayer in silence. After we were all done, one of the monks spoke in English to give his thanks to the travelers and wish us luck on our journeys. Breakfast was served afterwards in the dining hall. As much as I wanted to have seen the hall of lanterns in Okunoin, I decided to walk around town for a bit more before going back to Koyasan station.