25.03.2015 - 26.03.2015 42 °F
We really enjoyed our time in Miyajima, even though it was close to freezing at night and very chilly during the day. Our ryokan was in a park but only a 7-8 minute walk to the beach. I'm sure it would be even more wonderful during the warmer months (although no mosquitos this time of year), but we were almost always cold. So where did we choose to go after Miyajima? Someplace even colder--Koyasan, up in the mountains of Wakayama Prefecture. Getting to Koyasan is not trivial. Online it looks positively daunting, with multiple transfers: from the ferry from Miyajima, back south to Hiroshima, then up to Osaka on the shinkansen, catch a subway, catch a train in a completely different station, and finally a cable car, to a waiting fleet of buses that take you to your temple/hotel. I think we left Miyajima around 9:30 am and finally arrived at our temple around 4:30 pm, but the actual trip was much easier than it looked--Japanese efficiency in travel is incredible, and there's always someone to help you at every step of the way.
Koyasan is celebrating the 1200th (not a typo) anniversary of its founding by the monk Kobo Daisho (aka Kukai). Kobo Daisho sounds like he was an amazing guy. He was the one who developed hiragana, the basic Japanese script. He brought Shingon Buddhism from China to Japan. He was a fine engineer and was responsible for building the Toji Temple we saw earlier in Kyoto. And he got imperial dispensation to develop a temple community on top of a mountain of his choice--he chose Koyasan 1200 years ago because the mountain is flat on top and shaped like a lotus blossom. Today more than 100 temples grace the mountain, many of which offer lodging at various price ranges and levels of comfort. Back a millenium ago, it was said to be a two day journey from Osaka, but given the altitude that must be climbed (no cable cars then), those monks must have been excellent, swift hikers.
We stayed in one of the older temples in town, Fudou-in. It started snowing as we arrived and we could see big chunks of ice in some containers near the entrance.
Our room was WARM and comfortable. In fact, it was so warm, we even had to turn off the space heater! How luxurious after cold Miyajima! And the food was fabulous--Buddhist temple vegetarian food. The tofu was incredible (as it has been everywhere we've been, almost). So rich, so creamy. Nothing like we get at home. It's like a fine panna cotta or Russian cream without the sugar. They serve thick spoonfuls of it, sitting in a pool of fine quality shoyu with a dab of real wasabi on top. In the morning, for breakfast, they serve it with a dab of jam or candied citrus peel, and it's like eating the finest yogurt. Sure wish I could duplicate this at home!
There was also gender segregated public baths--so relaxing!
Serious students of Buddhism can come to Koyasan to study. For the rest of us early morning prayer service is entirely optional. Dick surprised himself by going twice!
The highlight of Koyasan for us was walking through Okunoin, the 1200 year old cemetery, laid out amongst the majestic Japanese cedars, some more than 600 years old themselves. The Japanese government has tagged several of these trees for seed stock. Whatever one's faith, the serenity and reverence of the cemetery were highlights of our trip. Enjoy the photos!
And last, but not least, what cemetery can be complete without its own rocket? We have no clue what this was doing there.