Koyasan was the last place we visited before going back to Tokyo. It is a UNESCO‘s world heritage site and the center of a Japanese Buddhist sect. It is a small town located on a mountain with more than 100 temples. I put Koyasan on my Japanese 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 a Koyasan World Heritage Pass. It included train rides to and from and also bus rides in Koyasan. The uphill ride was a treat for the eyes, with the greenery and glimpse of Japanese 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 Koyasan before noon; the weather was chilly and it started to drizzle. Gladly, I had my Minnie sweater in my backpack. There were busses waiting outside the station so we hopped onto a crowded one hoping that the bus would take us to town, and after a few bus stops we saw our inn. We got off and dragged our luggage to Fukuchi-In, the temple lodging (Shukubo).
We were staying overnight in a Buddhist temple, an actual temple with live-in monks. It is a lovely place with a serene vibe and picture postcard garden views. We explored the Inn, being awed and took pictures of new things. We were behaving exactly like tourists. We stored our luggage and ordered room service 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 of tombstones, and much of it looks unusual and interesting. The whole atmosphere of this place gave me a 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 surroundings in the rain. After some time I reached the Torodo Hall, a praying hall with thousands of lamps; it was a glorious sight.
We had read that it is believed that Buddha will come and raise everyone who is 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 are all 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 reached 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 public bathing in hot water from a natural hot spring in Japan. 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 thing, dearly, their rice and hot spring bath” and what is not to like about soaking yourself in warm water on 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 with cleanliness before you join others naked. We were given a small towel before going in, and we were supposed to put it on our head like in those Japanese cartoons.
The temperature of the water was a hot 40c and we slowly dipped in to adjust to the heat. Once we got comfortable with the temperature we could really feel our bodies 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 a post-naked-body image crisis!
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 had been looking forward to this Shoji-Roju cooking. It was a typical vegetarian monk meal. Everything was tofu and vegetable based. Tonight, the meal (prepared by the temple monks) looked mouth watering and even though it was cooked without oil and there was no garlic added, it was delicious. Dinner was followed by a lovely dessert, but too bad; I and I were full from dinner. This time Yin managed to finish all three (she really loves Japanese food and has been sending us photos every now and then).
We pulled 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 were missing me. Awww, it had been an awesome day.
The next day they held a morning prayer at 6am, and guests were welcome to join and observe. After that we had another round of onsen, ate our breakfast and stored 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 views before taking the train back to Tokyo.
Koyasan had a calming effect and definitely an interesting experience. If you have a day or two to spare, do visit and stay in a Shukubo.