Japan Highlights: Mt. Koya

Cemetery Path
The path to Okunoin Temple, lined with a half million tombs.

Peter and I spent one night at the Sekishoin temple on Mt. Koya. To get from Kyoto to Mt. Koya, we took the shinkansen (bullet train) to Osaka, then took a subway to a different train (the JR lines, which we rode most of the time, do not go up to Mt. Koya). The train ride was about 90 minutes long, and after that we took a 10 minute cable car ride, followed by a 15 minute bus ride. Including all the waiting around at train stations (and a break for lunch) it took us around 5 hours. But Mt. Koya was one of my favorite places, because it was so different from the rest of what we saw. The train rides were long, but gradually the buildings melted away into beautiful green mountainsides.

Koyasan is a very small village, consisting mainly of temples. Unfortunately, everything closes at 4:30, and we arrived so late that we weren’t able to tour the inside of any of the temples. But we did get to wander around and see the outsides of temples (and some of them are lit in the evening, which is quite striking), and the trip was worth it just for the experience of staying in the shukubo (temple lodging) which had lovely traditional Japanese rooms with views of the temple garden:

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Also part of the shukubo experience was a multi-course vegetarian dinner (shojin-ryori) which included tempura, tofu, pickled vegetables, two different soups, gelatin-like desserts, and fruit. Really tasty! Then, in the morning, we had the opportunity to participate in a morning meditation. Most everyone knelt on the tatami mats for the meditation, so I figured I’d try it. But I don’t recommend it — my feet were asleep within five minutes, and when the meditation was finished and they woke up, man was it ever painful!

It would have been nice to stay longer the next day and tour the temples, but unfortunately we had to leave right after breakfast so Peter could to get to the airport to make his flight back to the states. So we hopped back on the bus/cablecar/train/subway back to Osaka.

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