Thursday, July 5, 2012

Koya Mountain

Last time, when I wrote about my trip toJapan in 2011, I spoke of my love of Kyoto city. I thought I would continue with my Japan theme (I’m missing it… can you tell?) and write about one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had over there.  This time, rather than the city, it was the mountains: Mt Koya (or ‘Koyasan’).

Koyasan is the name given to the mountains in Wakayama prefecture, just south of Osaka and where one of my aunts lives. It’s the home of the Shingon Sect of Japanese Buddhism and is the ultimate escape, with the township only being accessible by cable-car (unless you want the ultimate authentic experience and climb up there). It also happens to be a World Heritage site, as well as boasting a string of National Treasures … to be honest, it feels as if it’s not even part of this world. While I was there I felt as if I was in the world of Totoro, the forest spirit who gives his name to the Studio Ghibli film.

Totoro (picture from web)

The majority of the town consists of temples. Everywhere. And where there are temples, there are monks… another thing I decided while over in Japan was that I wouldn’t mind marrying a monk. In the olden days this wouldn’t have been allowed but most monks are married with families nowadays, it’s too hard otherwise. And where better to find a cute young monk than Koyasan? There’s a uni there for those wishing to become proper, hardcore Buddhist monks and the crowd it attracts is not too bad at all (from what I saw anyhow). Just walking along the street you’ll  pass young and old monks alike, going about their daily business (grocery shopping on the bike, etc). As an Australian, I was fascinated with these robed beings and let out a squeal every time I spotted one. By the end, I think even Mum had been convinced into playing the spot-a-monk game with me.

Local monks stopping for a chat in the central car park 
Considering the majority of infrastructure in town is temples, it would make sense to assume the accommodation available was also of the temple-y kind. Hosted by monks, Mum and I enjoyed a night and two days of comfort. They  were painfully polite, as well as being horrendously good cooks. If I could eat like I did there every day, I would become vegan without a moment’s thought.
A view of our room from the hall

Dinner (rice and tea not picture)
Stepping off the cable car, then onto the bus and off onto the ground at Koyasan is like stepping back in time. I don’t have the words, nor do I have the photos, to do the place justice. Kyoto and Nara both give it a run for its money but there’s just something about the feel of Koyasan that is so unique, even within Japan. I know I said I prefer Japan in the summer but I think I could even brave the freezing winter temperatures if it meant I could go there again. There’s nothing more I can say, except that it may be my favourite place in the world.

The view up the mountain from the cable car

Monks walking through the graveyards of Okunoin on their way to the main building, the site of the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi (founder of Shingon Buddhism)
The place where Kobo Daishi is said to rest in eternal meditation, awaiting Miroku Nuorai. The monks take him breakfast each morning and it is believed that he provides salvation to those who ask for it. 
- Matilda

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