Have you ever met a monk that has a full time job a as computer teacher. A house in the city with a temple in the country. Rides a Harley and likes to sail. While I have and what a glorious host him and his wife make.
With not much in mind for new years except maybe... meeting up with some of Hessens friends, possibly on an island, for a couple drinks and some cake, where we would join a monk to climb the mountain and watch the first sunrise of the new year. With all of this as a possibility we set off on a wonderful journey.
We where picked up by Julie from the U.K. and her Japan musician boyfriend Hidahara
. On our way to meet a dude named Brian from California to hang with the monk. If everything went the way it was suppose to. Nobody really knew what that meant so how could we go wrong. With wine, cake and strawberries in hand we set off in Hidaharas little Nissan along the twisty turny roads to find Brians place in the middle of the night. A few bridges and a few phone calls later we arrived. Brian does live on a more traditional island of Japan and he also has a puzzle room. As we entered the room the smell of malt wine filled our senses. Nothing like a kick from the good stuff to take of the chill and let everyone slide into the night. We needed to make a decision whether to see the sunrise by boat on the ocean or by the top of the mountain. HMMMMMM. The temperature outside depicted we take the mountain.
So we are off to the temple to meet the monk. We arrive high on the hill to awake the slumbering monk. It's fine as he invites us in for tea and soup. No problem, glad to have you. As we sit and enjoy pleasant conversation and soup we are told that a fire has been started outside. Outside indeed there is some smoke where a fire will be. Once the fire is stared and everyone takes notice of the moon and the stars the first bell is rung. A deep BONG emanates across the valley. At different temples at different times a huge bell is rung on New Years Eve 108 times. The 108 times is in reference to the 108 sufferings of man
. You keep track of the number of rings by throwing a seed into the fire each time. Which is probably a good thing because after the 5th or so ring and the city officials showing up, the gold sake begins to pour. The fire and gold sake help keep of the chill. The monk has retired to one of the shrines to do his thing. He chants and uses musical instruments to create these harmonious and captivating sounds. We are invited into the temple to sit with the monk and listen to his chants. Afterwords he explains that it is the year of the boar and that the boar runs in a direct path and does not deviate. The boar also resembles wealth and good fortune. The Buddhist statue he is chanting to is locked in a wooden box high in the temple and can only be opened every 17 years. There are many ornate things throughout the small temple. Enough to keep the eyes busy for centuries and the questions flowing even longer. We are invited back inside the house with some others to take part in more food and drink. The food is fantastic along with the company. Its time to go get a few hours sleep until we hike up the mountain.
Now let's get something straight here. Being from Canada and living near the Rocky Mountains these are not really mountains. They are large steep mountainous hills rising from the sea. Not without dangers though. We must be careful of the wild boars. After a brief sleep, a quick coffee, and a steady pace, we find ourselves at the top of the mountain. It is bitterly cold and windy. There are a few others already there huddled together facing west towards the big blue sea in anticipation of the first sunrise of the year. We huddle and wait as more and more people show up to take part in the show. Unfortunately the show never happens. The sun did come up but behind a great curtain of clouds. We start the hike down where we meet some of Brains school kids and some organizers of a running race
. Not really a race but a walk to the top of the mountain. We are given free passes to the onsen (hot springs, bath house, more on these at a later date) that is down the mountain and awaiting our cold and sore bodies. We find ourselves back at the temple for more gold sake and a traditional breakfast of vegetables and tofu's that all have some traditional significants. After a brief walk in the morning sun which has decided its time to make its appearance. We stop at another temple to pay homage. We are not permitted to leave before being invited inside for another shot of sake. The sake and the sun warm the body in preparation for a great soak in the hot pools of the onsen. The first day of new years is amazing. Good people, good food, good times. Thanks Everyone!