Mt Koya-san & the Shojoshin-in

Trip Start May 07, 2008
Trip End May 15, 2008

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Flag of Japan  , Kinki,
Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Koyasan is located around 1000m above sea level and is surrounded by mountain peaks on all sides. Kukai founded Koyasan as a religious retreat in 816 (Shingon ((true word)) Sect of Buddhism). Followers of this religion believe Kukai is not dead but merely meditating in his tomb in the cemetery. Hence many offerings of food are left outside the tomb to keep him sustained. Women were also barred from Koyasan until 1872.
After leaving our cases behind at the Granvia we were on the 7.16am Shinkansen to Shin Osaka station. This takes 15 minutes, because it is the fastest train. Our carriage should've been non-smoking but there were people disobeying this rule much to my disgust. Pete loved the trip - filming the whole way! From here we had to get on the Osaka City Midouduji Line and get to Namba station. This was on the subway. Somehow I managed to get a seat but part way through the trip it was body to body with people. I felt very claustrophobic!! We arrived to namba station and had a 7 minute walk through the whole station area to get to Namba Nankai. We had a little time to spare but started on our way and when we asked directions found we had gone in the wrong direction and had to retrace our steps. I guess I should've slowed down considerably and read the signs properly. This is such a huge underground station!! Well we managed to get to our part and purchase the Koyasan Free Servic ticket for Y3350 each. This got us on the train, cable car and return but he sold me the cheaper one which was for the unreserved train leaving shortly. This was not the one I wanted, so I illegally went back through the gates & he directed me to the "upgrade/pay more machines" which is back the way I came. However, I couldn't get back through and a nice businessman helped me and I went through the station rangers side. Managed to upgrade the tickets but I did press the wrong button which we found out later....then went back to our platform to wait. Unbeknown to us the next train took off from a different platform and we boarded the wrong train. We asked a lady if it was the right one and she said no, so we got off just before it departed and went back to find out where the next train left from. I finally worked out the timetable they had and realized the next train was leaving from a different platform altogether. We finally got on a train that was reserved and direct to Mt Koya that was to take 1.25hrs. The train hostess wanted to practice some English, so she came for a chat later. She also realized I didn't pay the right amount for this trip and charged us the extra...Oh well. We got to Gokurakubashi and boarded the cable car to head up the mountain. It was sooo steep and such a weird cablecar/ropeway. Basically a train carriage being pulled up the tracks. From the station we boarded a bus - luckily got the last two seats and an English mum, dad and daughter boarded the bus but not before mum was yelling at dad that she couldn't lift her heavy luggage on board. One reason why we didn't bring ours! I wasn't paying much attention to where we should get off and nor were they actually and we all ended up at the end of the line which had bypassed both places that we were staying. Back on the bus, we finally all got off at the same stop and they were staying at the Monastery next to ours. We found the Shojoshin-in Temple (finally, as the sign post was very discreet). We checked in and was allowed to proceed to our "room" straight away, which was great! We were shown to the Hanare which was our own private residence, with our own beautiful Japanese Garden complete with flowering Wisteria. Cherry Blossoms, eat your heart out as Wisteria is just as pretty! The Hanare had 2 hallways - one leading to our sitting room and bedroom which looked out over the garden and the second lead past 3 toilets (a Japanese squat, a urinal & a western) to the cedar Japanese bath at the end. There were 3 bedrooms in this Hanare - all interconnected by sliding shoji - all decorated with beautiful paintings. I am guessing it gets cold, as there were gas heaters in every room including the hallway to the bathroom. We got settled, had a nice green tea, whilst looking out over our garden and then went walking to find firstly some lunch. Not far up the road was a restaurant and I had a feed of tempura and Pete had Chinese noodle soup with the mandatory beer. 
We walked past many different monasteries all offering accommodation and went and visited the following:
Kongo buji-mae, Rokuji no Kane, Fudodo (my favorite), Kondo, Konpon Daito. The Fudodo was said to have been built in 1198 by Gyosho Shonin and is the oldest structure on Koyasan. There was another building which I can't identify but it is so pretty with lanterns hanging all around which just got brighter and brighter as the day grew dimmer. By 2pm it was getting pretty cool and by 3pm damn cold. It started to rain - lucky we had our brollies and we walked back to our Hanare with a very quick look in the cemetery next door to us, for dinner (shojinryori) was not far away. We went to the main hall and were taken to our tatami mat room, which we were to share with another couple. I was actually thinking everyone staying here would be eating in one big hall on long tables with long stools to sit on (sort of like school camp!). Our dining room had a screen dividing us and the other couple (who were English) and we were then served our vegetarian meal (no onions or garlic either). This consisted of miso style soup, rice of course, green tea, tempura veg, tofu, pickles, more mystery food & fruit for dessert. It wasn't too bad at all and we certainly didn't feel the need to go out and eat anywhere else. We went back to our Hanare and started the oil heaters (they run for 3 hours before you need to restart). We then went to explore the cemetery. We still had about 1 hour perhaps of light left. I got pretty wrapped up in Pyjama bottoms underneath my jeans and two long sleeve tops under my jacket, along with my scarf so tried to keep warm as much as possible.
The walk from the entrance bridge to Torodo (Lantern Temple) is around 2kms. The Lantern Hall is the main building of the complex and it houses hundreds of lamps, including two believed to have been burning for more the 900 years. Behind this hall is the Kukai Mausoleum. It was dark by the time we got here and of course everything was closed up. There were also signs stating no photo's to be taken. However, the walk was beautiful, with the lovely cobbled pathway winding it's way through the tombs and grave's on each side. All different sizes & styles, with moss covering the old ones. There were also a few new ones thrown in here and there and if you explored a little of the beaten track, the graves were more rundown and in disrepair. The lanterns light your way, so it's never too dark and it certainly wasn't spooky. I just wished I knew what I was looking at! In hindsight a guide would've been perfect and I noticed they had signs with a number corresponding to an audio tour. If in English, I would definitely recommend it. We walked back the same way and stopped just outside the entrance to try our first vending machine coffee. It was Y120 and the moment you pushed the button it was there, in a warm can, ready for drinking. It actually wasn't as bad as I thought it would be - just tasted like long-life milk, sweetened with condensed milk! If you don't like sweet - don't buy. Went down really nicely in the cold mountains! Well nothing much to do now but head back to our Hanare and chill out. Actually it was soo warm inside, so we decided to have a Bath - which was just delicious and fits two perfectly - if you don't want to stretch out that is. The futons were simply the best beds I have ever laid on. The doonas were thick and warm. This was exquisite and so much better than a hotel room. Definitely a highlight and highly recommended.
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