"Ryokan on Koyasan"

Trip Start Sep 09, 2009
Trip End Oct 21, 2009

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Henjou-Son-in Ryokan

Flag of Japan  , Kinki,
Thursday, October 8, 2009


"Ryokan on Koyasan"
by swami_worldtraveler


A traditional Japanese inn on a mountain top in a Buddhist complex, including a vegetarian dinner and breakfast... sounded great to me!

I didn't count on a typhoon, but then nothing is perfect, I guess. But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.


By train --> tram --> bus it was a relatively short two hour trip from Nara near Osaka to the half mile high Mount Koya, famous for the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism since the 9th century.

Under a light drizzle, my occasional travel companion, Michele, and I made our way to the gate of the Henjoson-in Buddhist ryokan. It looked very promising...


Henjou-Son-in ....

We grabbed a pair of slippers from the multitude carefully lined up, then checked in.

"Konnichiwa. Swami," I announced.

"Hai. Swami san," the plump monk confirmed., motioning me to sit on the floor at his level.

Shortly, a young monk appeared to lead us to our room and give us an orientation. He was quite paced and thorough in explaining things in his limited English as we walked thru the tastefully decorated halls.

"Buddhist ceremony at six in morning, here," he pointed. "Dinner at six," he continued. "Breakfast at six," he added, pointing the way, again.

Up a flight of stairs and to our awaiting room we went.

Our host continued his well-rehearsed spiel... "Your room..."

We removed our slippers in the small "foyer" and beheld the accommodations... VERY IMPRESSIVE. Minimalist, but nice.

We stepped onto the bamboo tatami mat and sat on the floor chairs at the low tea table - the only furnishing in the room; not a bed in sight.

"Futon in here," he revealed, sliding open a floor-to-ceiling length door. BTW, a "futon" in Japan is a simple, thin mattress which is easily stowed and retrieved.

Looking inward to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything; satisfied he had done his job, the monk made his goodbye and exited.


Michele and I looked at each other across the table... and smiled:) It wall all very nice - very nice, indeed - even romantical:)

While Michele prepared some tea, I propped my camera up on a makeshift riser, set if for delayed shutter release and multiple exposures, pointed it precisely, depressed the button, and swiftly make my way back to our waiting tea ceremony...

[CLICK, CLICK, CLICK...] We posed, and toasted, and enjoyed:)

We finished our tea off with the complimentary sweets left for us - kind of a Fig Newton, but with a sweet bean center. Very tasty:)


After a short nap for Michele and a little blogging for SwaME, we donned our yukatas (summer kimono "robe"), slid into our slippers, and solemnly made our way to the dining room...

Our table was already waiting for us - a myriad of exotic, unfamiliar food graced various little bowls. The arrangement was a work of art mixing color, shape, and smell. The flame under the nabe pot simmered tofu, clear rice "spaghetti," and various vegetables. And of course, there was tea.

[CLICK, CLICK] I *HAD TO* take a few photos. We BOTH agreed.

"Hmmm, so what is this?..." I wondered.

In fact, I wondered this about almost everything before me.

I extended my chopsticks into a bowl and plucked out the unknown morsel. A brief inspection, then into the mouth... Yummm, very nice:)

Michele and I repeated this culinary exploration for the rest of the meal. Everything was a new delight - and totally vegetarian.


Back in our room we rearranged things and settled in for a potentially blustery night. Forecast: TYPHOON!

Koyasan lay right in the path of a powerful storm system. If it got really bad we were instructed to take shelter in the Ceremony Hall.

The winds howled thru the night, but the center of the storm veered east and spared us all. The next morning's newspaper and TV reports told of landfall to the north. Fortunately, the storm lost much of its energy by the that time and damage was relatively minimal, all things considered.


We were up early and made it to the 6am Buddhist ceremony. A quick scan around revealed that we were the only "gaijin" (foreigners) in attendance. In fact, Buddhist ryokans are largely the destination of pilgrims along their trek. They travel from temple to temple filling a special foldout book with kanji and a special red stamp marking each stop along the way.

The hall was lavishly decorated with a Buddha and other figures, plus incense burners, lit candles, a gong, a big drum, intricate hanging things, a low alter, and more... much more. In fact, the place was very "busy," indeed!

The ceremony involved a lot of chanting (by the monks only), the droning of a resonating bowl, small wooden slates on which attendees scrawled (wishes, perhaps), a trip to the alter for a silent prayer and to pinch some incense and add it to the fire, and finally culminating in a darma talk by the elder monk.

We listened to the monk's distintive delivery, only able to guess at his message. It was interesting, nonetheless. Later we were told the talk was about how to obtain happiness - a common theme in Buddhism.

The hour and a half ceremony ended with a descent to the basement. A silent, slow walk was made along a footpad-lined path. Deliberate steps with a pause at each pad stretched the procession out over a long time for a short distance traveled.

The walk was lined with banks of numbered cubby compartments and an alter on the last leg. I'm not sure what all of this was about. Can any of my Buddhist friends help me out here?

Our spiritual curiosity satisfied, we made our way to feed our bodies...


Well, not at the same time!

After the quite interesting Buddhist ceremony we changed back into our yukatas and headed for breakfast. Again, all was laid out for us, ready to enjoy. And again, it was all delicious and all vegetarian. YUM:)

With the few remaining hours we had left on the mountain we wandered thru the little old town. We found the large Buddhist graveyard (largest in Japan!) I'd heard tell of. The thick green moss on everything and the weathered stone attested to the sanctuary's age. We walked the better part of the two kilomemter walk thru the countless memorials.

[CLICK CLICK] Interesting photographic subject everywhere. Michele indulged my fascination, especially since her camera had stopped functioning. Besides, she knows that a trip with Swami involves LOTS of photos!:)

Of particular interest were the many Jizouson dressed in frilly little bibs and the occasional knitted hat. I later learned that Jizou is the bodhisattva protector of people condemned to Hell.

With time getting on, we doubled back and retrieved our backpacks from the ryokan.


We saw our plump Buddhist receptionist on the way out.

"Arigatou," he said.

"Don't touch my mustache," I joked, one last time.

He simple LOVED this twist of a phrase since the first time Michele told it to him. The actual phrase is "Doitashimashte" ("You're welcome.") Yes, buddhist have a sense of humor, too!:)

Taking the tram back down the mountain, I looked up and said sayounara to the venerable Koyasan. I highly recommend a trip to anybody traveling Japan. It's definitely an experience I will treasure from my time in the ancient Land of the Rising Sun.
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Eamonn Reilly on

Thanks for you insight and pictures of Koya-san.

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