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THE JAPAN DIARIES: Koyasan


Hey everyone,

I'm very excited to continue my The Japan Diaries series - you can read all the previous installments here.
Or skip to Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.

My plan when I arranged to go to Koyasan was to go to the mountains for a cleansing experience, to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city for a while. 

This turned out to be more difficult when I had to be up at 7am to start packing and get ready to leave. My head was throbbing. I should have turned down that last sake from Mr Yano

And to make matters worse, when I checked my phone - Hurricane Phanfone had hit again in the night. It had mostly gone over Tokyo and we got the backlog.
Trains had been thrown off a little. I was worried as I had several changes to catch.

My worries were unfounded however. Delayed trains are simply unacceptable in Japan.
By rush hour, everything was running as usual - like clockwork.

They say part of the adventure to Koyasan is getting there and that's certainly true.

I caught the train from Osaka Namba to Gokurakubashi, then caught the cable car up to the mountains. It really was beautiful, feeling miles above the trees.




Then unfortunately, as soon as I stepped off the cable car - the heavens opened.

The high altitude wasn't helping my hangover, so instead of fannying on trying to find the right bus and fret I was getting off at the wrong stop I hopped in a taxi and it was the best Y2,500 I spent.

I was both excited and also a little apprehensive about staying with monks in a temple.
But Hayley had recommended the Souji-in to me, insisting it was one of her favourite experiences in all her years visiting Japan.

I was greeted by a monk, who bowed and politely pointed at my feet. I'd forgotten to take my shoes off standing on the steps, whoops! 

He took me to the reception area and we sat opposite each other crossed legged on piles of pillows while he took down my details, advised meal and prayer times and explained the rules.
(Very simple and common sense: no raised voices, speaking in hushed voices, showing respect for the monks and others, no flash photography etc.)

Another little monk then gave me a pair of slippers which were absolutely massive on my size 5 feet and I kept slipping all over the place on the polished floor which was quite embarrassing.

He gestured to the dining room, prayer hall, onsen rooms and then to my room.

It was definitely suitable for several people - separated into two rooms with a sliding door.
On one side was a little table with a kettle, cup and saucer plus nori sheets and a sweet mochi to nibble. A yukata was neatly folded in the corner.

The other room was my bedroom with huge open windows with a beautiful view of the zen gardens and a futon with lots of heavy blankets. 

Unfortunately the rain showed no signs of stopping, spoiling my plans to wander around the grounds and the village so I fell into a deep, wonderful nap, and slept soundly under the heavy blankets.

I set my alarm on my phone (vibrate only of course so I slept with it in my bra!) to wake up in plenty of time for dinner, when I changed into the yukata.
I felt a bit immodest with just my underwear underneath, so I put on a vest/singlet and a pair of black shorts.

Just as I was wondering how I was going to find the dining room, or if I was going to be served in my room as a single guest - the little monk who showed me around came and let me to the hall.
(I didn't chance the slippers again and just wore my socks. I still slipped on the polished floors like a fool.)

The other guests were all fellow Westerners when I stayed, and we were separated by a small privacy screen which I appreciated.
Dinner was Shojin Ryori - traditional vegan food eaten by the monks.

Shojin Ryori
This was my breakfast, I unfortunately forgot to bring my camera along to dinner!

I'm not a particularly picky eater (surprise, surprise), and found everything absolutely delicious:
Miso soup, soft gelatinous tofu, pickled ginger, tempura vegetables, greens in a sweet sauce, soy beans, nori and rice.

A monk I hadn't seen before with trendy black glasses came along with extra nori and served me a huge pot of green tea. I thanked him as he set everything down in front of me. He paused and said:

"Excuse me miss, may I ask you question?"
"Of course."
"You are English girl, yes?"
"Yes, I'm from Northern England."
"Ahh very good. I enjoy the cooking of Jamie Oliver."

And there you have it.
50,000 miles from home, sitting in a yukata in a temple talking about Britain's favourite celebrity chef with a monk. That's one for the grandbairns.
I laughed and called him Jamie every time I saw him the rest of my stay.

After dinner the rain had weaned and I finally had a walk around the temple.
I considered going to the onsen but I couldn't remember which one the monk had said was the male and female and honestly couldn't cope with the embarrassment of choosing the wrong one, so I missed out.

I never did visit an onsen during my visit, which was a bit of a shame - I've put it on my list for my 2017 trip, however.
(My sister is not looking forward to this.)

The beautiful serene grounds which smelled especially wonderful after a night of heavy rainfall.


After an early night, I woke up refreshed and ready at 6:00am for prayers.
These are listed as mandatory in the house rules, but they're hardly going to come in and force you out of bed if you don't fancy it.

But I don't see why you would miss it out after going all the way there.
I walked to the prayer room myself - a large room full of gold Buddhas, incense, scrolls and a huge gong.
I got lost in the long, warbling chanting in the perfumed room lead by Jamie, a truly amazing experience lasting about an hour. 

Breakfast was served straight away - almost identical to the previous evening's dinner, but without the tempura and a smaller portion which suited me as I don't have the biggest appetite first thing in the morning. 

After being bowed out by the monks, and ensuring them I'd had a wonderful stay I started my long journey back to Tokyo.
It must have taken me about six hours and I was absolutely knackered after being on trains all day.

Mind and body cleansed, but you have no idea how fast this was shoved into my face as soon as I hit Shinjuku:



Muchos love,
Carla 


1 comment:

  1. It sounds like such a great experience I'm definitely going to put this on my list of things to do when I next go to Japan xoxo

    Cateaclysmic

    ReplyDelete