In Search of our Inner Buddha
Trip Start Mar 18, 2009
134Trip End Jan 12, 2010
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The approach to Gokurakubashi was picture perfect as the train took a slow winding route up the side of the mountain. Some of the views were spectacular as they were untouched by the local population, with the icing on the cake being the cherry blossoms in full bloom.
Now it was time to take the cable car. It had a single carriage and was track based much like a train. A cable ran in between the tracks and pulled us up the side of the mountain at a snails pace. As we climbed, we could feel the temperature drop. Good job we have only packed summer clothes then!
After hopping on the right coach, a short ride took us to a stop opposite the temple. I knew when I booked it, that we were close to the famous kunoin graveyard, but I didn't realise that it would literally be next door. Ooooooohhhhhh eerie!
A short walk to the room and as the door was slide open by the monk, we were in awe. The room came complete with two futon beds, a kerosene heater, a tea table with electic heater to keep your feet and legs warm when tucked underneath. Last but not least, a view of the Japanese garden. At this moment in time we felt very lucky and privileged for this opportunity, and were going to make sure we appreciated every bit of it.
Dinner would be at 5:30pm, so that gave us a few hours to walk around. We hopped on a bus and after a short ride we were at the main entrance to Okunoin. It was considered one of the most holiest places to be buried in Japan, as the founder of Shingon Buddism; Kobo Daishi was laid to rest here. More than 200,000 graves lay testiment to that claim.
Instead of getting the bus back, we decdided to wonder through Okunoin back to the entrance by our ryokan. Back in our room, we had about 40 minutes until dinner, so we decided to have our own little tea ceremony with our feet getting toasty under our tea table. Two pots of sencha later, our phone rang and we were asked to come down for dinner. The dining hall was divided into semi-private areas with a set dinner meticulously laid out in each. We counted 10 different courses, 6 for the main and 4 for desert. Plus a fresh pot of green tea thrown in for good measure.
Here is some of the goodies that we got to enjoy: Sweet Black Beans, Silken Tofu with Wasabi, Mixed Tempura of vegetables, miso soup, pickled cabbage, a fresh ginger soup (with dumplings), and mixed fresh fruit.
It was a little too steamy inside the bath's to take a picture, so you will have to use your imagination. All clothing must be removed before entering, and is placed in a designated basket. As you walk in, there is a large wooden tub filled with hot water for soaking only. Which is also covered by thick wooden sheets to keep the temperature constant when not in use. To the side of the tub, were three minature stools and buckets. You would take one of these and sit in front of a tap and shower head, that could have been no more than 40cm from the ground. So plenty of squatting is required.
You would then fill the bucket and wash yourself with the shampoo and soap provided. Once clean you were allowed to climb into the tub and relax, before rinsing yourself once more upon leaving. You may ask how I know this. I was very lucky to be in the room at the same time as a Japanese man, so I copied all his moves much like a 3 year old child. I hope he didn't notice :)
I headed back to the room, and Emma arrived shortly after with a very warm glow to her face. We decided to sit back and spend the rest of the evening in our room, drinking tea and eating some Japanese cakes we bought earlier. An early night was needed as we would be woken up by some bell ringing at 6:20am as it was compulsary to attend the morning prayer ceremony.
As the ceremony concluded, we moved onto the dining hall for breakfast. If it was anything like the dinner, we were definitely in for a treat. The platter laid before us included; sweet white beans, miso soup, tofu, rice, pickled greens (with sesame) and a nice pot of oolong tea to wash it all down. Yum!
We headed back to the room and packed up our bags. This was definitely the Japanese experience we were after and we were very grateful for the opportunity. It was now time for the long journey to Hiroshima. A city with a deep history, but for all the wrong reasons.
Where I stayed