After settling in we headed for a 4pm loop through Okunoin, the mausoleum of the monk Kukai (considered to be the original settler of Mt Koya) which is surrounded by an immense graveyard (the largest in Japan) that is spectacularly set in the midst of a medical forest
. We were also able to do the temple trail through the heart of the town. It was good to see so many temples that were still in active use.The lasting memory of our stay in the Buddhist temple in Mt Koya will be the traditional Japanese dinner we were served. And when I say traditional, I mean vegetarian fare served on a table that was no more than 5 inches off the ground while we sat on pillows that could easily be mistaken for place mats. DH was the first to stop, drop, and roll herself into position while her surgically repaired knee refused to allow her any dignity while doing this. I heard all kinds of popping and creaking sounds when I did my own squat and various extremities immediately began tingling and going to sleep. Some of our fellow dinners jumped into various seated yoga positions and seemed quite comfortable but I've got to think that this kind of flexibility is the purview of those with loosely connected skeletal structure and underdeveloped muscles- mankind is simply not supposed to be in these positions unless being tortured. Having shifted positions 8 times already, dinner was served and consisted of a good number of small plates and bowls containing absolutely nothing recognizable (look or taste wise)-to be fair DH might have been able to name a few items but she was locked in another life and death struggle with her chopsticks and the chopsticks were definitely kicking ass. Some of the items were very tasty and others....not so much! After gulping down some sort of tea, I thought we were going to have to phone the monk-assist hotline for help in getting up, but with a twist, a roll, and a hop, we positioned ourselves back-to-back and inched our way up
To get the blood circulating again (and to bond with whatever ghostly Japanese apparitions might be lurking nearby) we redid our graveyard walk in the pitch black. It was actually very quiet and serene, and you felt like you were part of the history of the place.
Back at the temple, the bathroom facilities were shared which certainly isn't the first time we've run into this, but Japan takes sharing to a new level particularly with respect to the public bath. At the temple the two baths were strictly male and female but these somewhat large wooden bathtubs were supposed to accommodate 4-6 people. Now I like to think that I'm secure in my own manhood but I wasn't about to jump into a tiny tub with 4 or 5 naked men, and the monks (and DH) seemed to have a problem with me using the women's tub so it was off to bed without my shower.
After a somewhat sleepless night on the bamboo floor, we were summoned by bell at 6am to participate in the monks morning ceremony. This particular ceremony was intended to have you honour and remember lost family and loved ones. While the monks were chanting I spent most of the time thinking about the dog we lost a few years ago which probably wasn't what the ceremony intended but he was part Akita. DH stretched the intent even further by praying for the strength to master the dreaded chopstick. Breakfast was another shameful exercise in stop, drop, roll, eat, drink, twist, bounce, and jump. Other than the table with no legs, we both really enjoyed our stay in Koya and I'm a bit surprised its not on more must do itineraries?
As we have learned very quickly, traveling through Japan can be a real test of your logistics skills. Getting to Mt Koya involved a train not covered by our Japan Rail Pass, a cable car not covered by anybodies pass, and a public bus just to add flavour. Mt. Koya, which is not a single mountain but rather a group of mountains, is primarily known as the world headquarters of the Koyasan Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism- it is located in an 800 m high valley amid the eight peaks of the mountain (which was the reason this location was selected, in that the terrain is supposed to resemble a lotus plant). At the end of our journey we tracked down our accommodation for the night; a real live functioning Buddhist temple. A real live monk checked us in and showed us to our room and outside of the somewhat uncomfortable looking mat/bed on the floor, the room was surprisingly nice- apparently monks really know how to decorate a room!