This post is part of a Japan Trip series.
CHUBU AND KANSAI REGIONS
The trip from Kanazawa to Ekoin in Mount Koya entails riding two JRL trains, a subway, a local train, a cable car and a bus.
This better be good.
MOUNT KOYA (KOYASAN)
Mount Koya is the center of Shingon Buddhism, and a small temple town has developed around the sect’s headquarters. Approximately 50 of the temples offer lodging (skukubo) to tourists. An aficionado of bizarre hotels, I could not resist the chance to stay in a Buddhist temple during my trip to Japan. I figured when I was booking it that sleeping on the floor of a monastery in a remote village atop a mountain would be either the best or worst experience of the journey.
The bus deposits me across the street from Ekoin, a 1,000-year old Buddhist Temple (booked through Booking.com for $115) and likely the oldest lodging at which I’ve ever stayed. I drag Bagzillo and the rest of my luggage up to the entrance.
Pretty much everyone else on the cable car carried only a large backpack. I realize how ridiculous I’m going to look with my three pieces of designer luggage (for a one-night stay) to a group of guys who have shunned worldly possessions.
My room at Ekoin is sparse (as one would expect in a Japanese Buddhist monastery) but it offers a fantastic view of the sunny garden. Unfortunately (and I knew this in advance) the rooms do not have bathrooms: unisex toilet stalls are located down the hallway and the communal showers (one for men; one for women) are situated on an entirely different floor. I find a household hand towel disgusting, so I’m less-than-enthusiastic about the idea of sharing shoes, a toilet and shower with a bunch of backpackers.
I have very little need for stuff here at Ekoin, so instead of unpacking my stuff (where would I even put my stuff?) I hurry to Okunoin, Mount Koya’s most sacred site, to experience it before dinner is served. More on Okunoin in the next post.
Dinner is served at the early hour of 5:30 at Ekoin, probably because there’s not a helluva lot of nightlife in Mount Koya (no clubbing tonight). My monk — all business — rushes into the room and instructs me to sit down. I take my seat on my towel (like in kindergarten), facing the window so that I can enjoy the view only to be informed by my monk that I’m facing the wrong direction. I rotate 90 degrees, now staring at the blank, lime green wall instead.
I was thrilled to learn at check-in that beer is served with the vegetarian dinner, upon request. I requested. If I can eat nothing else during this current culinary adventure, I know I’ll enjoy a cold bottle of Asahi.
There are black noodles (I don’t eat black food), some weird shaped stuff, fruit (not a big fan of fruit) and something indistinguishable. Thankfully there’s also steamed rice (of course), miso soup (of course) and my new favorite food, Japanese tofu. So the meal isn’t a total bust.
After dinner I have the bright idea of returning to the Okunoin Cemetery (next post). Back in my room shortly thereafter I change into my official Ekoin yakuta (not as nice as the one in Takayama, but much easier to tie) and rest on my futon bed, which would be comfortable enough if the pillow wasn’t stuffed with what feels like pellets of rabbit food. It actually crunches audibly every time I move my head.
I turn on my laptop and voila! a wi-fi connection. I send a tweet back to the U.S.:
Hey @VerizonWireless: How come I get better wifi service in a Buddhist monastery on the top of Mount Koya, Japan than in my Chicago condo?
They don’t answer me.
Waking-up at 6:00 a.m. is easy when you go to sleep at the nerdy hour of 9:00 p.m. I join my fellow guests to observe the daily prayer service.
It’s interesting enough for a half-hour but any longer than that and I think the nasal, monotone chanting would send me into a seizure of some sort.
Afterwards we follow the monks next door to the daily Goma fire ritual. From Wikipedia:
The ritual is performed for the purpose of destroying negative energies, detrimental thoughts and desires, and for the making of secular requests and blessings; these are in the form of pieces of lumber with prayers written down by individuals and stamped with Acalanatha’s seed syllable.
Guests can purchase the “pieces of lumber”, write their prayers on them, and submit them the evening prior to the ceremony to be included in the burning (which feels a little akin to the Catholic Church selling indulgences). I beseech Buddha for better wifi service back in Chicago.
READ the entire Japan Trip series.