*This post is well overdue – Niki and Hamed came to visit in early April and it is now mid July! Apologies for the delay!*
Our next stop after Kyoto was Mount Koya (高野山). It was surprisingly hard to get here – all up to was a 5 hour journey door to door: Kyoto Station (via cab) to Osaka Station (packed commuter train with luggage) then transferred to the subway at Namba Station, where we bought tickets to Koya-san, then a train to Hashimoto Station then transferred to another train to Gokurakubashi Station then a cable car up the mountain (which is about 800m or so above sea level) to Koyasan Station. Then finally a bus to our temple lodging!
The weather was a lot cooler and crisper (as we were on top of a mountain!) but there were a whole lot less people around than in Kyoto which was a nice change. We checked into our accommodation and then went exploring for the next couple of hours before dinner, through the Okunoin cemetery.
Our accommodation – beautiful and serene
The history of the cemetery dates back a thousand or so years and was clear to see, given the sheer size of some of the cedar trees. It was simply breathtaking.
Two of my favourite photos that I have ever taken!
The cemetery led us to a temple where we somehow struck up a conversation with a monk, who so earnestly explained the six pillars of Buddhism and really wanted us to take away some knowledge even through our language barrier. We then headed back to our lodging for a lovely dinner – completely vegetarian and so traditionally Japanese. So many months into living in Japan, I am still getting used to the tastes and textures of traditional Japanese cuisine, but the precision in which the whole meal was put together was spectacular.
So many pieces fit together so perfectly!
The next day we were up early for the morning prayers and made it just in the nick of time! It was an interesting experience witnessing the monks conduct their daily prayers (one was slowly nodding off in between mantras!) We were then ushered into breakfast – a traditional Japanese meal consisting of tofu, seaweed and veggies.
It had been raining quite heavily over the past couple of days so after the rain calmed down, we made our way back to the cemetery and then temple hopped for the rest of the day.
Our first stop was the Kongobuji Temple – the main temple of Koya-san, built by monk Kobo Daishi, the creator of Shingon Buddhist training. Next we headed to the Danjo Garan complex; the two tiered pagoda is the icon of Koya-san. Its history dates back many hundreds of years, however it was burned down and then rebuilt in the 1930s.
Lunch at Bonnoshya, an amazing vegetarian restaurant was absolutely delicious and great value for money.
We then went to Reihokan Museum – which houses relics from around Koya-san from many years ago. It really put into perspective just how old this area really is. Then it started to rain heavily so we headed back to our lodging and spent the rest of the day relaxing and enjoying the public bath.
The next morning we made the long journey back to Osaka. We were pleasantly surprised to find out that our accommodation in Osaka was right in the heart of downtown – Dotonbori. After some shopping and dinner, I initiated Niki and Hamed into the world of Karaoke as neither had been before!
Niki and Hamed singing their little hearts out!
I had to head back to Tokyo the next day to go to work, while Niki and Hamed continued on their travels to other parts of Japan. Once they came back to Tokyo, we went on a few adventures, notably another round of Karaoke and our first baseball game! (Actually I think it was my first live sporting event!) The baseball was so much fun, the crowd really gets into supporting their team and the fact that you can buy snacks and drinks from your seat made the experience all the greater!
What a fun filled two weeks it was! I got to do and see so many things that I normally would not have had the opportunity to do. It was also nice to have some familiar faces from home experiencing life here.