Koyasan (Mt. Koya) is surrounded by 1,000m class mountains. Kukai, a Buddhist monk, established Koyasan as a central training area of Shingon Mikkyo, one of the major Buddhist groups in Japan, in 816. Over 1200 years later, people can still continue to pray to Okunoin in the place where Kukai fell into deep meditation back in 853. You can see around Koyasan in about 5 hours, but if you want to do meditation and join a night tour, a one night stay would be suitable.
I love to see Japanese architecture constructed from wood. My kids are growing up in a modern and convenient house and they have no ideas of old Japanese houses. I wanted to let them experience living in Japanese style house, rolling on tatami-mats and having traditional Japanese foods. There are about 50 Shukubo temple lodgings in Koyasan and we stayed at Ichijoin and Ekouin Shukubo to enjoy a Japanese house.
Ichijoin temple lodging
At the Ichijoin’s entrance, seasonal flowers were arranged and welcomed us. This is the great startpoint to enjoy this temple lodging. The main part of the house is built in a traditional style with wood and plaster exterior and clay tiles on the roof. Inside are tatami-mats, sliding doors and our room that was overlooking the beautifully manicured Japanese garden.We stayed in a Japanese-style tatami-mat room as two serial rooms. The room was wide with its relaxed surroundings and each room had authentic furnishings. The corridor and guest room was so clean and had a relaxing smell of incense. Monks at Ichijoin concentrated and focused on cleaning everywhere with all their hearts. This might be one of the training methods for them, but their attitude was a good reference for me to do daily work.
Shojin Ryori using only vegetables
Ichijoin served very fine Shojin ryori, Buddhist cuisine using only vegetable ingredients with a vast range of simple dishes. Shojin Ryori considers well how food gently fits the environment. We could feel we were eating the sea, the forests or the streams. When we entered our dining room, it was prepared well and was so clean. Monks served dishes appropriately and politely. Each dish has tender flavor with dashi, Konbu seaweed broth and salt or soy sauce. Vegetables and fruits were cut carefully and beautifully for people to have.
Morning Buddhist Religious Service
You can join a daily morning Buddhist religious service. It was really beautiful to see monks who were focused on praying. My kids were astonished with the atmosphere of the place and behaved well, but as they got accustomed to the place they started to roll around on the tatami-mats. Tatami-mats have a power to relax people.
Ekouin temple lodging
On the second day, we stayed at Ekouin near Okunoin. Ekouin provides many activities that guests could join, such as a night tour to Okunoin with Ekouin monks, meditation and Otakiage, a ceremony of burning talismas in the morning.
Night Tour to Okunoin
I joined a night tour with other guests who came from all over the world. A night tour visiting Okunoin is available in both Japanese and English. At the end of the tour, the monks chant a Buddhist sutra which is quite a sublime experience. We had sincere feelings at Okunoin and were overwhelmed by a flood of emotions to see people praying from their heart. Ekouin is located near Okunoin, so the distance is not far, but we needed to watch our steps, so flat shoes were essential. The moonlight and street lights illuminated the way so it was not dark, but we had to walk among memorial towers. Honestly, it was a little bit scary. I didn’t want to walk among tombstones by ourselves, so Ekouin’s night tour saved us.
Shakyo tracing Chinese characters
Shakyo is one Buddhist practice to trace the strase with a calligraphy pen. In Japan, students start to learn calligraphy at elementary school and the best way to practice is by copying the example. My kids had already learned calligraphy at school, and they were eager to trace the strase. The amount of Chinese characters was too many for one piece of paper, so we shared to do Shakyo. It had been quite a while to write Chinese characters with a brush for me. We had to concentrate without talking and finally we completed one page. Shakyo is said to be effective in increasing concentration.
We also did meditation at Ekouin. It was the first experience for my kids and they seemed bored by having to stay calm and they started to observe the people around them. They could not understand why they had to concentrate on breathing which they could do unconsciously. It was hard to explain to my kids why we had to concentrate on breathing consciously. Some people started to swing during their meditation, and it was an exotic experience for my kids.
In the morning, you can join Ekouin Otakiage, a ceremony of burning talismas, at Kongoin. It was a speechless experience to see monks chanting mantras and burning talismas.I had a sophisticated and calm experience at Koyasan, but we could not resist to eat the Yakiniku, grilled meat, in Osaka on the last day, after having vegetable packed dishes at Koyasan.
How to reach
It takes about 2 hours from Nankai Namba Station in Osaka to Kouya-san Station by train. Honestly, it isn’t easy to visit from Tokyo, but you will never regret spending time at Koyasan. Wakayama and Mie Prefectures are located in the middle between Aichi (Nagoya) and Kyoto Prefectures. Shinkansen, a bullet train, doesn’t go through either prefecture. We need to take local express trains or airplanes to visit Wakayama and Mie Prefectures from Tokyo.
When I was a child, I felt Wakayama and Mie were as far as Hokkaido (north of Japan) or Okinawa (south of Japan) due to the complexity of transportation. However, this long distance has caused a longing to visit both prefectures.