We decided to make a small detour for the evening to Mount Kōya, the center of Shingon Buddhism, an important Buddhist sect introduced in 805. Mount Kōya or Koyasan is one of the best places to experience an overnight stay at a shukubo (temple lodging). This is a great way to get a taste of a monk’s life by eating shojin ryori (vegetarian meals without onion or garlic) and attending morning prayer sessions. Visiting the numerous temples and cemetery tucked into the mountainside is a magical experience.
Getting to the Koyasan is a bit of a journey, requiring multiple trains, a tram, and a bus. This remoteness keeps many tourists away, which adds to the peace and spirituality of place. I thought about taking the Women Only train, but I was worried Bri would miss the stop if I wasn’t around to guide him.
Shojosh in-in Buddhist Temple Lodging
We chose to stay in Shojosh in-in, a beautiful traditional Buddhist Temple built in 824. The temple, surrounded by Japanese gardens is modest inside. The main living areas of the temple have minimal furniture, no heat, private tatami mat dining rooms, and separate male/female toilets and baths.
There was only one other couple staying at the temple while we were there. We saw them only coming and going from the meal service and morning prayer session. Due to the sacred nature of the morning prayer, I have no pictures. But an hour of chanting and praying amongst thousands of candles and burning incense was one of the most spiritual and meditative experiences of my life.
The shojin ryori meals, were exquisite and filled with flavor despite the absence of onion or garlic. These root vegetables are thought to be so strong smelling that they excite the senses, something forbidden by the monks.
A stroll through the Okunoin Cemetery was the highlight of our visit here. With over 200,000 tombstones, this is the largest cemetery in Japan and the site of the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism. Inside the mausoleum hall are more than 10,000 lanterns, which were donated by worshipers and are kept eternally lit. In the hall’s basement are 50,000 tiny statues that have been donated to Okunoin on the occasion of the 1150th anniversary of Kobo Daishi’s entrance into eternal meditation in 1984…sorry, no pictures allowed. You can google to see some images posted by disrespecting visitors.
The cemetery walk takes you through a magical cedar forest with a variety of ancient and modern tombstones. Many covered in moss, snow, and dress add to the beauty of place.
Many had knit hats, while others red bibs.
Other times these small buddhas were stacked in pyramids.
We even had snow at the end of our journey, which just added to an already magically day. We danced in the short lived flakes like kids! We had a bit less success with a snowball fight the following morning.
Before heading to Osaka, we visited the temples on the other side of town to the cemetery. Here, you will be part of the Monk rush hour traffic. Kongobuji Temple, Garan, Daishi Kyokai, and Daimon Gate are a few notable buildings to visit.
Twenty-four hours since arriving in Koyasan, were in a completely different world amongst the bustling light filled streets of Osaka. We were here for only one night with a mission to eat and eat we did! We stayed in Namba as this neighborhood is known for its street food and it is the Osaka I recognized from pictures.
Octopus balls and waffles seemed to be the most popular street food dishes, though anything fried on a stick or filled with some sort of creamy goodness were also in demand.
We popped into small diners for both familiar and unfamiliar fair. We even found some craft beer on the menu.
When we weren’t stuffing our faces we were walking the busy streets lined with moving signs which grow in energy as darkness falls and lights color the journey.
We passed on the dangerous puffer fish and instead finished our evening at a neko (cat) loving bar and Japanese whisky bar.
Osaka filled us with the perfect amount of energy for the final leg of our journey!