17 Sep

Peace, Quiet, and Contemplation in Koya-san

Bidding the city goodbye at the Hashimoto train station we head into the hills toward Koya-san.

Winding its way through the small, but steep, slopes covered with cedar, pine, and bamboo, the train slowly empties at each station until it is just us, one other tourist couple, and a few old men on their way to the temples.

Switching to a cable car we quickly realize just how steep these hillsides are as we are winched straight up the side of one to the Koya-san bus station where a final bus ride will make its way through the mountains like an amusement park ride.

I have already confessed that, although I thought I would learn a tremendous amount about Buddhism and Shintoism on this trip, I have actually found that I am, at best, an interested observer. It is perhaps surprising then that we have come here, to one of the most important Buddhist areas in the country, to stay in a temple and take part in a morning ceremony. And that I loved it.

Shojoshin-in is a beautiful temple. Wood floors polished by centuries of feet shuffling over them, paper paneled walls, and tatami mats add to the atmospheric experience. It is quiet and serene; yet my imagination gets the best of me and I can easily see ninjas running loose on the roof and through the inner garden. I take note to sleep with one eye open lest one should drop in on us in the dead of night.

Shojoshin-in Koya-san

Shojoshin-in Koya-san

Shojoshin-in Koya-san

Shojoshin-in Koya-san

The only other reason we have come here is to wander through the cemetery at the doorstep. Set amongst cedar trees hundreds and hundreds of years old are thousands of grave markers and shrines, the oldest one dating back to 997. It is a contemplative walk up to the Toro-do, or Lantern Hall. We walk, and talk of our future plans; of moving away, of being more sure now than ever, of feeling so far away from home, of liking it.

Incense and the droning melody of a chanting monk hang in the air as we climb the stairs of the main hall. We sit and watch, and listen, under the light of hundreds of lanterns before turning back through the forest as dusk sets in.

Koya-san

Koya-san

Koya-san

Koya-san

Dinner is a private affair. We are shown to our own tatami mat dining room and opt to leave the sliding screens open so we can have a view of the pond and can hear the trickling water as we eat. It is simple, and beautiful, and delicious.

Shojoshin-in, Koya-san

Bath time is a public, and naked, affair. We bathe immediately after dinner hoping that the other guests are still dining and we can bathe alone. Our plan works and we are each able to enjoy the large, wooden, tub privately. It is quiet, warm, and relaxing.

Bed time is early. My self imposed technology retreat means I can catch up on the book I’ve been reading, enjoy some green tea, and relax in the alcove of our room over looking the garden before crawling into the warm futon and duvet bed for the night.

Shojoshin-in, Koya-san

Morning is marked by the gonging of a bell at 5:45. We hurriedly dress and find our way to the main hall by following the sounds of monks chanting. We watch and listen, mesmerized by the sounds of the voices, and bells, and cymbals, until we are invited to take part by adding incense flakes to the burner at the foot of the shrine.

After breakfast we take another walk through the cemetery and find we have it almost all to ourselves. The morning sun is peaking through the trees and there is nothing but peace and quiet.

Koya-san

Koya-san

Perfect.

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14 thoughts on “Peace, Quiet, and Contemplation in Koya-san

  1. Your description and pictures took me there with you…what an unforgettable experience you have just had. Thanks for sharing.

  2. We also loved our stay in Koya-san despite our time in Japan reaffirming to us that we are also firmly in the “interested observer” but nonbeliever camps. We picked our temple a bit on a whim, but were delighted to find it was a stone’s throw from the mausoleum path, and we also rushed through the evening ablutions (though I am glad I braved the soaker tub because it really was relaxing… would have been even moreso had I not been terrified someone would walk in on me!).

    Did you get the chance to walk the mausoleum path at night? Seeing it both in early morning and in the dead of night (pun intended?) was really otherworldly!

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