Peace, Quiet, and Contemplation in Koya-san

17.September 2012


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.





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.





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14 Responses to “Peace, Quiet, and Contemplation in Koya-san”

  1. Kim Says:

    WOW, beautiful photos. It sounds so peaceful and amazing… glad you guys are having such a wonderful time :)
    Kim recently posted..The Slow Life in Mindo, Ecuador

  2. Carmel Says:

    I could definitely use that right now. Enjoy!! This really doesn’t look like a backpackers kind of trip. I’m glad you guys are doing it the right way. :)
    Carmel recently posted..Mom’s birthday dinner

  3. Jana Says:

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

  4. Andrew Says:

    That looks so immensely peaceful and fun. Wow. I am not so interested in buddhism either, but my best friend at home is a monk. I have learned a lot from him and this looks awesome too.
    Andrew recently posted..San Francisco Starfish

  5. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures Says:

    Wowwwwwwww! Talk about the ultimate in relaxation!!!

  6. Glenda Says:

    WOW! Spectacular…. have just put that on my list of ‘must do’s’. Thanks for sharing your peace with us.
    Glenda recently posted..Paper Smooches Sparks Challenge – Cool Shades

  7. Tracey Says:

    I feel more relaxed after reading this and looking at the tranquil photos (seriously!). Koya-san looks and sounds magical (very peaceful too).

  8. Dana - OurWanderlust Says:

    Hey Friends! Looks so gorgeous! I’m glad that you were able to find some peace and serenity in what seems like a crazy busy country.
    Dana – OurWanderlust recently posted..Van Sold, Party Had

  9. Leigh Says:

    Doesn’t this place sound like a treat for your soul. Great photos too Gillian.
    Leigh recently posted..An Easy Hike Around the Exceptionally Beautiful Emerald Lake

  10. Alouise Says:

    This place does look perfect. The photos radiate calm.
    Alouise recently posted..List #19 – My Five in Five

  11. Arti Says:

    This is what I loved about Japan the most, the peace and tranquility the temples exuded. Beautiful captures :)
    Arti recently posted..Technological Marvels: Japanese Automation and Innovation

  12. Japan Australia Says:

    Some really beautiful pictures and this looks like an amazing place to visit in Japan.
    Japan Australia recently posted..The Premium KURO Burger

  13. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) Says:

    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!

  14. Ali Says:

    I couldn’t handle the naked thing! Good thing you guys were able to get through without anyone else coming in. I don’t even like locker rooms where women just walk around naked while they’re changing.
    Ali recently posted..Disadvantages of Taking a Tour