Often when people think of Japan they think of anime and high-tech everything. What they may not imagine is the quiet spiritual side to this diverse country. In classic Stuff and Places fashion, I wanted to experience it ALL; the big, the small and everything in between. This led us to Mount Koya, one of the most sacred places for Buddhists in Japan.
The town is filled with many temples and shrines, it's quiet and things shut down early. It's the perfect place for some meditation and relaxation. Regardless of your religious affiliation, if you have an open mind, the spiritual energy at Mount Koya will resonate with you.
The most striking for me was the Konpon Daito pagoda. It is beautiful from the outside in bright orange and mesmerizing inside as you are greeted by several enormous statues of Buddha. They are beautiful and intimidating. It's something you'd have to see in order to understand its grandeur and power.
What does one do at Mount Koya besides visit the many temples and shrines? Well, you'll want to make a trip to the mausoleum on Kukai. It's a beautiful walk through a cemetery in the woods. As the sun pokes through the tree canopy, you'll find a sense of serenity that only being quiet in nature can provide.
For us, one of the big draws of visiting Mount Koya was to be able to spend a night in the temple with the monks. We arrived in the early afternoon and were welcomed into a tatami mat room with only a table for tea as furniture. We enjoyed a tea and a sweet before heading out to explore the town.
We were back at the temple relatively early as dinner was served promptly at 6PM. It was a delicious vegetarian feast. I have never tasted tofu so delicious. I mean, who really ever gets jazzed about tofu? We ate dinner mostly in silence or with chatting done at little above a whisper. It was nice that everyone was so aware and respectful of our surroundings.
After dinner we retreated to our room where our beds had appeared. They were mats set up on the floor with lots of blankets. The outside temperature dipped to -2 degrees Celsius and we had only our blankets and a small space heater for warmth. The bathrooms were down the stairs, at the end of the hall and not heated so trips were kept to a minimum.
The next morning we woke very early so that we could attend the morning prayer service before breakfast. We sat on chairs in the middle of a large room facing an altar where two of the monks conducted the ceremony. The chanting lasted for about half an hour before we were invited to cleanse ourselves with the smoke from the incense and take a charm for protection against negativity.
As a non-Buddhist I'm limited in how I can explain the spirituality of this journey. What I can describe, is how faith can transcend. The specific beliefs were not as important to me as the time, space and quiet with which to reflect.
A few notes if you decide to make the trip to Mount Koya.
1- it is a reasonable day trip to take from Osaka as the train will have you there in an hour and a half.
2- If you're planning to stay the night, try not to take your luggage with you. Big luggage is difficult to maneuver on the cable car and on the local bus. If you can leave your luggage at a tourist info centre or train station, I really do think that is the better option.