As the holiday winds down (kiddos go back to school on Monday), I have a few days to reflect on our delightful visit with my dear brother and his lovely wife. It would have been fun to host them no matter where we were living, but being a food- and fun-focused family in food- and fun-loving Japan made the trip peripatetic and delicious. It's amazing how much ground we covered in 10 days.
A highlight was a trip to Koya-san. The combination of scenery, food, architecture, and spirituality added up to an unforgettable experience.
As Papa-san described the journey in a missive to his colleagues:
This New Year's break my family, including Rachel's brother and his wife, had the privilege and honor of visiting Koyasan, Japan. Koyasan is a mountain, but it is also a center of a sect of Buddhism and is popular for its "temple stays" where one may stay the night in a Buddhist temple and enjoy vegetarian monk's cuisine. We stayed two nights and enjoyed some very adventurous food. I was not as devout as Rachel to arise for early morning prayer but I trust it was moving. The journey there and back is epic. Door to door, one-way involved 7 trains including a Nozomi Shinkansen and a cable car for the final leg up the mountain followed by a short bus ride to the inn. But not to worry, as a warm meal and a soak in the onsen await the weary traveler. Aside from spending some relaxing time out of the city and in the quiet mountains with family, one of the highlights was the 2 km walk through the cedar-forested Okunoin cemetery where some 200,000 gravestones line the pathway culminating at Torodo Hall (Hall of Lamps) and Kobo Daishi's Mausoleum. Kobo Daishi is the founder Shingon Buddhism and a revered religious figure. Koyasan is having it's 1200th anniversary in 2015 so to be able to visit such a culturally rich and ancient place is truly an experience we will cherish.
The 2-kilometer walk through the 1200-year-old cemetery among 1000-year-old cedar trees was one of the best walks of my life. We didn't mind the cold, and the snow only added to the peace of the area.
The path led us to the Toro-do (Lantern Hall), which houses hundreds of lamps, two of which are believed to have been burning for more than 900 years, and the central mausoleum.
Several blocks from the cemetery is the Garan, the central temple complex with an impressive array of building of varying architectural styles.
At one point, Koya-san numbered about 1500 monasteries, but large-scale slaughtering of monks by 16th and 17th century shogunates and preferential treatment of Shinto during the Edo period caused a decline in the numbers. Koya-san is now a thriving center for Buddhism. Visitors can stay overnight in any one of 50 monasteries that accept guests.
We chose the one with the onsen. Which was a good thing, because this is the view from in the hallway in the mornings when we woke.
That's what you get in a traditional building. We froze our robe-clad tushies getting from the room to the onsen to the private tatami dining room, but once there, we were warm and cozy and well-fed on vegan shojin ryori food.
Ok, so maybe it wasn't so warm right when we walked into the tatami room, but once we got the space heater cranking and the 12 or so tasty dishes fueled us, we toasted right up.
I wish I had gotten some better pics of the food for you, but I'll just say that if you take two food-loving kiddos and set in front of them 3 personal tables filled with an array of small dishes of pickles and seaweeds and soups and tofu and tofu cakes and rice and tea, you have some mighty happy adventurous eaters.
Our last day at Koya-san was December 31, so I had the unique opportunity to rise at 6 am to meditate with the monks in the smoky quiet of their sanctuary and to greet 2012 on the dance floor at Club Womb in Shibuya...I hope it's an omen of a varied and blessed year.
Happy New Year to you!