Work in Progress

“In the best travel, disconnection is a necessity. Concentrate on where you are; do no back-home business; take no assignments; remain incommunicado; be scarce. It is a good thing that people don’t know where you are or how to find you. Keep in mind the country you are in. That’s the theory.”
–Paul Theroux

A human who loves the world, finds beauty in the unknown, and can't keep her feet on the ground. I like finding unique (and cheap) ways of making my way around the globe. Interacting with people while living, learning, and loving the culture I'm surrounded by.

Friday, September 19, 2014


When deciding what do to with my time in Japan I came across the notion of a temple stay while thumbing through my LonelyPlanet guide. As soon as I began reading about Koyasan it was clear making the trek down was going to be completely worthwhile, even just for one night.  I did a bit of research and out of numerous temples to choose from I was able to narrow it down to five. I sent a request email to the Shukubo organization with the names of the temples I requested and left it up to them. A few were booked up by groups of people, one happened to be a high school retreat of some sort. Jealous. It all worked out perfectly though... I booked a garden view room at Fukuchi-in, what turned out to be the most beautiful and relaxing experience of my trip. 

My room - between the lanterns on the second floor
A few days of traveling and exploring had me ready to take it down a notch. After a few hours on a train through lush mountains, a cable car up to the top of Koya Mountain, and a bus into the town - I had finally arrived. Once I checked in a woman walked me around the grounds giving me information about my stay. My dinner will be served at 6:45, temple gates close at 8, prayer in the morning starts promptly at 6, etc. My main concern at this point was getting myself to the natural spring onsen before dinner. Ever since my first jimjilbang experience, I've been dreaming of spas. One of the reasons I was so excited about staying at this temple was for that reason. I threw on my yukata and headed to the spa. After washing I decided I would first take advantage of the few hours the sauna was going to be open. The spa is open all night, whereas the sauna closed at 8. Sigh. I ended up using the facilities on three different occasions despite the fact I was only there for about 17 total hours. They had a beautiful outside rock onsen that I basked in. It was so peaceful, and there were only ever a few people here and there sharing the naked experience with me. It wasn't the least bit awkward seeing them at prayer in the morning ;-)

I made it back to my room in time for my dinner to be served. I have dedicated a whole post to the food I ate throughout my time in Japan, it only seemed fair. If you want to read about it, click here.

After my meal I went back to the onsen and was in and out of the spa and sauna as long as I could handle. My belly was full, I was relaxed, my mind was happy. I spent my evening drinking tea while writing in my journal and listening to the croaking of the frogs in the garden below. There was a little ledge on my window, which I am sure wasn't for sitting, but I climbed out on it anyways because I wanted to look at the stars. It was important. The sky was so clear, and the stars seemed to sparkle they were shining so bright.  I spent a lot of time here, taking everything in. The experiences I've had in Japan, the changes in my life, my new home, and all the things I left (and didn't leave) behind back in Vegas. It was a grounding experience. I realized how, in the grand scheme of things, being happy is one of the simplest things you can be. 

The next morning, I woke up extra early to fit in a little spa time before the morning prayer. I was still able to arrive a bit early. People were already kneeling in front of a large shrine. The monks spoke Japanese only, so I am not entirely sure what they were explaining at the beginning. I wish, so much, that cameras would have been allowed - although I completely understand why they aren't. The monks sat in the corners of a square enclosement in front of us where the massive shrine was. Aizen-myo-oh is a Buddha for fortune and virtue. They started singing the most beautiful mantras. Their voices vibrated throughout my entire body. The monks recited the fundamental sutra, called “Rishu-kyo”, and performed the chanting of Shingon Buddhism called “Sho-myo” which celebrates the grace of Buddha.

The area in front of the shrine was filled to the brim with a wide variety of people. There were people that seemed completely comfortable in the environment they were in, and then there was a family of Germans who were in awe of what was taking place in front of them. Some people, including myself, were lined in a kneeling position at the front of the space while others were seated behind us. 
At one point, a woman at the end of my line got to her feet, walked to the front of the shrine and knelt down again. She pinched a bit of dust out of a bowl while closing her eyes in a meditative prayer and held her pinched thumbs to her head. She then sprinkled the dust over an area in front of her and bowed. Once she sat down, the person immediately to the left of her got up and repeated the process. This continued to happen, down the line. I knew a point would come when I was "next" in line. Now, I know I had no obligation to do this if I wasn't comfortable - but I was. I felt calm and intrigued and there was no way I was going to let the slightest bit of anxiety stop me from participating in the ceremony. The moment I stood up to approach the shrine, the monks took a break from their chanting and started rhythmically beating a golden gong, which made the experience even more remarkable. 
Photo of Aizen-myo-oh, courtesy of the Fukuchi-in website

The ritual lasted an hour or so, and afterwards the monks walked us around the room, pointing things out and explaining them. I wish, more than anything, I had the super human power of communicating with everyone and everything. I wanted, so desperately, to know what was going on. 

One of the monks was substantially larger than the other. The smaller (and younger) one seemed to be the guy in charge. I really liked him. There was just something about him. Later that day I went back to the temple to retrieve my backpack after walking around all day and I lounged a bit near the garden.  I was writing in my journal when one of the staff members walked by. I looked up from my writing and we caught eyes. He gave me the most heartwarming smile/nod. Then I started writing about how much I liked him in my journal. He wasn't wearing the robes her worse during the ceremony in the morning. He wore plain, black clothes - but you could still sense his importance. Moments later, I was waiting at the bus stop and when I looked up - there he was, walking on the other side of the road. We caught eyes, he gave me a head nod - and turned the corner. I couldn't begin to justify or explain why I am writing so much about my few measly encounters with this little guy. Just seems like it makes sense to have it written down.

My next day I spent wandering the adorable little town of Koya. I walked in and out of almost every little shop along the main street, checking out the knick-knacks and finding the most adorable post cards to decorate my home with. I walked along until I found the cemetery I was so desperately looking forward to visit. You can read about it here. I spent a lot of time there and by the time I was done, I was absolutely spent. I moseyed around for a while, waiting for my bus to come. I grabbed a hearty lunch consisting of fried pork, curry, and rice before I headed over to Danjogaran, a complex designed to replicate a mandala with nearly 20 structures. I checked out a few of the buildings, but mostly watched people as they sketched the Konpon Daito, pictures to the left.  I loved my quick, little escape from the busy streets of the Osaka Prefecture. I would absolutely go back, hopefully next time I will have more time to relax and reflect. All in all, this was my favorite experience in Japan. 

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