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.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Okunoin Cemetery

Ask me what my favorite cemetery is (common question, right?) and I would have a massive internal debate trying to choose between Okunoin and Père Lachaise in Paris. I have a hard time choosing my favorite anything, to be honest. When it comes to places though... you might as well ask me what my favorite food is, or (gasp) my favorite Beatles tune. There is something unique and beautiful about every single place my little feet have had the opportunity to step into, choosing one just seems unnatural. So, that is why I favor "Top" lists. Opposed to settling for just one "favorite", I would much rather list 5 or 10 of my tops, in no relevant order.

This place easily makes the top 5 cut of my favorite graveyards. There were tombstones on tombstones adorned with bibs and beautiful Buddhas everywhere I looked. The vibes here, oh man. Let me tell you about the vibes. I felt like I was walking through a dream the entirety of my venture.  I wandered through thick, thousand year old cedar trees for hours.  At one point I came to a fork and followed a path to some temple or other (there were one-hundred twenty scattered throughout the mountain). It led me to a beautiful clearing bursting full of sunshine, which was a nice change of pace compared to the shade of the cedars.

Koyasan is the place of all places when it comes to the Shingon sect of Buddhism. It is the largest graveyard in all of Japan as well as the most sacred. There are over 200,000 graves here, the most important being that of Kōbō-Daishi. He was the man who founded the school of Shingon and the development of Koya. Instead of dying back in 835 he has been eternally meditating at his mausoleum in Okunoin. Meals are brought to him daily, a massive mound of rice and other veggies are displayed at the entrance to the temple, next to Mizumuke Jizo where people make offerings and toss water at the statues to pray or ask to be looked after. Before crossing the bridge, an elderly man was kind enough to try and explain that photography is forbidden. However, I ended up entering from the opposite side and by that time I had kinda forgot. I managed a snap of a monk welcoming people to the temple, most likely reminding them that they aren't allowed to take pictures. Whoops.
Mizumuke Jizo

Adjacent to the mausoleum is a room filled with hundreds of lanterns, all of which are eternally lit. Come to think of it, I probably wasn't allowed to take pictures there either. But, what's done is done and my intentions were in the right place. That counts for something, right? It was absolutely beautiful inside of the room. Lanterns lined the wall from top to bottom and spread across the ceiling, it was unreal.

The first hour or so that I wandered through the cemetery I only saw a handful of people. Most of them were caretakers diligently sweeping away fallen leaves from the graves and monks swiftly walking down the sacred path. At one point, however, I witnessed an elderly couple and what I assumed to be their granddaughter. They were building a fire which the little girl was fanning with the direction of her grandpa. To be quite honest, I have not the slightest idea exactly what they were doing. I do know, however, that they were quite happy to be doing it. The whole 5 minutes I creepily stood there and observed them, they were laughing and smiling while doing whatever work they were doing. These things seem uncharacteristic of a family spending their afternoon in a cemetery, you would think they would be mourning a death - which typically doesn't involve laughing. I loved witnessing this interaction, it was one of the reasons why I got such good vibes from this place.
Food offerings were scattered around the cemetery

In conclusion, wear pants and long sleeves when you visit... especially if you have blood as tasty as mine. Apparently, mosquitoes think I am awesome. My blood must taste like fresh mango juice on a hot summers day. I was absolutely eaten alive. At one point I looked down and witnessed at least 5 of them downing my blood, no exaggeration. I swatted and kicked and ran a few feet, only to be followed by the little guys and drained of a bit more of my blood. It was hard for me to stop moving my legs, every time I did another one would latch itself on to me. By the end of my excursion I had over 40 bites. A trip to the pharmacy was in line. The communication problem was easily solved when I showed the man behind the counter my red, blotchy leg. 

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