• Koyasan

    Date: 2012.04.24 | Category: Food, Friends, Life, Me, Nostalgia, Travel | Tags:

    I’ve been caught up in this book for the past few weeks and I’m still not done with it. 1Q84 was on all the lists of the top 10 books of 2011 and it’s written by one of my favorite authors, Haruki Murakami, a master of magical realism and alternate realities.

    The author is Japanese and the story takes place in Japan. As a result, I’ve been thinking about the country quite a lot.

    As many of you know, I visited the country with one of my oldest and best friends Becki in the summer of 2008. Just the other day she posted this on my Facebook wall:

    How strange that she should put that as I’ve been thinking a lot about our time there lately.

    It’s funny how having the experience of a place can give you a better sense of a story that takes place there. It’s also interesting that things in the book make me go back and look at my time there in a new light.

    Koyasan, the place Becki mentioned, was a once in a lifetime experience. Becki completely planned our trip there and even though, or maybe especially because, it was more complicated to reach Koyasan, it was the best part of the trip.

    The train you take to get there isn’t on the JR rail pass, but with the help of a nice English speaking man, we managed to get tickets on the right train. The voyage there is stunning. The train actually goes up Mount Koya and the views are gorgeous.

    Once you get off the train, you have to get on this really steep cable car for another 5 minutes up the mountain. From there you take a bus that winds up the mountain – which is scary. But, once up there the weather is about 20-30 degrees cooler (and considering how unbareable the heat in Osaka had been, I was in heaven.)

    Mount Koya, as the name implies, sits at the top of a mountain in Japan. It is the center of Shingon Buddhism, which, up to that point in my life, I knew absolutely nothing about.

    When we arrived I was amazed by the quiet and tranquility of the small city. It was full of beautiful traditional Buddhist temples and you see monks wandering the streets.

    Thanks to Becki, we had lodging all lined up in a Buddhist temple. We slept in Japanese-style rooms on tatami mats and abandoned our shoes at the door. We were served vegetarian meals at floor tables and sat next to other tourists from across the globe.

    At the temple, the only bathing option was, again, Japanese style. This meant a community room for women with individual washing stations and giant, steaming wooden baths. Before going to Japan, the communal bathing freaked me out the most. But once I experienced it, it really was nothing to worry over.

    Part of staying at the temple was attending morning prayer services. We didn’t have to participate, but we sat and watched as the monk chanted and the worshipers stopped at different stations around the room and bowed.

    During the day we wandered through the temples and walked through a huge, ancient graveyard down to a lantern temple. It was like something out of a gothic fairy tale. The graveyard was phenomenal, huge and beautiful covered in stones and Buddha statues.

    The temples were all different. Some were elaborately decorated, others were simple. All were quiet.

    I was amazed by the beauty and stillness of it all. We were only in Koyasan for a short time, but if I ever make it back to Japan I will definitely return to that sacred city on the mountain.

    p.s. Nothing reminds me more of a Murakami story than this photo I took of the cat lounging by an entrance to an ancient temple.