I slept incredibly well and woke up before my 5:30am alarm. One interesting aspect of staying at the temple lodging is that you are required to attend the morning Buddhist ceremony. No participation, just attendance. I was a little worried about being able to get up easily for this before my trip but I had zero problem. In fact, I really enjoyed getting up that early. The hadn’t risen very high and the temple had a really nice atmosphere to it. As I was getting dressed, I realized hat I couldn’t remember if somebody was going to come and get me, like with dinner, or if i was just supposed to go by myself. Well at about 5 minutes before 6am, I heard the official bell so I grabbed my stuff and split. On the way, it donned on me that I never took the time to figure out where the main hall of the temple was and so first I ran outside, put my shoes on and headed, in what I thought, was the right direction. It was the right way, but I needed to stay inside the temple so I ran back to the front door, dropped off my shoes and hurried down the hallway it because now it was 6am. Side Note: I love the sound that is made when you hurry down the wooden hallways. The creaking of the wood and the sliding of slippers instantly takes you back in time.
I got to the main hall just as the morning prayers were getting under way. I was finally able to confirm that I was the only guest staying there since I was the only other person besides the two monks. I had my camera with me of course and spent the first 20 minutes deciding how disruptive the clack of the shutter would be. I absolutely did not want to be rude or interrupt them so I pulled out the iPhone and took some shots and a little video. The angle was tough in that I was only about four feet behind them and they were slightly behind some pillars. I got a couple decent shots but decided I had to go for it with the DSLR. My Mark 3 has a “silent” shutter mode which is a little quieter in that it delays the mirror return until you release your finger from the shutter release button. It is however not as silent as a rangefinder, you can still hear, especially as close as I was to them.
So as the monks did their chanting and bell ringing, I worked on timing photos to coincide with their louder noises. The whole experience was amazing. Having no idea what was being said didn’t detract at all from my enjoyment. The chanting put you into a trance that made the time go by extremely fast and when it was all finished, 45 minutes had passed.
The monks rose from their spots and turned to greet me. The monk in front of me, who was the one who had served me dinner, said “good morning” and told me that my breakfast would be ready in 15 minutes and to return to where I had eaten dinner. He then walked away. The other monk attended to the shrine. He didn’t really speak English but I was able to ask well enough about what they had been saying in the chants. Unfortunately, while he understood my questions, he couldn’t really answer my them. He was however very gracious and showed me around the shrine and main hall. It wasn’t as big as it seemed, or perhaps there was a lot more but I just wasn’t allowed to see it and that made it seem small.
Breakfast was nice and simple again. Without realizing it, I spent 45 minutes eating and enjoying the view. The same as dinner but different as it was now morning. At one point, almost on cue it seemed, a large bug crawled across the outside railing and stopped, posing for me. I just sat there enjoying the experience, which is what the temple stay is all about. The design of the rooms and the garden, all made to look natural yet are completely designed by man for maximum enjoyment. It was a relaxing and mentally cleansing experience that I must return to do again.
After breakfast, I was able to talk to the monk who cold speak some English and he asked why I had come to Japan and what made me decide to com to Koyasan. I told him about my time as an exchange student in high school and how I had returned with my family wife. He suggested that we come back in the fall to enjoy the Koyo (red leaves). I told him that I would love to and that I noticed the Japanese Maple tree that would be in perfect view while eating. He smiled.
Off to photograph now, next up is the walk through Okunoin cemetery…