Koyasan part 1

People here in Japan were curious as to why I would want to go Koyasan.  It’s out of the way and nothing but temples.  Plus, it’s a little bit of a pain to get there when you have to tote a suitcase.  But, I decided to go becasue I thought it would give me a better glimpse into the traditional Buddhist element of Japan, clearer than just going to the main temples all the toursits go to.

Here’s some background on Koyasan from an excellent website on Japan and Japan travel called Japan Guide:

Mount Koya (Koyasan) is the center of Shingon Buddhism, an important Buddhist sect which was introduced to Japan in 805 by Kobo Daishi (also known as Kukai), one of Japan’s most significant religious figures. A small, secluded temple town has developed around the sect’s headquarters that Kobo Daishi built on Koyasan’s wooded mountaintop. It is also the site of Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum and the start and end point of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage.


Kobo Daishi began construction on the original Garan temple complex in 826 after wandering the country for years in search of a suitable place to center his religion. Since then over one hundredtemples have sprung up along the streets of Koyasan. The most important among them are Kongobuji, the head temple of Shingon Buddhism, and Okunoin, the site of Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum.”

So I made a reservation online to stay the night at a temple named Shojoshin-in, right next to the entrance of the famous cemetery, Okunoin.  What an amazing experience!  I arrived a just in time to check in as my journey there was a contiuous chain of just in time events, going from train to train to train to cable car to bus.

The train ride from Namba station in Osaka was spectacular.  As the train ascended into the mountains, you felt like you were leaving one world and heading into a place that was quite far removed and remote.  It turned out I wasn’t the only person on the train like I had thought, there were about 10 other people in the other three cars.  After the train, I had to catch a cable car to the top of the mountain and for that, I was the only passenger.  I missed the cablecar I was supposed to take since I had to make a short bathrrom stop.  It threw off my trip timing and it meant that I would have to hurry even faster once I got to the top.

I got to the top and caught my bus.  The fun of that was that the driver spoke no English and you had to push a button when you wanted the bus to stop.  It was hard to hear the station announcements.  Luckily, my stop was the stop everyone was waiting for so it ended up being no problem.  Shojoshin-in was just down the street about 25 yards but the main gate had been closed and it took me a minute to figure out how to get in.  I found a gardener who called someone to help me.

Continue reading “Koyasan part 1”

Onto Koyasan

I am on the Shinkansen now heading towards Osaka where I will be transfering to a non-JR line for the 81 minute trip to Koyasan. Yesterday was spent picking delicious purple grapes and relaxing with my host family. It was a wonderful time and we had long conversations about what being “Japanese” is compared to being an “American”, and how the world has changed in the 20 years since I first came to stay with them.

One thing I absolutely love, is that they seem take every chance they can to find a reason to go into the outdoors to sit eat and drink with friends and family. Apple picking, orange picking, Sakura (cherry blossom) viewing, it’s a long list. They work hard but also know the value in relaxing and putting the same effort into non-work pursuits as working itself. Continue reading “Onto Koyasan”

The journey begins


So the book project journey has begun, even though my Kickstarter project didn’t go through.

I arrived into Tokyo at 4:30am which is an interesting experience.  I slept some on the plane, like I would have if it had been a late work session (about 5-6 hours) but my body definitely knows that I lost a day.  I am tired but not tired, does that make sense? It’s different than the other times when I have arrived in the late afternoon. This is the better way to go for sure. I imagine though that I’ll sleep well tonight but be up before the sun rises.

It was dark when we landed and deplaned but by the time I got through customs and immigration, the sun had risen. A short ride on the Tokyo Monorail with a connection onto the Yamanote Line and I landed at Tokyo Station where I stored my suitcase in a locker and ventured out to get some breakfast. In this case a nice light sushi breakfast at Tsukiji.  It may be packed with tourists, but there sure is great sushi there.  The place I wandered into was empty as it had just opened.  I had a great meal, chatting as best I could with the chef.  Turns out he had lived in New York 15 years ago so between my bad Japanese and his great English, we had a nice time.  I will surely be back there one more time when I return to Tokyo later next week.

I had a slight bump in my plans this morning in that I had to retrieve my mobile router from an usual place, at least for me, the Four Seasons Hotel in Marunouchi, next to Tokyo Station.  It was supposed to be waiting for me at Haneda Airport but, things happen, and this was the easiest solution due to it’s proximity to the station.  The hotel staff were a bit confused as to why it had been sent to them since I wasn’t going to be a guest of theirs, but some convincing that I was supposed to be a guest but had to change my plans after the router had been sent did the trick and they graciously accepted the shipment and did their best to make sure that I was as happy as I could be with their service.  I felt a little bit guilty for inconveniencing them but it’s all water under the bridge now.

So now I am on the Shinkansen, heading south to spend some time with the wonderful family that hosted me 20 years ago this summer as a high school exchange student. Pictures will be coming as well as written updates so stay tuned.

I’ve go to go, my station is next!