It's 9:42am and as we travel by train through the valleys and tunnels of our first Japanese mountain it is an hour since we left Osaka. This morning we left our box room in the APA Eki Higashi after a good nights sleep and enjoyed croissants and coffee at the station. We bought our Mt Koya World Heritage Ticket with ease and waited for the train to depart, a lovely morning and easy process compared to the hectic experiences in China!
The train is very quiet and as Tara has just woken up she is amazed to see the wonderful scenery surrounding us. Mountains covered in thick green trees and houses ranging from small to large. A stark contrast to the huge tower blocks of China that covered the landscape. The train is now literally going through a forest and it's amazing compared to where we live! We cannot wait to breathe the air outside! We change at the next station to take the funicular train to the top of Mt Koya! This should be interesting!
After a steep journey to the top we arrived in Koyasan and had to catch the number 3 bus in to town. The world heritage ticket covered all the costs of the days transport so we could just hop on and off as we pleased! Everyone was really happy and helpful and it was really easy to find 'Fukuchiin' (quite apt really!). This was the temple we would be spending the night in!! We dropped our bags off and set out to explore the little village on top of the mountain. The weather was perfect and the sky was blue! We jumped back on the bus and our first stop was to the Okunoin which can only be described as the biggest graveyard you'll ever see. Memorials, stone carvings and Buddhas lined the route of cobbled paving stones and extremely tall cedar trees. After a short 2km walk through the forest, we crossed a few bridges and took some creepy looking photos before arriving at the main attraction, a mausoleum of the guy who founded the area for Buddhism. There we both lit a candle and watched locals as they completed rituals. We strolled back through the forest/ graveyard which felt really spiritual and tranquil. We ate a yummy lunch of a rice bowl topped with egg and chicken and jumped back on the bus to our next stop.
We arrived shortly at a complex of temples called Danjo Garan. On the way to the first one Tara was stopped by a monk who didn't speak English but tried hard to say something using his translator on his phone. Although he made many attempts at repeating the same thing into his phone again and again (much to Tom's amusement in the distance) he failed miserably and just pointed to the ticket office in the end! Still not sure what he was trying to say! We enjoyed a leisurely stroll around the complex taking photos and taking in the peaceful atmosphere. We walked home via a souvenir shop where Tom bought his magnet!
Back at our temple we were shown to our room (wearing flattering red slippers because you have to take your shoes off!) by a funny little man who gave us a guided tour of the whole temple, making sure we understood every piece of information correctly by repeating it 10 times! We didn't know what to expect from our room because we had opted for a traditional ryokan whilst we were here... basically after entering the sliding doors, there was a little table in the middle with some tea and cookies and 2 cushions to sit on! Tom's immediate question was 'where do we sleep?' to which our guide said 'We set the beds up later!' We are yet to see this set up...
We spent the rest of the afternoon continuing with the traditions - this time bathing in an onsen! This is a natural hot spring set outside in a peaceful setting. The only downside is that you have to go in naked and share it with whoever else fancies it at the same time! Men and women go in separately and Tom was a bit braver than Tara, heading straight in (although it was empty!) On Tara's first attempt, she walked in to see two old Japanese women having a blast in the outside pool and didn't really want to join in. She sat by the garden for a bit instead and then plucked up the courage to go again. This time it was empty and the perfect way to relax the afternoon away.
We changed in to our traditional dressing gowns and had a cuppa back on the room before heading out for some dinner. The little town was like a ghost town and all the shops and restaurants we had spotted earlier were now closed! It was only 6:20pm! Eventually we found a run down back street cafe which took us in and fed us another rice bowl! To be fair, it was yummy!
Due to the curfew of 9:00pm back at the temple we returned with some snacks and planned an evening of battleships and monopoly deal in the lounge area! It has been a lovely relaxing day, feeling a bit like a retreat and tomorrow we have booked in to see the morning rituals at 6:00am before trying the traditional breakfast and heading back on the train to our next stop, Hiroshima.