A bus, three trains, and a cable car (5 minutes up a 50-degree slope!) brought us from Kyoto to Koyasan, for our stay at the Buddhist monastery (Rengejô-in Temple) on Mount Koya.
We met up with our local tour guide (Taruko) after getting off the cable car and headed out for our tour of the highlights of Koyasan. Koyasan was founded by a Buddhist monk, Kobo Daishi, in the early 800's as a place for Buddhist monks to study and work away from the distractions of the city. It's filled with amazingly tall cedar trees (some over 300 years old) and it very peaceful. It was also a little cooler here since we are at about 3000 feet above sea level.
The first place we visited was the Okunoin Cemetery. Containing over 200,000 grave markers, it is the largest cemetery in Japan. Our guide took us through, pointing out various important or interesting graves along the way. The cemetery was very beautiful, containing many massive cedars, and it had a very serene and calm feeling to it. It was very nice to be in a place like that after the crazy hustle and bustle of Kyoto. At the end of the cemetery, you come to Kobo Daishi's mausoleum. Buddhists believe that he didn't die, but entered what they call the "Eternal Meditation" and has been meditating in his cave for over 1000 years. In fact, they still prepare him two meals a day (breakfast and lunch), and then the monks share that food, so as not to waste it. The Hall of Lanterns is the main temple building attached to his mausoleum and it contains over 40,000 lanterns that have been donated by believers. There were so many lanterns, that they actually had to build a new Hall of Lanterns to host them all.
Next we headed over to the Kongobuji Temple. This temple has many original 400-year-old wall panels painted by some of Japan's best artists. Unfortunately you are not allowed to take any pictures of them, so we can't share any of them with you. It also has a very large Zen Garden, with 140+ granite stones in the shape of two dragons. Our guide also showed us the room where the Emperor would stay when he came to the temple, including the small hidden doors for his bodyguards to hide behind in case they were needed. It was another amazingly beautiful temple here in Japan. We have certainly seen a lot of temples this trip, but all are subtly different and have something unique to offer.
The last neat thing we saw before heading to our monastery for dinner was a hexagonal scripture storehouse. The building was donated by an emperor's wife after his death and contains over 1000 Buddhist scriptures. The interesting thing about the vault is that it rotates, and it is said that if you rotate the vault one complete revolution, it's the same has having chanted all 1000 scriptures. We couldn't pass up the chance to do it, so all of us, including our guide, jumped up, grabbed and handle and pushed. It took a lot of effort, but we got it all the way around.
We headed over to our monastery to relax a little bit before dinner, as it had been another long day. The temple grounds are beautiful, and the accommodations, although traditional, were fairly up to date. Christine headed down to join the monks in some pre-dinner meditation, while Kent relaxed up in the room and read a little bit. Dinner was a vegetarian meal, as the monk's don't eat meat, but was still quite good, although it contained a little more tofu that Kent would have liked.