Friday, November 4, 2011

flashback friday

Happy Friday, everyone!  Hope you’ve all got a great weekend ahead of you. 

Today, we’re flashing back to our trip to the sacred Mt Koyasan in Japan last year during round 6.  There is a group headed to Japan today and as much as I’m thrilled to be going to China, I can’t help but be a little jealous.  I’ve never loved a country or culture more than my own, but Japan came very, very close to completely winning me over.

This weekend was one of those weekends where we were just in awe of our life, our luck and our incredible blessings.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Mt. Koyasan

There’s something about Japan that seems to allow a multitude of experiences to be somehow stuffed into a relatively short period of time. Each time I attempt to get my thoughts together about a weekend, a day or even just an afternoon I’m overwhelmed with how much actually happened, how much we saw, and how much I need to write about to really get it all out there. I’m going to really try to do justice to our first weekend outside of Tokyo, but it’s going to be an uphill battle so bear with me.

Our final destination was Mt. Koyasan, but Friday we were headed only as far as Osaka via the Shinkansen, the Japanese bullet train that goes over 160 miles per hour. Getting to the Shinkasen on time proved to be tough and we’d continue this "narrowly avoiding disaster" theme for practically every single dang train/cable car/subway/taxi we had to take all weekend. Being late is at the very tippy-top of my pet peeve list so how this happened I’m not sure, but each time my insides were a tangled mess of anxiety and frustration. I am always telling the Wife that God will continue to give her opportunities to work on her patience until she no longer lets things exhaust it. Apparently God really wants me to get over this being late thing. That or we just couldn’t get our shit together this weekend, but...


The bullet train was…well, fast. Like a bullet. And they serve beer. Score.
After wandering around the streets by our hotel we finally all admitted that we really didn’t want anything Japanese or even remotely Asian for dinner. In preparation for our vegetarian meals in the temple in Mt. Koyasan we decided on burgers. After which we went for a nightcap at a place called Beering Bon. I don’t know what were expecting, but we got a lady singing the Carpenters and a table full of insanely drunk businessmen who could barely stand. It was a perfectly Japanese night.

We had the next morning in Osaka and chose to see the “castle”…I had a huge problem with this place being called a castle. Why? I don’t know, but does this look like a “castle” to you?

osaka castle

I’m just saying. Castle or not, it was a beautiful day and the grounds around were lovely…

osaka castle

and fun…

and because it is still bizzaro world Japan, even had a random parrot…

It took us a few hours to make it up to Mt. Koyasan with the train and cable car from Osaka. It’s one of the most sacred places in Japan and home to over 100 Buddhist temples. Immediately upon stepping off the train you feel a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the cities and are overcome with a sense of peacefulness.

We were staying at a Buddhist temple for the night just outside the entrance to the ancient cemetery where over 200,000 followers of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism are buried. There are like 50 or so temples that offer up lodging which I suppose is a good source of revenue for the monks.
I don’t know how to explain how serene it was, but just passing through the gates we all became hyper aware of ourselves, our voices, and our actions. We immediately started whispering, tiptoeing and swiftly lifting our rolling bags and their seemingly roaring wheels off the ground. We quietly checked in and were escorted to our rooms. This was when my peaceful, quiet, temple staying self escaped me.

You have to remove your shoes before entering any temple and there were slippers provided at each door. Well, those “slippers from hell” as I later deemed them came flying off my feet as we were going up the first flight of stairs and I had a case of the giggles like no other. The more I tried to stop laughing about it the more I laughed. I was mortified, but the laughter only got worse. I seriously was crying I was laughing so hard. I’m laughing right now just writing about it. Let’s just say that I carried my slippers around most of the time instead of wearing them and never once attempted to wear them on the stairs again.

Our room was crazy traditional and looked out onto the beautiful gardens…

We took a brief walk around before our 5:30 dinner time. We ate alone in a private room and were served by one of the monks. It was strange in the most wonderful way and an experience I’ll never forget or really be able to describe because we could identify about 3% of the food items…

After dinner we headed out for a dark walk through the cemetery. Usually night + not well lit cemetery = no go in my book, but it was really peaceful and we walked all the way to the temple at the end before heading back to our rooms. They ask that everyone is in their rooms by 9:30 so it was an uneventful night after the walk which was a good thing considering our 5:30 wake up time.

Morning prayers were held by two resident monks Sunday morning at 6 and we were allowed to watch. I struggle to find the words to describe what it was like to bear witness to something so sacred. I suppose it’s the indescribable aspect that makes it so extraordinary anyway. I will say that it is moments like these that I’m most grateful for our life and for how insanely blessed we are to have this opportunity.

Breakfast was served in the same manner as dinner, except we weren’t really in the mood for cold tofu and unidentified objects that early in the morning. This is when you're most thankful for Japan's vending machine culture.
I wanted to go back to the cemetery in the light for photos so we made our way through the majestic cedars and moss covered tombstones one last time. It was the most beautiful cemetery I’ve ever seen and truly one of the most special places I’ve ever visited. Truly breathtaking…

Traditionally bibs are places around statues of the Jizo to protect lost children in the afterlife and to pray for the long lives of living children. The practice has evolved and there were all sorts of robes and hats on the statues throughout the cemetery...

After the cemetery we spent the rest of our morning in the town visiting other temples and just enjoying the gorgeous fall colors…

I’ll refer to the second paragraph instead of going into detail about our harrowing experience trying to navigate the many modes of transport back to Tokyo. Let’s just say getting to the hotel in Tokyo never felt so good.

We’re still up in the air about our plans this weekend. After all the back-to-back travel weekends in Europe we’re feeling sluggish and living in such an incredible city like Tokyo makes it hard for us to want to leave in the first place. Maybe we’ll take a day trip; maybe we’ll stay and hit a cat café. You just never know.

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