A night at the temple: spiritual tourism in Japan
Welcome to Mount Koya! Stay in a Japanese Buddhist temple, purify yourself with green tea, walk among gigantic trees, breathe the clear mountain air and listen to endless concerts of silence. Who said traveling to Japan was swarming between neons, karaokes and skyscrapers?
After a weekend of excess, it's time to recover. You had a terrible hangover in Osaka, but now you've decided rent a car or jump on a southbound train with the intention of visiting the nearby Mount koya (or Koyasan, as the Japanese call it, almost certainly to avoid easy rhyming). The objective: a spiritual retreat of unknown proportions.
Little by little you will see how the landscape goes from gray to green, from cement houses it jumps to wooden ones, and the noise and movement are transformed into silence and tranquility. You will see a car, but you can do without them, since the sanctuary of Mount koya It is completely walkable for anyone who is minimally fit. If you are tempted to think about taking a taxi or one of the public buses, abstain. You have come here to enter into communion with nature, right?
Mount Koya, the warrior's rest © Corbis
That temple over there will be the one that gives you shelter during the next few days. In Koyasan, there are many monasteries that offer accommodation to visitors. In a peculiar way, of course. If you are one of those who want a five-star hotel with a water bed, steak for lunch and a swimming pool, you better choose another destination. But if you feel like trying something different, the temple will provide you with a good dose.
After touring the intestines of the monastery, the sliding door opens and you are in your room: a tatami, some blankets, a balcony in the background overlooking the inner pond and the surrounding mountains, and a closet with towels and kimonos ready to use whenever you want. Or almost. “You don't have to wear it during lunch and dinner!”, They warn you. And it is true that the desire to cover it to three is strong, but it is time to eat, so better leave it for another time.
In one of the rooms equipped for diners await you the delicacies of vegetarian Japanese food: dried seaweed, sweet beans, rice with bean sprouts, vegetable tempura and boiled vegetables are some of the delicatessen that the experience reserves for you. All carefully presented in different types of bowl, among which stands out the one that contains the star dish, a large and shiny piece of tofu. You will be surprised at the skill you get to develop with the chopsticks and how flexible you become of eating and dining in a more chair than the floor tatami itself.
Typical clothing in Koyasan © Corbis
The lunch position makes you want to stretch your legs, and In Koyasan you have options of all colors. You are in the center a stream of esoteric Buddhism called "shingon," a term that means "true word" and which in turn derives from the Sanskrit "mantra". This Buddhist branch began between the VIII and IX through a monk named Kukai, who established his base there. The eight surrounding mountains would emulate the shape of the lotus. What does all this mean? That you have temples to visit until you fall exhausted. Highlights Danjogaran, perhaps too restored, too bright, but around a series of smaller buildings congregate around it: more sober, less colorful, but they are still beautiful wooden shelters whose simple smell already transports to another century, with those moss carpets on their pointed roofs ...
Danjogaran © Corbis
Crossing the small town - a pause of modernity in the midst of an environment of nature and tradition - the cemetery of Okunoin, probably the most interesting visit in the area. Sculptures and stone tombstones sprout among immense trees that lead to the mausoleum of the founder of the 'shingon', Kukai.
If the ride has become short and you have been wanting more, there are routes through the mountain of different distance and duration. But by now you will be presumably surrendered and prefer to leave it for the next day.
Okunoin Cemetery © Corbis
At night, before bedtime, enjoy the bath. You may not have in the room and you have to move to the end of the hall. Or go down some stairs and walk for a couple of minutes. But wait for a kind of sauna, a large space where you can shower at ease and, just after, and clean, immerse yourself in the adjoining wooden bathtub that does not stop getting steaming water. You're in the mountains and it's night: it's cold outside. Come in, beat the initial heat and relax. Go back to the spare room, willing to sleep like a baby. Outside only silence is heard.
Koyasan, the forest of relaxation © Corbis
Some rooster announces the dawn. Wake up and, first of all, walk the monastery until you reach the area reserved for worship, where a ceremony is held in which a few monks (usually less in number than tourists) repeatedly recite a series of verses that end up forming a hypnotic melody ... from which you will only wake up when you hear the final hit of the gong.
* You may also be interested ...
- Hangover hangover: natural remedies to defeat the enemy
- Kumano paths: the other way
- Nomadic Stendhal: photos that make you want to travel
- 30 traits that define the inveterate traveler
Cedars in Koyasan © Corbis