Monday, February 14, 2011

Weekend trip: Part II - Mt. Koya

Koyasan is a sacred Buddhist mountain south of Osaka with over 100 temples. Hiking the ancient pilgrimage trail and spending the night in a Buddhist monastery has been in my bucket list for a long time. Paul, Richard and Rob decided to come too, so I had hiking buddies!

Statues at the beginning of the trail

The pilgrimage route leading to Koyasan is called the Choishi Michi, a 20 kilometer, 800 meter elevation hike marked by 180 pillars marking ever cho (cho = 108 meters). We started our hike around 10 am.

1st Cho, 179 to go!
 The trail started steeply and then it levered. We got some nice views of the surrounding area. The air was cold and crisp and the day was clear. It was a beautiful day to hike.

Another cho marker, I had already lost count
The trail runs into a golf course. Ha!
I guess he got cold too
  Further up the hike, we started to see signs of snow. This was certainly unexpected because snow is not usual in Koyasan, even in the winter. The unusally cold winter we are having in Japan threw a few surprises our way and slowed down our pace for the last three kilometers.

After 6 hours of hiking, we turned around the corner and were rewarded with the view of the Daimon, or main gate! The bad news was that our monastery was 2 kilometers away from the Daimon, so we had to pick up our stuff and keep hiking.

The Daimon
Various temples at Koyasan

We finally arrived to Eko-in, the monastery where we were going to spend the night. The bath was very simple but after 6 hours of hiking it felt so great. We changed into our yukata and got ready for dinner at the monastery.


Part of the experience of staying in a buddhist monastery is to eat shojin ryori, the vegetarian food that monks eat. I am in love with shojin ryori. It was very traditionally Japanese, with a lot of umami flavors and so pleasing to the eye as much as the palate. We also lugged up the mountain bottles of "nama sake"(unpasteurized fresh sake) from the brewery in Kobe, so it felt pretty good to open the bottles and toast.

Soup, seaweed and oshinko (pickles)
Tofu with wasabi and seaweed
Udon noodles in the pot and yuba and vegetables
And the Nama Sake I lugged all the way up the mountain

The next day, we woke up early to attend the morning Buddhist prayers and the fire ceremony. I really wish that we had more explanation about the prayers so we could understand what was going on. After the prayers, we had Japanese breakfast and left Koyasan via the cable car that connects the mountain to the train station below. Now I need to start planning my next hike.

The fire ceremony

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