Japan #04 - Mt. Koya

May 20, 2023  •  2 Comments

Apr 2023

Japan Apr 2023 - #04 Kyoto to Mt. Koya

This travel-blog is for a 3 week trip we took to Japan at the beginning of April 2023.  We started out staying in Hachioji (edge of Tokyo) with our son and his family but then spent 10 days on a National Geographic Expeditions tour covering an area on the southern side of Japan to the west of Tokyo more or less between Kyoto and Hiroshima.

Entire Trip map
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This installment takes us from Kyoto to Koya (Aka Koyasan or Mt. Koya if you prefer).  In route we had a sports car encounter and at Koya visited the Okunion Cemetery, the Kongobuji Temple and our lodging at the Henjoko-in Temple. We also touch on how they keep Japan so clean.

Kyoto to Mt Koya Map
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The bus ride from Kyoto to Koya is just over 2 hours so other than a pit stop along the way we didn’t make any other stops leaving most of our time to see sights in Koya.

One thing of interest though is that tonight we’d be staying in an ancient Japanese monastery.  One of the rules in this monastery is that they don’t allow you to role any luggage along the floors.  So, our big suitcases would remain on the bus overnight and we’d need to pack an overnight bag that can be carried to the room.   Of course, we didn’t have an overnight bag as we left our carry on luggage at our son’s house in Tokyo.  So after being deposited back in our hotel in Kyoto the day before and poking around some of the shops in the hotel complex, I asked the concierge where I might buy such a thing.  After some miscommunications and finding pictures on the internet he directed me to a large department store about 4 blocks away.  So, off I trotted, credit card in hand, to acquire some sort of bag we could use that later would fold flat to be put in our big suitcase. 

The store was right where he said it would be, which is always nice, and I was able to select the correct floor in the elevator, found a suitable bag and came back to the hotel for repacking.

Cars in Japan

Except in the cities, owning a car in Japan is quite normal even though it is a more expensive proposition than in many other countries.  Among other things taxes are very high and include an annual automobile tax, a weight tax, and a consumption tax.  There are also lots of regulations involved in owning a car and the cost of gas and maintenance is also high.  For example, if one owns a car, it must be inspected every two years.  Unlike in the US, this is not a cursory 20 minute once over plus emissions test, but rather is quite comprehensive and depending on the age of the vehicle can take several hours, and it may cost several thousand dollars.  And that doesn’t include the cost of fixing anything they find to be amiss. 

If you’re in a metropolitan area, before you are even allowed to buy a car you must contact the police who will come to your house to verify that you have an off street parking spot large enough to accommodate the vehicle being purchased.  If they don’t sign off, the dealer won’t sell you the car.  With all the costs and bureaucracy, personal vehicles are cherished possessions and are taken well care of.  For example, as you are walking through a parking lot, you have to be carful to not even brush against a parked car as if the owner sees you do this, you may be in for a talking to.

In urban areas where they have excellent and far reaching public transportation systems, car ownership is not as high with most families not owning a car.  This has resulted in a vibrant car rental market where you can rent cars not only by the day but also by the hour.  It is not uncommon to rent a car for a few hours just to go to Costco for example or their equivalent of Home Depot. 

So, it is not surprising that there is also a strong sports car affinity in Japan.  As a general rule, the Japanese love speed and technology.  Couple this with a long history of automotive engineering innovation, high performance engines, many companies making well respected consumer sports cars and a vibrant motorsports racing presence and it is no wonder that sports car ownership in Japan flourishes.  Owning a high performance sports car is a symbol of success and prestige and many enthusiasts invest considerable time and money in their vehicles.  And, they like to show them off.

Now, I didn’t really know much about this until our bus stopped at a service (rest stop) area on the E26 not too far from the Osaka International Airport.  As we were visiting the restroom and buying snacks, all these high end sports cars started arriving in the parking lot.  At first there were only a few that parked in an empty row at the far end of the lot.  But then more and more kept pulling in off the highway.  Eventually there were 40 or so of them encompassing a wide variety of makes and models, all parked side by side.  They were gorgeous.  We had Porsche, McLaren, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, and Corvette among others.  And, every one was immaculate.

First 3 to arrive
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Around 40 showed up altogether
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Koya (Mt. Koya) and Religious Pilgrims

Koya is a small town of around 3,000 residents in the mountains located on the slopes of Mount Koya which is a sacred mountain.  The town is the site of the headquarters of the Shingon school of Buddhism (one of Japan’s major Buddhist sects) and monks make up over 1/3 of the residents of the town.  And, to no ones great surprise, Koya is home to many shrines and temples.  With Koya being the center of a major Buddhist sect and with the many shrines and temples, it is no wonder that it is a major destination for religious pilgrims. 

Like many other countries, religious pilgrims in Japan are individuals who go on a spiritual journey to visit various sacred sites, temples, and shrines - like the famous Camino de Santiago in Spain, except Buddhist instead of Catholic.  There are numerous defined pilgrimage routes which visit different sections of the country.  Many pilgrims in Japan undertake these journeys on foot, although some use public transportation or personal vehicles.  Some routes can be completed in a day or so, even on foot, while others take a month or more.

Even though these are religious pilgrimages, embarking on one is not just for religious people as walking one of the routes is good way to experience the country's cultural heritage and natural beauty while getting out in nature on hiking trails and meeting local people.  Many visitors from around the world come to Japan to undertake these pilgrimages and to gain a deeper understanding of Japanese history, culture, and spirituality.

The pilgrim route that includes Koya is a 14 mile route which circles Mt. Koya and includes 24 stops along the way.  Although it can be completed in a single day, many people stretch it out to 2 or 3 days in order to not be rushed. 

As you tour various temples, monuments and shrines in Japan you will often see these pilgrims.  In many cases they are somewhat easy to identify due to their distinctive appearance.  Many wear special pilgrimage attire which is all white symbolizing purity and humility.  Pilgrims may also wear a conical hat, called a "sugegasa," which is made of woven straw and provides protection from the sun and rain and many carry a staff, known as a "kongōzue," which represents their spiritual journey and helps to provide support during long walks.

Part of the pilgrimage culture is to collect stamps from each stop on the route.  These stamps are many times placed on a special sash or band, called a "nokyocho".  The stamps, known as "shuin," are a significant part of the culture and are collected as a way to document their journey. Each temple or shrine has its own unique stamp which includes the site name and date of the visit.  Many pilgrims also have a notebook called a "shuincho" where they collect these stamps. Collecting stamps dates all the way back to the Edo period (1603-1868)

Religious Pilgrim in Koya
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Okunion Cemetery

One first major attraction in Koya was the Okunion Cemetery.  At over 50 acres in size it is the largest cemetery in Japan.  It was created in the late 8th century, shortly after the death of Kokai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism.  The site of the cemetery is in an old growth Cedar forest (tress are typically 200-600 years old) so is very serene and peaceful which is very fitting for a cemetery.  The cemetery has over 200,000 monuments, gravestones and tombs, many of which are adorned with lanterns, incense burners, and offerings from pilgrims.

In Japan, it is not uncommon to see corporate monuments in cemeteries. These monuments are erected by companies to honor their employees who have passed away. The monuments typically bear the names of the employees, along with the company's name and logo and serve several purposes. They provide a way for companies to show respect and gratitude to their employees, strengthen their relationships with the families of their employees, and demonstrate their commitment to their employees' well-being.  Or, they may be no more than public relations.  In recent years, some companies have started adding artwork or design elements that reflect the company's culture or values.

When you first enter at the main gate, you are presented with a wide walkway lined on either side by Japanese lanterns, each one sponsored by a company.

Corporate sponsored lanterns.  The 2nd one in is from a construction company
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But as you proceed this row of modest lanterns give way to more elaborate corporate monuments.  Some are quite new with modern designs and some are older with more traditional features. 

Corporate monument from some sort of Aerospace company
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Modern Corporate Monument (I don’t know what sort of company)
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Older Style Corporate Monument
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We were told that one of the corporate monuments further inside the cemetery which looked to be quite old was either for a Camera Club or some sort of photography company.  This particular monument had several large panels with each panel displaying nearly 200 images of company or club members who had passed.  Most of the images were in black and white but there were a handful in color, obviously from more recent deaths.

Photography company or camera club monument.
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The cemetery itself is said to house the remains of over 200,000 people.  But as most of these remains are just ashes from cremation, individual headstones can be placed much closer together than in cases where an entire body is laid out.  This makes for a much more crowded landscape.  However, even so, some plots are larger and more elaborate than others and many plots have multiple generations with multiple markers

A crowded cemetery
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Asano Family plot
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Not sure if these represent individual people or are just decor
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Mausoleum of Kobo Daishi

In Buddhism, there is a custom where when you die you are given a new name to help you along your way in the afterlife.  I found this out while visiting our in-laws in Tokyo (who are Japanese).  We were shown a cabinet size shrine in their house dedicated to their ancestors.  Our daughter-in-law explained that there was something in the small shrine for each ancestor but she wasn’t quite sure who was who since the labels used their new names and she only knew them by their old names.

As we continued through the cedar forested cemetery we came to the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi.  The mausoleum itself is over a bridge on the other side of a small river.  Kobo Daishi (known as Kukai before he died), was a Japanese Buddhist monk and scholar who lived from 774 to 835.  As mentioned, he is the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism and is considered one of the most important figures in Japanese religious history.

The mausoleum of Kobo Daishi is known by several other names such as the Gobyo, which means "grave of the honorable teacher" or Torodo Hall.  It is a large, ornate structure nestled in a forest of cedar trees.  The mausoleum is considered to be one of the most sacred sites in Japan.  The story goes that Kobo Daishi did not actually die.  Rather he entered a state of eternal meditation known as sokushin jobutsu.  It is believed that he is still alive and meditating in his mausoleum, and that his presence can be felt by those who visit the site.

In order to not disturb Kobo Daishi, once you cross the bridge to the mausoleum side you are to remain respectful and no photography is permitted.  But even before crossing the bridge you need to be cleansed and purified.  To facilitate this, by the bridge there is a row of statues of various kinds.  Perhaps some are depictions of Buddha, Kobo Daishi himself, or other religious figures.  In front of these statues is a water trough with and a collection long handled cups or ladle’s.  The idea is for worshipers to wash the statues by flinging water over them.  Even though the water goes on the statues rather than yourself, this purifies the thrower. 

Purification ritual before crossing the bridge to the temple
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When you cross the bridge leading from the cemetery to the Kobo Diashi mausoleum, in the river to your left is a curious collection of wooden posts with writing on them stretching across the river.  These are known as Gobyo Okiishi, or Sutra Stones.  Each wooden plaque is an ema and is inscribed with a Buddhist sutra or prayer.  Remember our talk about “ema” in the Sanzen-in temple section in the 3rd Japan article?  Well here they are again.   Visitors to the mausoleum write their wishes or prayers on little slips of paper which are then hung on the wooden ema’s in the river.  It is believed that as the water flows over the inscriptions, it carries the prayers and wishes to Kobo Daishi, who can then grant blessings and help fulfill those requests.

Ema plaques in the river beside the Kobo Diashi mausoleum
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The mausoleum itself is lantern-lit and is said to house over 10,000 lanterns donated by worshippers over the centuries.  But, as photography beyond the bridge is not permitted, you’ll have to just imagine what it looks like.

Keeping it clean

Japan is arguably one of the cleanest countries in the world.  There just isn’t any liter and compared to other countries very little graffiti as well.  This is very nice, much appreciated, and offers a much better impression of the country to foreign visitors than countries that are littered and covered with gang graffiti.  But it is also a bit surprising as Japan also has almost no trash cans in public places where you can deposit your gum wrapper or take out food container or empty disposable water bottle.  So, why is this?

Obviously this would not be the case if cleanliness was not a cultural norm ingrained in the society.  In fact it is a social responsibility to keep the country clean.  But how is this maintained so well where litter dirt and grime are major problems for most industrialized countries? 

The value of cleanliness starts at a young age in the home.  But, then continues through the educational system.  As early as the first grade, students are taught in school the value and importance of cleanliness and tidiness.    For example, starting in the first grade students are required to clean their own classrooms at the end of each day.  And, in later years, the students also clean hallways and other common areas.  This instills a strong sense of community and collective responsibility which then extends to workplaces and neighborhoods.  Many neighborhoods have volunteer groups that organize periodic clean up activities, including public parks, streets and other public facilities.  These activities not only spruce up the environment, but also bring neighbors together.

To augment and codify these social conventions, there are also laws and regulations that have an emphasis on public cleanliness with significant penalties for littering or improper waste disposal.  There are also public awareness campaigns and signs to remind people to keep things clean and to dispose of trash properly.

But what about the lack of public trash bins?  While it may seem counterintuitive, Japan has relatively fewer public trash bins compared to other countries. This is intentional and is designed to encourage individuals to carry their trash until they find an appropriate place to dispose of it. This approach helps reduce littering and maintains the cleanliness of public spaces.  For example, most everyone in Japan carries a small towel (about the size of a wash rag) in their pocket all the time as public restrooms do not have paper towels, or trash cans and except for places like airports also don’t have hand blow dryers.  Many people also carry a small plastic bag in their pocket for trash they might come by – like the left over stick after eating a popsicle or a gum wrapper. 

But, however they do it, it is a good thing and I’d be very happy if those practices found their way into other countries, including (or even especially) the USA.

Kongobuji Temple

Just a bit up the road from the cemetery is the Kongobuji temple.  This temple marks the Headquarters of Shingon Buddhism.  Many of the rooms inside are adorned with paper screens with drawings and paintings telling the story of the temple and some of the more prominent founding monks.  No photos were allowed to be taken of this artwork, so once again you’ll have to use your imagination.  But there were no photo restrictions outside in the gardens.

Entry gate to the Kongobuji Temple
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Like many such temples, this one too has a Zen rock garden.  This one happens to be the largest in Japan and is known as Banryutei.  It is over 25,000 square feet in area using an array of rocks and gravel representing mountains, rivers and even a couple of dragons.  It was originally created in the 17th century by the monk Kobori Enshu, who was renowned for his skills in garden design.  He was invited by the powerful Hosokawa clan to create this garden in Kongobuji Temple.  His design has since been meticulously maintained and preserved since that time.

The name of the garden, Banryutei, means "Garden of Ten Thousand Dragons" but sometimes dragons are harder to see than at other times.  In this culture, dragons are believed to have control over water and rain and the garden design uses the arrangement of rocks and gravel to symbolize the coiling bodies of dragons and the movement of water flowing through their forms.

This Zen garden uses rake tines spaced farther apart then ones we’ve seen before
(No dragon here)
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Where do they stand when raking these patterns or picking up leaves?
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Main garden section, lots of boulders but any dragons?
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Different view of main garden section.  Now we can see the back of a dragon as it swims away from us
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Layered Cherry tree at bus stop in front of Kongabuji temple
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Danjo-Garan temple

A short walk away was the path to the Danjo-Garan Temple.  Along the way we passed by a cute little Pagoda that on Google Maps is referred to as the Kongobuji East Temple but searching for that name doesn’t come up with anything other than the main temple.  However, it is actually much closer to the Danjo-Garan temple so I’m thinking that it may be part of that complex.  All these temples and shrines are so close together in places like this that sometimes it is hard to know when you move from one to the other.

Not sure what Pagoda this is but it was picturesque
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We then came to the Kompon Daito Pagoda (Great Pagoda) which seems to be part of the Danjo-Garan temple cluster but it is hard to say.  Construction was started in 816 but apparently this is the 6th version of this building as the previous 5 versions were all struck by lighting and burned down. 

This reconstruction is from 1937 after the previous one was destroyed in 1843.  By the time number six was to be rebuilt, they were pretty weary of this process so this time, instead of the standard wood construction, they built it out of reinforced concrete and just put a wood overlay over the concrete to retain an historic exterior.

At over 54 feet, it turns out that this is the tallest building in Koya.  Architecturally it is an earlier form of the two-storied pagoda. It looks exactly as it was when it was first constructed, according to the dimensions designed by Kobo Daishi, based on his Shingon teachings.  Ever try to put a round peg in a square hole?  Well, leave it to Kobo Daishi to figure it out.  The body of the pagoda is circular, with a square lower storey.  

Kompon Daito Pagoda
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Most Buddhist structures in Japan are dark weathered wood or painted in an orange color called “vermillion” or “cinnabar red”.  This color is derived from a traditional pigment called “shu” or “shui” in Japanese which, in turn, is made from a mineral known as “Cinnabar” which is a natural mineral form of mercury sulfide.  Of course mercury, including mercury sulfide, is highly toxic so these days they have substituted synthetic pigments.  This color has become a symbol of Buddhism and is often considered a sacred color representing purity, spirituality and enlightenment (of course it seems everything in Buddhism represents these values).  This color is also said to protect buildings by warding off evil spirits.  But the color also has some practical aspects to its use.  It is visually striking drawing attention to its bright color and making buildings painted in that color stand out from their surroundings. 

But across the courtyard from the Kompon Daito Pagoda is an open sided pagoda housing a large bell and this pagoda is uncharacteristically painted in white.  While maybe not as traditional as orange, it certainly is a striking change after seeing all these vermillion buildings and seeing a temple related building in white immediately draws your attention right to it. 

The bell was commissioned by Kobo Daishi himself but was not completed till after his death (or if you prefer his entry into eternal meditation).  The current copper version was cast in 1547 and with a diameter of a bit over 7 feet is the fourth largest bell in Japan.  They still ring the bell five times per day to mark specific times.

Daito bell Koyashiro (aka Great Bell of the Daito)
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Behind the bell pagoda, the land drops away down to a small artificial lake with a footbridge across it.  This body of water is called the Hasuike Lotus Pond.  One of the legends stems from a 15 year long major drought in the area near the end of the 18th century which has been historically verified.  The legend says that the drought would not end until they built a shrine to Zennyo Ryuo (who was a rain god dragon in Japanese mythology),  So one was built on an island in this pond.  This particular deity was chosen due to its connection to Kobo Daishi.  It seems that Kobo Daishi once called upon Zennyo Ryuo to rain as part of a contest held at the Kyoto Imperial Palace – which it did.  So, as Zennyo Ryuo brought rain once, maybe he could be encouraged to do so again.  Apparently it worked as shortly after the shrine was built, the drought ended.  I guess this is similar to the old saying that “the effectiveness of a rain dance is highly dependent on timing”.

Bridge over Hasuike Lotus Pond
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Henjoko-in Temple (Pilgrim's Lodging)

Traditional Japanese hotels are known as “ryokan” and are available throughout the country with many in Koya.  As Koya is major stop for Religious Pilgrims, dozens these ryokan are set up specifically for the pilgrims.  Many of these are ancient Buddhist temples which rent rooms to the traveling pilgrims.  These temple lodgings are known as “shukubo” (sleeping with the monks) and allow visitors to experience the lifestyle of Buddhist monks and to engage in spiritual activities.  Most offer their guests a peaceful environment conducive to meditation and reflection.  The facilities are modest or one might say sparse, with tatami mat flooring, futon mats on the floor for sleeping and shared bathrooms and/or showers.  Most also offer traditional vegetarian meals using seasonal ingredients and prepared according to Buddhist tradition. 

And so it was that our lodging for the night would be in the Henjoko-in Temple, one of these temple lodgings.  Our itinerary described it this way,

 “Settle into our simple lodgings and enjoy a traditional Buddhist vegetarian dinner”. 

In the accommodations section of the trip description it said:

 “We spend 1 night in a typical temple inn with shared bathrooms and 2 nights in a traditional ryokan. Both have simple rooms with futons set atop tatami mats on the floor and rice-paper sliding doors; the temple inn has shared bathrooms”.

Apparently, our tour usually stays at a similar place called the “Eko-in Monastery” a bit down the street which, according to their website, looks like a much better place.  This other place has some rooms with western beds (i.e. beds rather than mats on the floor), is more modern and has better facilities such as in floor radiant heat, AC (not that we needed it) and a more modern bathroom.  But, for some reason that lodging was not available so we got the Henjoko-in Temple.

I don’t know when this temple was built but by the looks of it, I would guess in the 16th century or perhaps even earlier.  The exterior is the typical weathered wood one sees in temples throughout the area and the design is that of an ancient temple. 

(Photo from Google Search Page)
26 Henjoko-in Temple Front Entry26 Henjoko-in Temple Front Entry

Upon arrival, of course we had to remove our shoes.  They had a stock of one size fits none ruby red slippers which, for the most part were quite difficult to walk in.  But, since the bare wood floors were quite cold (no heat and pretty much open to the outside air), it was down to clumsy slippers or freezing feet.

After being shown to our room and looking around we found there was indeed a private toilet/sink area but no shower or bath.  There was a very low table in the middle of the room with two cushions to sit on.  The room also had free WiFi & TV (not that there was much in English to watch) and that’s about it.  I suppose this is what a typical Japanese hotel room consists of.  I must admit it was very Japanese with sliding rice paper doors, Tatami mats flooring, and beautiful wood paneling and trim.  But with certain modern touches.  For example the rice paper doors did not open directly to the garden outside, but rather opened to a small space where there were dark curtains to block the morning light and sliding glass doors to the outside to keep the heat in.

Room at Henjoko-in Temple (photo from Google search)
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But, being the astute and observant travelers that we are – it didn’t take us too long to realize that there was no place to sleep.  We also became quite aware that the room was about 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  But after poking around a bit, I found that underneath a counter, hidden behind some slatted woodwork there was indeed a heater which I managed to turn on.  I went over to the other two guest rooms in our hallway and showed our fellow travelers where the heater was.  They were equally excited at the prospect of not having to wear every piece of clothing we had with us to bed – where ever the bed was.

If one wanted a shower though, you had to go to the “Onsen” (or “baths”) facility at the other end of the building.  This is where the hot water soaking pools are as well as the communal showers.  Of course these baths are segregated by gender and clothing not allowed once inside the area. 

But there was a nice garden out the window and the facility was sparse, but quite clean.

Dinner was in a large room with a row of single person tables, each with a chair lined up on either side of the room facing each other about 15 feet apart.  Although the seating arrangement was odd, we were delighted that we had chairs and were not sitting on the floor.  The food (billed as traditional Japanese cuisine) was all vegetarian and was already set out in individual portions on each persons table in neat little bowls and containers.  But, I’m not a big vegetable eater so didn’t find much on the table that suited me.

Henjoko-in Temple dinner (Photo from Google Search)
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Even though the dining room was comfortably warm, the hallways were freezing so it was very nice to get back to our room which was by now quite warm.  This was a good thing as the forecast for the evening was 36°.  When we returned to the room, the table in the middle had been moved to the side and in its place, in the middle of the room, where our sleeping mats along with pajamas.  Once you got into “bed” it was reasonably comfortable but getting in and out was challenging.  The pillow was quite different than what we were used to.  It was pretty small (compared to US pillows) and quite hard.  I’m not sure what it was filled with but sand or fine gravel come to mind – maybe even rice.  I eventually just folded up a bunch of towels and used that as a pillow instead.  We asked them to provide something to use in order to help us get up from the floor and they found a small foot stool that could be used which helped immensely. 

Room set up for sleeping
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As it was still somewhat light out when we returned from dinner, I took a little walk through the building to where the hallway went by a lovely Japanese garden to take some shots of the lovely garden.

Henjoko-in Temple garden
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Each morning, the monks hold a ceremony or service at 6:00 AM which we were all invited to attend however my wife and I declined.  Some of our group did attend and found it a bit interesting but without any explanation of what was going on or a translation of what was being said, it seemed to leave those I talked to about it wishing they’d just stayed in bed for another hour or so of sleep. 

Breakfast was pretty much the same as the dinner with essentially the same sort of food.  However at the dinner one could buy beer or sake but not so at the breakfast.  What surprised many in our group of all Americans was that there was no coffee.  But upon reflection I guess this is not surprising for a monestary.  I’m not a ‘breakfast’ sort of person, but I sure could have gone for some scrambled eggs, a bagel with cream cheese some strawberries and a glass of fresh orange juice – but I digress.

Being described as an active Buddhist monastery, I expected there to be several dozen monks milling about along with monks in training and the sounds of ritual chanting wafting down the halls.  The building and gardens were more or less as expected, although I didn’t think the public areas would be so cold but that should have been expected.  What surprised me though is that only 3 monks live there.  Perhaps a few more come in each day for specific duties like cooking for the guests, or for maintenance, but that was not clear. 

I never saw any apprentice monks scurrying about, or processions of monks going down the halls to prayers or ceremonies and never heard any singing or chanting which is quite common in TV shows and movies which are set in these sorts of places.  In fact my sense was that this was just a hotel in temple trappings, run by 3 monks.  But, maybe I’m cynical.


Our next installment of this series will bring us into the Iya river valley.


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Thanks for reading – Dan


(Images by Dan Hartford.  Info from Wikipedia, ChatGPT, other web sources, pamphlets gathered at various locations along the way guidebooks and commentary by the local guides)






Karen K(non-registered)
I love your blog, it’s so informative and really useful to people going to Japan. I am so glad you are producing this!!

Bruce McGurk(non-registered)
Thanks, Dan - what an adventure. You and Ellen are brave to do that - NatGeo is being pretty adventurous. Fun to adapt, glad you figured out the heater! Great that those lovely cars just happened....that was an extremely expensive rolling display you got to view! Photos are lovely, as usual! Great job.
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