March 27, 2014
I am currently writing while dressed in my yukata after a visit to the bath house in the Ekoin Monastery. I don’t think that I am ready for a Samurai part other than maybe the John Belushi “Samurai Delicatessen”. I have even shamed Peggy into doing it. They have separate men and women baths. There is a tour group of ladies from Kansas who gave me admiring looks as I strode by in my Yakuta. I don’t think Peggy will have to worry to much about them joining her anytime soon. The monastery is referred to as a Shukubo because it provides meals and housing for Buddhist Pilgrims. They are not too selective since they took us in.
The Buddhist Monastery is a bit of a reach for us. We are in the mountains in the town of Koyasan which is kind of like a Buddhist Santiago de Compostelle. There are currently 117 monasteries in the town. There used to be more. There are still 1000 or more monks and intern monks. Our monastery raises funds by taking care of visitors that come to see the monuments, grave markers and tombs. The founder of this mountain sanctuary was a monk by the name of Kobo Daishi who went into eternal meditation in 835. Non believers,would,say he has gone the great beyond. Buddhists who visit his mausoleum believe he still here their prayers. Our monastery will be 1200 years old in 2015.
Luckily the plumbing and heating are not that old. We have tatami mats and a silk carpet to pad around in. The too short table in the middle is where we will be served dinner and breakfast by one of the young intern monks. It is heated underneath and comes with plenty of tea. We even have, somewhat incongruously, a small flat screen TV. The ladies from Kansas will be surprised when they find only Japanese channels.
Getting here involved taking the train from Nara and changing In Ougi and two more places before heading up into the mountains on a single track system. We needed to wait for oncoming trains to pass us on sidings. We finally boarded a funicular to rise to the Koyasan and then board a bus to our monastery. It was not fun moving luggage weighted down with Chinese souvenirs.
We checked in and got the orientation from the novitiate. We looked at the monastery program which includes Shoko or incense burning, Ajikan meditation (on the letter A), and the Goma Fire Ritual held at sunrise. The early nature of these events convinced us to pass and be satisfied with dinner and breakfast in our room on the really short table. The monk will prepare our bed for us after dinner. Peggy just got back from the bath. She is a trooper.
We did wander through the 1200 year old cemetery with some 200,000 graves. The place looked like Muir Woods would look like if it was festooned with myriad grave markers or it could possibly be Yoda’s planet. I saw a dead ringer look alike. It was mossy, somewhat spooky and wonderful at the same time. Note: they are ringing gongs and playing music right now as I write.
The cemetery is the resting place of commoners and nobility. Not sure about women since no live ones were allowed up here until 1873. In addition to the really old graves there are some new additions for Panasonic and Nissan. There is even a space ship and a happy dog. I am sure what is their purpose.
The visit to the graveyard weirded both of us out enough to force a visit to a market for a can of beer. Peggy even wanted a large one.
I figure that I am finally beginning to figure out mix and match approach that most Japanese have towards the spiritual world. Buddhism and Shinto have been blended so much that is tough to always see where one stops and the other starts. It doesn’t help to have as many forms of Buddhism as there of Christianity. I figure that we are here to learn and try to understand what is strange to us. As Christians, we are comfortable enough in our beliefs to respect their interpretation of the divine as incorrect. Rest assured we are not about to become Buddhists no matter how beautiful their gardens.
Just finished our vegetarian dinner. They avoid strong smell veggies like “spring onion and garlic” and there is no meat whatever. We enjoyed assorted veggie tempura, hijiki seaweed, steamed rice, soybeans and noodles, sesame tofu, some more kelp and tofu, algae seaweed and fruit. We might be ready for pizza tomorrow.
The interns just made up our bed for the night with futons and plenty of comforters. We will see what tomorrow brings.