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  • Writer's pictureTim and Lindsey

Photos at the start, middle but definitely not at the end (Day 203)

Today’s post was to be called “10,000 steps in a cemetery”, then we were interviewed by a Japanese TV station and later I spent time with Jan and got to know her very well indeed! So there are photos at the start, middle but definitely not at the end!

Let me rewind…Jan and Simon picked us up in their campervan and took us up to Koyasan. Sadly it was raining but this didn’t deter us. We had just reached the Danjo Garan Complex when a group of Buddhist monks, some in beautiful purple, white and black robes, walked into one of the stunning wooden temples. We stood outside and heard them chanting in harmony. What a wonderful start to our day.

Koyasan is the centre of Shingon Buddhism which was introduced to Japan in 805 by Kukai (known as Kobo Daishi). Eleven years later the reigning Emperor gave him permission to establish this monastic complex. Interestingly, twice in 824, he was commanded to pray for rain. He was obviously successful as he was promoted both times. (Today we wished he’d stop praying!)

This area has continued to flourish since Kukai’s passing in 835 and has become a major centre for the study and practice of perfect enlightenment. Currently, there are 117 temples in this spiritual area built on a mountaintop covered in a cedar forest. Had we got our act together, we could have stayed overnight in one of the temples, but we discovered that they need 7 days’ notice….plus a bit expensive.

After stopping for coffee we walked to the Okunoin Cemetery, where, according to local superstition, there are no dead here, but only waiting spirits. The place is quite eerie with ancient tombs and statues covered in moss, with towering cedar trees overhead. We kept noticing some of the statutes had little bibs tied around them and even some wore knitted hats. This did give them a slight comical appearance and I do hope that I don’t offend anyone saying this. Apparently, these are offerings that mothers leave to protect their children or to bring them luck in the afterlife.

After a while, we came across a well that if you look down into it and cannot see your reflection, then you will die in the next three years. I am pleased to say that Jan and I peered down and could see ourselves quite clearly, however our photos made us look a bit like ghosts.

The paths were lined with stone lanterns and we can imagine that it looks beautiful and even more eerie at night. I think unfortunately we missed the main highlight, the Torodo Hall with more than 10,000 lanterns which are kept eternally lit and behind this is Kobo Daishi’s Mausoleum (Gobyo) where it is said that he continues to meditate. I am not sure how we missed this, I had walked 10,000 steps in this cemetery so it wasn’t a quick visit by any means.

We left to find some lunch, a hot bowl of noodles with wild vegetables for Jan and I and beef for Tim and Simon. The food was very appetizing, which is more than I can say for the pretend food displayed in the restaurant’s front window!

As we were about to walk towards another Temple, we were approached by a young couple who asked if they could interview us. It turns out that they are from a popular Japanese TV station and making a programme about tourism. We all stood there, the camera in front and the mike boom just above us. The young man asked us questions in Japanese and a young lady then translated his questions and our answers. They wanted to have a look at some of our photos and were very interested in why we had taken certain ones. “Why specifically did you take this?” “What is it that you like about it?” It will be hilarious if our Japanese friends Hiro and Hiroko suddenly see us on the TV.

It was getting late and we were getting even wetter, so Jan suggested that we went to an Onsen. Simon drove us down the winding road and we arrived at what looked like a Municipal Swimming Pool. Jan and I went one way and Tim and Simon the other. Off we stripped and Jan told me to take in with me a small bright yellow towel. We sat on small stools and washed thoroughly, then folded the yellow towel in a neat square and placed it on our heads. Can you imagine it! I have only met Jan a couple of times, yet here we are, completely naked apart from a yellow towel on top of our heads – we did have a giggle.

After a quick sauna, we entered the first Onsen. Wow, wonderfully hot natural spring water with jets massaging our bodies – it was divine. There were 1 sauna and 6 pools altogether, including one outside which was my favourite, sitting in hot water with a cold breeze on our face. The hot springs flow from the Yusaka Mountain with over 270 litres per minute and the minerals have a number of beneficial properties. One lady informed us that a scientific study from a university was carried out on the water from here and it was found to have the best natural balance of minerals in Japan. (I haven’t found anything online about this though)

The other ladies, all Japanese, were lovely, sometimes showing us what to do, laughing with us when I was taking far too long getting into a freezing cold pool, asking where we came from. It sounds as if coming to an Onsen is a regular occurrence for some of them and what a lovely thing to do, a time on your own or with friends, all equal, no judgement on body shapes or status, sharing this time together connecting in a very natural way.

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