Susan's sketchbook log: Japan


EnOf Monks and Mountains

Mt. Koya is the home of Shingon Buddhism and a number of temples there provide lodging.

Stayed at Eko-in (left), a temple with origins stretching back more than 1,000 years. After the evening vegetarian meal, slept on a futon laid out on the tatami floor by a young monk apprentice, and was sketching by 6am, before attending the morning chants and goma fire ceremony. Sketched after that too - to avoid breakfast, I must admit. Miso soup at 7am just doesn't do it for me and I didn't want to be rude.. Cream buns from the bakery do. (Arigato, Junko-san and Noriko-san.)

There are several things to see at Koyasan, including Kongobuji Temple with its huge rock garden and excellent painted sliding screens -- and where they serve you tea on a red carpet. A nice timeout on a cold rainy spring day.

But for me, the highlight was Okunoin and a path stretching more than a half kilometer through a dense forest of cedars, green moss (and rain on this day), lined with more than 200,000 tombs and monuments, erected by faithful followers through the centuries who wanted to be near Kobo Daishi -- whose mausoleum lies at the end of the pathway -- when he awakens. Note: women were barred from entering the sacred grounds of Mt. Koya until 1872.

After the sightseeing, it was back to the temple for shojinryori - vegetarian dinner (below). Nice trays. Nice bowls. Nice orange. Miso soup and rice, of course. We were directed where to properly place bowls on the tray. As for the rest? No idea, as usual. The big surprise was that you could get beer or sake with dinner. I opted for beer and was mega-surprised when the young monk brought me a 24 ounce bottle of Kirin. As my eyebrows went up, he made some joke about helping me drink it if I couldn't finish it. Guess they don't leave their sense of humor with the shoes outside the temple.

I was pleased I didn't drop any sesame curd from my chopsticks onto the pristine tatami mat.

After dinner, shuffled back to my little room in the ill-fitting slippers. Lights out at 10pm.

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