I had arrived at the ferry terminal just after 9 o'clock yesterday evening and with the ticket office opening 20 minutes before each departure I headed straight up to the waiting room. There was one person waiting and as soon as I put my pack down she immediately started to talk to me. Her name was Hiromi and it turned out she was also going to take the 02:55 ferry and then continue on to Koyasan. I couldn't understand everything she was saying but she seemed very interested in religion. She said the soul of the earth was unhappy and that Kukai was unhappy about this. How she knew this I don't really know but it seemed to be related to her reason for going to Koyasan. She also said that the 10th was an auspicious day to be going to Koyasan.
After a little while she gave me a book written in English related to a religious group I had not heard of before. The group or possibly sect was Japanese in origin and it's name was Sukyo Mahikari. The title of the book was Gratitude – Volume One of The Three Virtues for Yokoshi. I flicked through it reading short passages here and there and on the surface it sounded a lot like most spiritual type texts I had read. She told me I could keep the book. I would have asked her many more questions but then another woman turned up and she too was going to Koyasan on the 02:55 ferry. They both seemed to have a lot to talk about and I understood very little of what they were saying except that the other woman was going to be staying at a temple where a friend of her's was living. That was about the extent of their conversation that I understood or tried to understand. I had gotten used to the lack of chatter and this was a change to the usual silence I always experienced towards the end of the day so after a while I moved to the other side of the waiting room and tried to see if I could maybe get a little sleep.
I had not had much sleep and I was actually feeling really tired. The plastic molded chairs were not particularly ideal to sleep on so I got out my ground sheet out and laid it on the floor between 2 rows of seats and using my sleeping bag as a rolled up pillow I just laid down on the hard floor. Lying on the hard floor was not so bad but a very cold draft made it difficult to stay put so I kept getting up and walking about. Between the two women talking in loud animated voices and the cold draft I just couldn't fall alseep so all I could do was hope the time would pass quickly. Time started to pass quickly when I got my laptop out and started updating my notes again. At 02:30 the three of us went down and got our special ¥2,000 tickets and then boarded the ferry which had arrived a few minutes earlier. The ferry had carpeted areas for people to just wanted to lie down, seated areas and an area where you could plug in your laptop or smartphone or whatever and get access to free wifi.The wifi connection was not particularly fast but it allowed me to do a few things which I needed to do. The journey across to Wakayama was just over 2 hours and the time again passed passed by relatively quickly. The only trouble was the way the heavy swell caused the ferry to roll from side to side. It was pitch black outside so I couldn't really see what was going on. Thankfully weather conditions improved as we neared Wakayama.
The ferry docked on time and I helped Hiromi with one of her many bags. It was a miracle how she had managed to travel with so many individual bags and after a few minutes struggle we arrived at the station platform. The other woman who had not waited around to witness the miracle with the bags was already on the station platform. She seemed to have a slightly different plan about getting to Koyasan to the plan I had received from the Tourist Information ladies at Tokushima Station. My plan envisaged a change at Tengenchaya, a bit of a wait and then a train on towards Koyasan. The other lady who had her own print out of a faster schedule was suggesting going a little further than Tengenchaya to a stop called Namba and picking up an earlier train from there to Koyasan.
The train was scheduled to leave at 05:41 and it arrived and departed on the dot. The train was empty when it arrived so the 3 of us got into a carriage and ended up sitting in different places. The lady with the plan of her own sat in a 4 seat section which given the size of my pack was not so convenient so I sat at the furthest end of the first long side section. Hiromi sat on the same long side bench but on the end nearest to the 4 seat section occupied by the woman with the plan. As the train continued, the pair of them continued their chatter even though they were not in direct line of sight. The decibels at which they were now chattering seemed higher to compensate for the added train noise. As the train stopped and took on more early morning commuters Hiromi finally decided to move to the 4 seat section where the lady with the plan was sitting. The train continued on and each stop more and more commuters and children on the way to school got on. The two women seemed to be the only ones talking but at a certain point they finally stopped, probably to the relief of the whole carriage as well as to myself.
By the time the train was approaching Tengenchaya there was standing and squeezing yourself in room only and I decided I was going to trust the Tourist Information ladies and get off at Tengenchaya. As I waited on the platform quite a few trains stopped to pick up passengers. I was in no hurry so I kept waiting for a train with fewer passengers. As the doors on one train which did have a few empty seats closed and start to pull away, the woman with the plan appeared on the other side of the doors waving both hands as if to vindicate her own plan. Even with all my enforced ascetic training, getting lost, freezing cold at night and much more, I wasn't yet ready to listen to conversation I couldn't really follow and at a volume which made made it hard to avoid listening to. I wanted to travel in ohenro mode and a few minutes later I was on a half empty, chatter free train heading towards Koyasan.
When the train pulled in at the final station Gokurakubashi, most of the passengers were on their feet and on their marks. As soon as the train came to a halt and the doors opened there was a mad dash for the cable car. I decided to avoid the mad dash and even with only one properly functioning leg, made it up to the very front of the first carriage of the cable car. The cable car was full with standing room only but the journey time was no more than about 5 minutes and we soon arrived at the top. It was a short and interesting little journey simply because of the sheer gradient of the tracks and if you cared to think about it, the technology that had gone in to building it was kind of interesting. When the doors opened at the top everyone got off the cable car and made a second mad dash for the buses. I had not had my coffee and dorayaki fix so I needed something sweet to really get me going again so I avoided the rush for the bus and got myself some treats from the small shop plus a hot canned coffee from the vending machine. It didn't match up to my usual combination but it was enough to be going with.
It was pouring with rain at Koyasan so I decided to spend a little longer at the station and went upstairs to an exhibition with illustrations and artifacts providing a history of the cable car at Koyasan. The upper floor also provided a view and on a clear day it was probably great but today all I could see was heavy dense cloud below. When I was all done I got a bus into the center of town and got of near to the Shukubo Association. The staff at the Shukubo Association spoke good English and I told the man I wanted to stay at a temple called Daienin. Daienin was the place I had stayed at after my first pilgrimage and one of the monks in particular had been incredibly kind. When the man checked with Daienin the answer was that it was full. The man explained that temple lodging was very scarce because many people were visiting to take part in the 1200th anniversary celebrations. Pessimistic old me was thinking I might have to say my prayers at Okunoin and then head home earlier than planned but the next temple the man phoned gave a positive response. The place was called Jofukuin and it was right next to Daienin.
I was thankful that there was a temple for me to stay at and I thanked the man for arranging everything and made my way up the road. Even though I had not managed to get a booking at Daienin I wanted to at least greet the monk who had been kind to me the last time I had been at Koyasan so I decided to stop by and say hello. As I got to the main office at Daienin a young monk greeted me and I told him that I didn't have a reservation and that the man in the Shukubo Association had just booked me in next door. I then explained that I had stayed at Daienin a few years ago and had really wanted to stay again. I recognised the monk who I had met the last time seated in the front office and pointing towards him, I told the younger monk that the monk in the back was the one who had been really kind to me and that he had given me a small key chain holder as a gift. The younger monk explained this to the monk and he appeared to remember some details. I got the feeling they would have happily found me somewhere to stay but since I was already booked next door they ended up apologizing and giving me a tenugui cloth as a gift. I thanked them and headed to the gate and like last time, I turned and bowed. I had not expected anyone to be watching but the younger monk was watching and he bowed back. I wished then more than ever that I had been able to stay there but less than a minute later I was chatting to a woman monk next door at Jofukuin and already feeling as welcome as I had been at Daienin. It was still only 10:30 and I was told I could leave my pack and return at 3 o'clock to check in. Things seemed a little bit more sombre at Jofukuin and with the cold wet weather I wondered what I was going to do for the next few hours. All I really wanted to do was clean myself up and sleep.
I decided to head to Okunoin first and get my book stamped. The first time I had walked through the long graveyard towards Okunoin it had been a beautifully warm sunny day. Today it was cold, wet and misty and the atmosphere was altogether different. As I got closer to Okunoin the numbers of people steadily increased and around the main halls there seemed to be all kinds of official activities going on plus lots and lots of people. I was interested only in getting my stamp so I headed to the stamp office and there were 3 people doing the stamps and all of them were free. I recognized one of them as the person who had done my stamp and wanted her to do it again. After she had done the stamp I told her she had done the stamp for me before and asked her to choose a photograph. As she looked through the photographs she took a particular interest in the photograph of the marching monks and told me that she recognized one of the monks in the photograph so I told her to take it and give it to him. After she had chosen another one for herself, I asked her to pass the remainder of the batch to her colleague who chose something and passed the rest back to me just as a small group suddenly descended on the stamp office. I said my goodbyes and headed back in the direction of Jofukuin and then on towards the other end of Koyasan.
The other end of Koyasan had what was probably one of the most impressive looking temple buildings I had seen anywhere except for the huge wooden structure housing the Big Buddha in Nara. The building at Koyasan was the Great Stupa or Daito building and even without knowing too much about it and the reasons behind it's design, standing at almost 50m high the sheer scale of the building was impressive. I had read somewhere that design principles behind its shape and construction actually represented a mandala encapsulating the fundamentals of Shingon Buddhism. It was possible to go inside after removing your shoes but with so many people there already and my boots quite muddy I opted to stay around the outside and find places from where I could photograph it. Had it not been so wet, cold and crowded I would have stayed longer but as it was after finishing in the Daito area I headed back to the Shukubo Association just so I could get out of the cold.
The Shukubo Association had free wifi and also two networked computers for public use. Koyasan had plenty of coffee shops and small restaurants but I didn't want to eat too much because I was looking forward to dinner at the temple at 6 o'clock after having a nice hot bath. With time still to kill before I could check in I ended up visiting some of the temples closer to Jofukuin. Right next to Jofukuin was a Buddhist temple which appeared to originate in style from I think from Burma. The colours were more vivid and the style of the statues were very different from those typically found in Japanese temples. Underneath I found a dark circular passageway, a smaller version of what I had found at a number of other temples in Shikoku.
The next temple I discovered was Karukayado which had a very interesting story behind it. It was dedicated to a man who had renounced worldly life to become a monk. The story was depicted in a series of paintings and descriptions (including translations in English) which hung around the side and back wall walls of the temple. The man it is said had left his wife and as yet unborn child to pursue a life of spiritual practice. A child was born and when he was old enough had gone in search of his father having heard that his father had left to become a monk. Upon finding the monk (his real father), the boy is told that the monk he is searching for has died and he's advised to return home to look after his mother. However, when the boy returns home he discovers that during his absence his mother had passed away. Distraught he returns to the monk and is accepted as a disciple but never discovers the true identity of the monk as his real father. I didn't really grasp any deeper meaning behind the story but I found it intrinsically interesting. The most interesting place I discovered last time was a courtyard where all the deities from each of the 88 temples were arrayed around a courtyard. This time it was definitely the story of the father and his son enshrined at Karukayado.
By the time I finished at Karukayado it was already past 3 o'clock and when I returned to Jofukuin the lady monk who had taken care of my pack gave me a tour of the temple lodging, explained where everything was and what was on the agenda during the rest of my stay concerning meals, use of the hot bath and the morning prayer service which was scheduled for 06:30 the following day. When she showed me to my room I couldn't believe how big it was. In fact it was really fantastic. The main usable area was 10 tatami mats in size plus a raised platform which was a further 4 mats. The walls behind the raised area were painted gold. On the back wall hung a huge scroll with some text in large lettering, on the side was a huge vase and best of all, a statue of a seated Buddha like figure in the middle. I wasn't complaining at all but after she left I started wondering if it really was going to cost just ¥10,000 like the man in the Shukubo Association had told me or was it going to be crazy expensive like I knew some of the temple lodgings to be. Those more expensive ones I had heard had on-suite facilities and much more, and whilst mine was nothing like that it kept me thinking.
My main priority was getting in a hot bath and warming myself up so the first thing I did after unpacking was to head for the bath. It was nothing on a par with my room but it too turned out to be really great. After cleaning myself up, I slowly eased myself into the hot bath and even though I didn't stay in it long, it turned out to be one of the best little hot spas that I had experienced during the whole journey. Feeling nice and clean again, dressed in a crisp cotton yukata and a warm Japanese style jacket I returned back to my room. In the corner was a small gas heater which I turned on and on the table I helped myself to some hot green tea. I lit several sticks of incense and just sat back and enjoyed every moment. It couldn't have been better but better it got as soon as a young monk knocked on the door and sliding it open, said he was going to serve dinner. Dinner was served on 3 small table like trays and included an assortment of foods. Everything was vegetarian and I ate every last morsel and could have eaten another full round. When I was done, I carefully arranged all the empty dishes on the 3 trays and positioned them conveniently by the door and then headed out into the rainy streets to a local shop for a coffee and a sweet snack. The coffee and sweet snack combination had become a bit of a fix.
When I returned to my room I found the empty dishes all gone. On the table in my room, along with some information about the temple there was a booked entitled 'Teaching of the Buddha'. I opened it randomly and it opened on a chapter entitled 'Defilements'. I flicked a few pages back to the start of the chapter and read that according to the teaching of the Buddha there were 3 main causes for suffering. I didn't read it for long but again it sounded like commonsense more than anything else. Many times during the pilgrimage around Shikoku I had thought that without commonsense as a foundation, a calmer more peaceful life was always going to remain a mystery. I wanted to read more but I decided I would continue reading it in the morning after I woke up.
I really wanted to sleep but there was no bedding in my room so I was waiting for someone to turn up with bedding and set it all up. When the knock came, two monks came in and arranged my futon on the tatami floor. I had already pulled the big table in the middle over to the side because I wanted them to make my bed right in front of the Buddha like statue. When they were gone, I lit and placed more incense on the altar, switched off the main light and got ready to get some sleep. The Shikoku part of my pilgrimage was over and tomorrow after final prayers at Okunoin I would return back to the real world.
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