Koyasan, Mt Koya

Koyasan is a centre of Buddhist study and practice. It’s located on Mt Koya 112 km south of Kyoto at about 900m .

It was founded 12 centuries ago by Kobo Daishi as a centre fir Shingon Buddhist training. He wanted a monastery deep in the mountains far from worldly distraction. The Emperor of the time gave him the land in 816, when were lumbering along in the dark ages. There are now several Buddhist temples here. We visited several notably Kongobuji which is the administrative head temple of Koyasan. As usual it has burnt down several times and the current temple has been here since the 1860’s.

Incredibly there is a small temple, The Fudodo; that does date from 1197. Now a national treasure as probably the only building in Japan that has not burnt down!

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The picture is Konon Daito (great pagoda) Originally first constructed in 816 the present building was built in 1932.

We are staying in Shojoshin-in, one of 52 temple lodgings. It is a working temple; originally rooms were let to visiting pilgrims, now 52 open their doors to tourists. You get a tatami matted room, shared bathrooms and an onsen. You also get a vegetarian meal, Buddhists being veggie. The whole town respects the traditions of Buddhism. In a café a waitress caught a hornet in a butterfly net and released it instead of swatting it, a bit surreal. We have prayers tomorrow at 6.30 am, definitely going, I need all the help I can get.

Tomorrow before going to Osaka we entering a forest to see a mausoleum. Surrounded by a thick forest of massive cedars, the area known as Okuno-in, or the Inner Sanctuary, is the setting for a vast cemetery that features the mausoleums of numerous famous Japanese, including that of the samurai ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi (or Taiko Hideyoshi) as well as memorials to the spirits of soldiers killed in the Pacific War.

Fireproof Fudodo

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Rhonda going all 'Japanese'. Any excuse to wear her dressing gown all day.

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This morning we visited the Okunoin cemetery, the largest in japan. Also the site of the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism. We got up for 6.30 prayers and a monk chanted aloud clashed some symbols and rang a bell, very calm and relaxing and the after a veggie breakfast off we went to visit the cemetery.
Instead of having died, Kobo Daishi is believed to rest in eternal meditation as he awaits the Buddha of the Future, and provides relief to those who ask for salvation in the meantime. Okunoin is one of the most sacred places in Japan and a popular pilgrimage spot.
Across a bridge starts Okunoin's cemetery, the largest in Japan, with over 200,000 tombstones lining the almost two kilometer long approach to Kobo Daishi's mausoleum. Wishing to be close to Kobo Daishi in death to receive salvation, many people, including prominent monks and feudal lords have had their tombstones erected here over the centuries. There are also some mausoleums with corporate names such as Panasonic and Nissan, not quite sure why they were there and definitely unsure about the rocket!
Apparently there is one by an insecticide company dedicated to its termite victims.
There is also the Miroku Stone, housed in a small cage. Visitors are challenged to lift the stone from the cage's lower platform to an upper platform with only one hand. It is believed that the stone feels lighter to good people and heavier to bad people, and that it can provide a connection to the Miroku Bodhisattva.
Okunoin. Needless to say I could not lift it Rhonda declined the challenge.

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We left Koyasan for Osaka on a Saturday. A day where all the local motorcyclists with a death wish ride the twistys up Mt Koya to fulfil their dreams. I was more scared coming down then them. We are in the Mitsui Garden Hotel, which is rather grand with lots of room and a swish Onsen on the top floor.

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Went out for lunch at the station to a Steak restaurant the prices were ridiculous. The wine prices especially. However the martini was particularly good. Having been up since 5.30 we watched the rugby in the hotel room and crashed out early. Never like to watch rugby when there is a man advantage for most of the match, but we need all the help we can get!

Today we started off with dress up as samurai, which was quite sweet and then went off to view the Umeda Sky Building, which has a viewing platform on the 40
th floor. Very impressive. After lunch in a great “Tonkatsu” restaurant, really cheap and quick. I sure they could have deep-fried a mars bar, we then went to Osaka castle which is a ferrous concrete replica built in 1932, (of course it has been burnt down and destroyed many times), complete with lift and so decided not to go in. Went on a river cruise instead.

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In the evening we took a taxi to the Dotonbori canal district in Osaka. This lane runs along the canal and is stuffed with karaoke bars, eateries and gaming arcades. We also found a fishpond where you could fish for carp. There were some enormous ones in the pond. Pretty disdainful until the fish whisperer: called Rhonda started hand feeding them! We ate in a barbeque skewer bar. But made it home pretty early.

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Well today we drove 234km to Matsuyama. A place famous for its castle and Dogo Onsen. We stayed in an APA hotel. Only £37, it was very clean but tired as if nothing had changed since the 80's. You could even rent movies on the TV. Something that has died elsewhere along with VHS. For £37 it was fantastic. We parked the car in one of those vertical carparks where the car is parked on a bed which then cranks round on a chain system, its really cool or I'm really sad. The Dogo Onsen is Japan's oldest hot spring with a 3000 year history. The actual Onsen we went into was built in 1894 and it was great. It reminded me of the municipal victorian Turkish baths in Dunfermline

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Whilst eating our evening meal something weird was happening outside. I googled it on getting back to the hotel and it is:
Clashing of the Mikoshi shrines, a festival for real men!
This festival features the loud and lively “Hachiawase” (clashing of shrines) starting from 6:30am on 7 October in front of Dogo-Onsen station. Eight large portable shrines from eight local towns clash each other. Battles take place twice for each shrine, eight times in total and are known as the Kenka-Mikoshi (fighting shrines). The portable shrines are jolted against each other while the “Mikoshi Mamori” (Mikoshi defenders), the young men supporting the Mikoshi shrines, push with all their might. In addition to the Hachiawase, the Miya-ire (taking the Mikoshi into the Isaniwa Shrine) and Miya-dashi (taking the Mikoshi out of the Isaniwa Shrine) are other festival features not to be missed. The large Mikoshi shrines being taken up the 135 steep stone steps of the Isaniwa Shrine is a spectacular sight as they appear to be driven up solely on the enthusiastic energy of the porters!

Matsuyama to Hiroshima

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Today we got up reasonably early to visit Matsuyama castle. You get up the mountain by cable car or chair lift. One look at the chairlift and it was definitely the cable car. This castle has been destroyed several times but is not a replica. Many of its walls are original. The views from the top were spectacular in spite of it being a gloomy day. Matsuyama is not a massively popular tourist spot and they work a bit harder. We even got given a guide4 book. Coming of the cable cars there were loads of 6-8 years schoolchildren waiting to go up. As soon as the teacher spotted us it was Hellos all round.The road sign is for Japanese Racoon I think?

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After the castle we went to Hiroshima. We could have driven by going back some way and crossing a bridge but instead opted for the ferry from Matsuyama to Hiroshima via Kure. Kure is quite an industrial town, well known for shipbuilding with a Nippon Steel works right on the dockside. The inland sea that we crossed is dotted with hundreds of islands big and small. The very crossing was 3 hours, you only beat going by road by 15 minutes. I guess judging from the state of the ferry and the lack of passengers that the bridge is rapidly taking away their custom. The ferry crossing cost about £80.

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Hiroshima, a modern city on Japan’s Honshu Island, is largely remembered because it was largely destroyed by an atomic bomb during World War II. Today, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park commemorates the 1945 event. In the park are the ruins of Genbaku Dome, one of the few buildings that were left standing near ground zero.In todays term it was quite a small bomb but managed to kill in excess of 150,000 people within a 2km radius. Todays bomb are 1000 times more powerful. The museum is really good and really shows you what an atomic war would achieve.

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Hiroshima is also the home of the Japanese Oyster. They generally eat them cooked mainly because they are enormous. I had some cooked ones plus some blowfish.

Poison blowfish, also known as fugu, is a delicacy around the world. But if you happen to get a plate of fugu that's not cooked quite right, can you die eating blowfish? Yes. ... Fugu's skin, ovaries/gonads, and liver contain enough poison to kill 30 people. But I survived. The oysters seemed dodgier

Earlier today at the airport I had some fresh oysters, specially selected because of their small size and correspondingly more expensive. Instead of Tabasco sauce they use whisky!? I stuck with the lemon.

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