**Disclaimer: The following posts from Japan are all coming at once.. I apologize in advance.**
9 am rolls around, and I am wandering around Tokyo Station by myself. I have high hopes that I can find Ali in the large hoards of Japanese people all making their way to work, sort of like sporadic ants on a farm hill trying to gather up the harvest. A clean clutter of chaos.
“Elena!” I turn around, and there is Ali. Finally we found each other. After grabbing a quick breakfast we begin our trip to Koyasan. At first, we estimated the trip to take 4-5 hours, the perfect amount of time to catch up on our sleep, journaling and still make it in time for a bit of day light sightseeing. A few subways, 3 trains, a cable car and bus later, 9 hours had passed and we had just made it to our final destination after dark: Eko-In: The Buddhist Monastery.
The monks welcomed us one by one and gave us a quick tour around the property before escorting us to our rooms. We were to leave our shoes outside and adopt the use of slippers that they provided for us. Entering each of the rooms we left our slippers outside the door and entered barefoot. Our bedroom was set up with 7 mats on the floor and luxurious looking comforters on top. It was cold in the mountains compared to Tokyo where we went around in short sleeves. With no heat in the monastery the only thing warming the room was the body heat from the seven of us and a small heater in the corner, but it didn’t matter.
Dinner was served on the floor, traditional Japanese style; all vegetables in forms I didn’t even know existed. Poor Ali had some trouble with the extreme diverseness of the food, but due to my love for Japanese food, I couldn’t get enough!. We sat cross-legged on the floor and indulged with wooden chopsticks that we received as presents.
After dinner it was time to endulge in a nice warm shower… but to my surprise, the bath’s were communal. The act of bathing is to be a social aspect, with four or five other people. First you wash, and then you sit inside a large tub, sort of like a hot tub and relax. I have to admit it was relaxing, but the process of being naked with strangers was in one word: awkward.
That evening, one of the Monk’s who spoke English, Ta Mura, gave us a tour of the cemetery nearby. It is the largest cemetery in all of Japan, and the first Buddhist cemetery dating back 4,000 years. (Detailed post with pictures to come soon).
Back at the monastery, Ta Mura came back to our room with us and just talked with us until midnight. He wrote our names down for us in Japanese, and really helped us understand the Japanese culture, as well as their sect of Buddhism. It was interesting to see that the monks were young. Ta Mura was only 26 and was initiated as a monk for 4 years ago. He can still go dancing on weekends, drink, and a strong part of their religion is desire, so he may take a wife and have a family. A far stretch from Christianity.
He also told us his monk name: Cho Kee. ‘Cho’ meaning sun and ‘Kee’ means to lead the people. It really did describe him as he was the highlight of my trip, and our leader through understanding their culture. Before he left, I had commented on his bracelet and how beautiful it was, he explained that monks were required to wear them, and he received it when he was initiated to be a monk. Then he gave it to me as a present. I couldn’t accept it, but after he persisted I didn’t want to be rude. I still haven’t taken it off yet, and it is the most prized souvenir of the trip.
The next morning, waking up at 6:30 am from an amazing sleep, in the warmest bed possible, it was time to prepare for the ceremonies the Monk’s had prepared for us. Hearing them chant their sutra’s and play drums before large fire’s was truly incredible. We were told when to bow, when to pray and asked to make a wish for ourselves and for someone else.
By 8 am, I was ecstatic. The smile on my face was permanent. I firmly believe everyone needs to be able to spend some time at a Buddhist temple, or a temple of another religion to really appreciate the enjoyment of simplicity, Zen, meditation, and peace. I would have stayed for a few more days but Ali and I had to leave early to make our way to Hiroshima. It was crunch time.