The day started off in a panic, we woke up at 7:20am, when we were supposed to be out of the hotel by 7. Danielle and I were ready and out by 7:40, we stopped downstairs to check out, and made coffee as I took a picture of the directions to the airport. It was going to be a long day of travel.
We got on the train, by 8, but didn’t get to the transfer in time to catch the 8:03am train… So we had to wait for the 8:30am. It was a rough start to the day. By the time we got to the airport we were 3 minutes late to check into our flight, they told us our bags wouldn’t make it on the plane with us, and they’d have to change our flight. The fee for that was $52.
We made our new flight, but when we got to Osaka, we knew we were quite a bit behind schedule. The plane didn’t make it as quickly as it should have, and we quickly figured out we’d need to catch a train, to make another transfer. After 6 different modes of transportation (bus, subway, car, train, plane, and tram) we end up in Koyasan. The last mode was a tram up the mountain, which picks you up right where the train drops you off. It doesn’t seem like more than 1000 people live in Koya (Mount Koya), but, as we discovered, there are over 30 temples located within the small town. We finally get to the information office and they tell us all but 2 of the temples are booked for the night – and that dinner time is upon us (which means we would miss eating if we didn’t get to a temple soon).
We tried to find other accommodations (and thought we could do the temple stay in a day if we were going to be too late), but after the nice woman at the front makes 5 calls to different places, and we miss out on our opportunity to stay in a capsule hotel, we realize a temple is our only option. We select Rengejoin, a beautiful temple with a large rock garden at the entrance, and lush zen landscaping throughout the many courtyards. When we move on to securing the booking, it turns out the information center wants us to pay there, and it’s cash only. We only have $140 cash in local currency, but the total for our room (including access to their small onsen and gourmet multi-course meals) is $190. We panicked yet again – all the banks were closed and the ATM was not working….we then tried to barter/negotiate the rate…that didn’t work either.
Instead, the nice woman who had been helping us asked her manager for permission to give us the night on credit, since we had no other option and were going to be left homeless on the mountain. We promised to pay them back the next day, and David left his drivers license as collateral.
We were so grateful that we actually found a nice place to stay and that they lent us the money for the night! We happily walked the 10 minutes to Rengejoin Temple. It is a stunning temple, with a grand entrance, several courtyards and nice waterfalls in largest center courtyard. We wander across the temple facility and finally come to our room where there are two “Japanese Style” beds setup (thin mats), on the floor, and the room next door is set up with a private dinner for us. The dinner was quite elaborate with nearly 10 small vegetarian dishes, a huge bowl of rice and a pot of green tea.
After dinner you are encouraged to take part in what they call “bath time” – an organized hour where you can use the shared bathroom. Inside the bathroom is a large changing area with bins for your belongings and then a separate bathing area with a deep, hot pool and then a series of stations with shower heads and basins. The steamy pool was quite nice and after a long soak, you can clean yourself at one of the open stations. Once you’re done with bath time, you feel quite relaxed and ready to unwind in your cozy bedroom. The rooms are all glass on two sides with views of the zen gardens outside to bring ultimate inner peace and tranquility.
Guests go to bed quite early to rise with the monks at 5:30am for morning chanting. At 5:45am the gongs can be heard across the temple facility and everyone quietly makes their way to the main temple room. Slippers are left at the door (socks stay on), and guests are encouraged to gather around the backside of the alter to listen and watch the monks in their morning prayer. The room itself is dimly lit, but it is quite extensively designed and equipped with stunning light fixtures, which hang low from the ceiling.
The soothing ceremony runs 45 minutes or so, and then the head monk concludes the chanting with a forward facing discussion and explanation of Mt Koya. At 7am private breakfast is prepared and placed in the room (by monks in training) and once again it is quite an elaborate spread.
Once we had finished breakfast, we decided to store our luggage, explore the town and embark on the pilgrimage path (a lovely mountain hike).
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Moral of our story: planning can end with a pleasant surprise. It’s nice to have no expectations…
Thanks for reading 🙂