All of us had certain expectations of what Japan might look like before we actually arrived here. I personally envisioned Japan solely as a modern society since I rarely heard anything about traditional Japan. I thought that it was similar to the way Americans don’t talk or really relate to the culture of cowboys or the “Wild West.” However, in Japan, their modern society and traditional society co-exist and complement each other in a very fascinating way. With that said, the trip to Mt Koya and Nara was intended to show students that didn’t get the chance to step outside of Tokyo before, a more traditional side Japan.
I was certain that it would be difficult to get any sleep at all on our long 7 hour bus ride; after all, our journey began right on Halloween night. However, after our guides told us that we would be woke up around 6:40 AM, everyone quickly went to sleep. We arrived at Yoshino Park around 7:00 AM and took a morning walk before meeting with our guides.
Within the entrance of Daimon, were the Nio guardians. Our guide explained to us that, according to Japanese folktales, these guardians traveled with Buddha as bodyguards. Buddhism is normally known for its pacifist traditions; however, the stories of the Nio guardians often justify the use of force to protect cherished values and beliefs against evil.
Our first stop was Konpon Daito, shrine that houses a three-dimensional mandala along with a large statue of Buddha Mahavairochana.
Next, we also explored Miedo. Kobo Daishi (the founder of Shingon Buddhism) used this place for meditation. Kobo Dashi wanted to establish a monastery deep in the mountains, far from worldly distractions, where monks could practice and pray for the peace and welfare of the people. Miedo contains lots of portraits of Kobo Daishi, painted during his lifetime by his disciple. Unfortunately, pictures of the portraits were not allowed in this building.
After a long day with lots of walking, we arrived at Rengejoin Temple where we would meditate with monks and stay the night.
While the meditation room was crowded and cramped, it was very relaxing. I attempted to sit seiza style since I notice most of the locals were sitting that way, but after ten minutes I was already at my limit. I wish I could have taken pictures to share a bit of the experience, but I figured it wouldn’t be appropriate to do that while everyone was meditating.
Then, it was finally time for dinner, where we got to experience 精進料理 (Buddhist Vegetarian Cuisine)! In Buddhism, eating any sentient life is wrong, therefore monks live on a vegetarian diet. As a meat-eating-fanatic, I admit to being a bit disappointed when I heard that our meal would not have any. But after I began eating, I was pleasantly surprised! The food was quite delicious! Each dish was based on the concepts of five flavors, five cooking methods, and five colors (it seems that five is a lucky number in Japan!).
After our meal, everyone returned to their rooms, and chatted with friends while under a こたつ (a table with a blanket over it and a heater underneath). I’ve seen them before, but always thought that it was overrated. However, after experiencing its warmth, I definitely want to have one in the future!