Thursday, December 19, 2019

Our Temple Stay in Koyasan, Japan


We left the neon-signed excitement of Osaka in favor of a muted, monastic life in Koyasan. Koyasan, with its wooden temples nestled in fog among cedar trees, perfectly typifies how I’ve always envisioned Japan. It is my favorite among all the places we visited in the country.
Temple lodging (shukubo) in Koyasan
Since the railway to Koyasan was damaged by the typhoon, we had to take the bus instead of the train. From the bus stop, we walked to Zoufukuin, a Buddhist temple where we stayed for two nights. The moment I saw those slippers meticulously lined up at the entrance of the temple, a sense of tranquility that lingered throughout our stay came over me. We removed our shoes, put on the slippers, and then entered the temple where we were greeted by a monk who gave us a tour of the place: the communal bath, the prayer room, the shared bathroom, the gardens, our room. A traditional Japanese room stripped back to bare essentials, ours had tatami mats, sliding doors, a big picture window, a low wooden table with zabuton (floor cushions), two futons, two sets of yukata (cotton robe) hanging on a rack, and a portable heater. With the temperature going as low as 2°C at night and the heater barely heating up the space, the room felt cold but not uncomfortably so. Sitting in its spacious silence with D at my side, I felt soothed.

Guests at the temple follow a strict schedule: the public bath is open from 4 to 9 pm; nobody can enter or leave the property between 9 pm and 6 am; breakfast starts at 7 am, right after the 6 am prayer ceremony, while dinner is at 5:30 pm; and the meals served are all vegetarian (shojin ryori). I don’t know about D, but this regimented life appealed to me because of the self-discipline and austerity it entails.

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