April 10: Mt. Koya

My hotel was already filled before I made my reservations, for the night of April 10, so I decided to go to Mt. Koya and stay in a temple overnight. I admit I did this without proper research. My primary concern had been for a western toilet; I can’t squat. I never thought about how cold it could be on top of a mountain, until earlier in the week.

Mt. Koya is a special place, one of the holiest mountains in Japan; filled with very old religious structures, temples and cedar trees. The temples are a business; the trees are what get to me. They seem to penetrate my very being. I came here in 2007 but didn’t stay overnight. This time I would make up for it.

My temple for the night

My temple for the night

I arrived in the afternoon and checked in to my temple. At first, I couldn’t figure out how to do this. Everything seemed closed up and no one was around. Then one of the sliding panels opened. Three men were sitting on the floor at very low desks in a tiny room, lined with shelves and filled with papers and cartons of papers. As someone who lives with a perpetual mess I was delighted to see that even greater messes could be created by someone else. However, it sort of ruined my concept of Buddhism as filled with peace and order.


After getting my room and instructions about dinnertime I went for a walk in Okunoin, the cemetery with the amazing trees. This is the place on Mt. Koya that moved me the most and the only place I cared to revisit.


My room was lovely and orderly, as you can see and overlooked a garden that was probably wonderful in late spring and summer. Dinner was the special shojin ryori, Buddhist vegan cuisine, which is supposed to have five flavors, five cooking methods and five colors, a grilled dish, a deep fried dish, a pickled dish, a tofu dish and a soup dish. I don’t remember what was grilled, if anything was, the deep fried dish was vegetable tempura, there were several kinds of pickles and at least three kinds of tofu: freeze-dried tofu, regular tofu, and the best one, tofu boiled with sesame seeds. I liked that so much, I might try to do it at home.

My room was warm, in fact I had to cool it down, but every place else in the temple was cold. I read for awhile then tried to go to sleep. Unlike the other times I have slept on futons, I did not have a good night. I added another futon and that helped, but I never felt comfortable. I was up before six and went to the morning service at 6:30. I enjoyed the chanting and the periodic ringing sound that went with it. There was also a sermon or lesson given at the same time by one of the priests.

After a not so interesting breakfast I gathered my few belongings but my plan to go for another walk in Okunoin was instantly scrapped by the snow and very cold wind. I decided the best thing was to leave.

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