01/18/2007 - 01/18/2007 6 °C
(Todd) After a restful night in our room (and happy warm feet), we woke right at dawn to make it to our 6:30 morning service. The good news, is that we woke up in time for the service. The bad news, is that we couldn't find the temple. After a few munites of running around the ryokan in our slippers, we heard chanting and smelled burning incense. Lucky for us a Buddhist service has distinct sounds and smells.
After following our ears and nose, we found the temple. It was just two other guests and the two monks praying. The temple was nice, with tatami mats, a huge display of religious ornamentation and a slight fog of incense. As you would expect, the service was very minimal. The monks were kneeling, on what I would call a prayer pillow, with their backs to us. There was a lot of monotone, staccato chanting and an ocasional banging of the prayer bowl or clashing of symbols. After about 50 minutes, the monks wrapped up the service and thanked us for coming. Next is breakfast.
The breakfast was a very traditional meal with many different kinds of foods including fish, fruit, japanese pickles, and of course....rice. After breakfast we walked to Okunoin, an enormous mortuary/cemetary.
It's just after 8am as we enter the forest of Okunoin. The atmosphere was very unique. It was a beautiful day, sun still rising, a little chilly and you are surrounded by reminders of the deceased. It was an odd mix of peaceful serenity and solemn memories. The time of day was perfect, because the sun was low on the horizon and it cast long shadows through the many trees.
There are thousands upon thousands of statues, shrines and other memorials.
Some of the statues (and several rocks) were dressed in apron like clothes. We never quite figured out why, but I am sure there was some symbolic meaning.
After walking through the forest for a while, we see a clearing. As we exit the forest, the rugged, moss-covered, ancient environment opened up into an enormous cemetary that was more of what Americans would expect. It was very orderly with the graves ranging from small carved rocks to elaborite shrines with polished granite statues of japanes guard lions. The whole experience was quite amazing. It was like nothing I have ever experienced.
After Okunoin, we walked around the mountain village looking at some local shops and temples. It was a nice morning stroll that was a good end to our stay in Koyasan. Time to go back down the mountain.