Since we’d come all the way to Wakayama, one of the friends who I’d gone with really wanted to visit Mt. Koya. I personally am not really into religion, but I thought it would be an interesting experience at least, so we booked in to stay for a night at a temple, Sekishoin, and headed up after a morning on the beach in Shirahama.
The temple wasn’t hard to find, and we parked on an unmarked area, which turned out to be the car park anyway, which was a relief. We entered the temple and it was nice – a little busy with several other foreigners waiting to also be checked in – and were shown to our rooms by a monk. It was much more commercialised than I’d expected, more like a hotel or ryokan than a temple, but I had been expecting something much more basic, to be honest. It was still lovely, with a little balcony looking over the gardens, and three futons on the floor. The pillows killed me a little bit inside, being the ones filled with bead-like solid little balls, but I slept well anyway.
Dinner and breakfast were timed, but delicious. Everything was vegetarian, as we ate what the monks eat, and the tempura was amazing. My two friends were also vegetarian, and had basically been eating either Italian or conbini food for the last two days, so it was a welcome change. There were also more foreigners there than I had expected – though I suppose I shouldn’t have been all that surprised.
We had a shower in our room, provided to us as an extra service, but I love a good bath, so I headed down the communal ones. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the cleanest/neatest, and the water was also way too hot for me personally, so I headed back to the room pretty quickly – in the robes provided, which were pretty comfy, I have to say.
After the boys had also gone for a bath, we headed out to wander around, as some of the temples were lit up at night. My phone camera was not the greatest for photo-taking here, but it was still stunning, and gloriously quiet after the roar of the beach-crowd yesterday.
I was pretty exhausted though, so after grabbing an ice-cream from the sole conbini, we headed back to the room and slept early.
We also woke up early in the morning – around 6.30 – for morning prayers/chanting. Led by the monks, photos were forbidden, but at certain times you could go and pray to different deities and causes, which was pretty cool. Breakfast followed after – similar fare to the night before, but just as delicious, before we checked out and headed down to see something cool that we’d passed on the day before and I wanted to go explore.
It turns out that that place was a huge cemetery, which is where one of my friends had been desperate to go the night before but we were told it was a good 40min walk from the temple, and had therefore decided against going. We parked opposite, which was free (always a bonus), and went for a wander.
This graveyard is where the founder of Zen Buddhism is said to be meditating still, waiting to come back. The deeper in you go, the more interesting the old graves get, but at the beginning there are several pristine ones, and many with corporate sponsor labels all over them, which I thought was a shame, as it makes it feel less original. Which is probably just me having silly expectations and ideas of what the world should be, and to be fair, I don’t even know why they are there – whether they are maintaining that particular grave, or whether it was someone important from the company buried there – but either way, I personally preferred the graves much further in.
Overall, I enjoyed Mt Koya, but I feel like I would have liked it more if I knew more about the area and Buddhist history as a whole. For an authentic Japanese experience, I would have preferred the temple to be a little less hotel-like, but I confess I don’t know what a real temple’s living quarters is like anyway, so maybe that was authenticity.
I would recommend Mt. Koya, but maybe for longer than just one night, as I feel like we didn’t get to see even half of everything there was to offer. Either way, Mt. Koya, and Wakayama as a whole, is definitely on my list of places to go again.