On my plate I only recognize fried eggplants, green peppers, a melon and a bowl of rice. I’d describe the rest as “something green“, “a wrap with something inside” and “brown sticks”. Maybe if I swallow without thinking I don’t have to deal with the taste. The trick is not to breath with your nose, right? I try but some of the flavors are just too distant from the ones I’m used to. I can describe one of them: shampoo. Yes, a wrap tastes like shampoo. Clearly the monks of the temple where I slept, don’t want to poison me, but greet me in the best possible way… however, where’s my sushi? At least there’s a 633ml Asahi: I tip it back.
Speaking of tasting, I’ve booked one night here on Mount Koya, to taste a small part of monastic life. Mount Koya, is located 80 kilometers from Osaka amid valleys, streams and peaks. It’s one of the most important monastic centers in Japan and UNESCO’s Heritage Site since 2004.
I start my trip from Kyoto: around 4 hours of trains, a cable car (which climbs on mountains and you’re literally surrounded by trees and greenery) and finally, a bus.
The temple is made of wood. Walking on the (wooden) floor is pleasant, just as it is looking outside through the japanese-style paper windows that let the feeble light in. During the night, it rains for 6 hours straight, the reason why the constant noise creates a magic atmosphere, adorned with Furins, wind bells made of glass, hanging on doors and windows. This sound is a lullaby.
It was worth the trip. Sleeping on a futon, taking your shoes off (you have to leave them on a closet outside in the open-air entrance), wearing slippers and walking barefoot, are just a few daily habits that monks have done for centuries. Early waking up, breakfast at 7 am, prayers, dinner at 6 pm.
In the early morning hours I enter the room where I find my breakfast. I dreamed of Nutella, but the offer is all but sweet: vegan food, old tradition, true Japanese style. I eat what my stomach accept at 7:30 (vegetables broth is not my kind of morning food…).
Then I go out to have a walk but the Halong thyphoon doesn’t want me to see anything; plus, it’s Sunday and every shop or restaurant is closed. I can’t explore, I can’t take pictures. I’m soaking wet all the way to my waist. I feel like I waded in a river.
I decide to head to Osaka. But before I take my bags and call a taxi, I step in the heart of the temple. Weak lights, golden statues and decorations light my eyes up. There’s a unique scent in the air, I think it’s incense.
The monk says to kneel down in front of an urn and mimics with gestures of what I am supposed to do: put some pieces of woods (or powder) into the urn.
With a cheerful smile on his face, he says “Now pray for happiness”.
To find a place to stay in Koyasan, please visit the Koyasan Shukubo Association website.