Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Japan Day 15 & 16- Mt. Koya

The trip to Mt. Koya was very nice. It took about 4 hours to get there. I am very well versed in Japans offering of mass transit now. The trip there and back went something like this: Kyoto Subway->Hankyu Rail->Osaka Subway->Nankai Electric Railway->Nankai Cable Line->Koyasan Bus.

Day 15

The ride on the train from Osaka to the the base of Mt. Koya was cool because it started out as an urban railway and then as we got closer, they shortened the train by two cars and started going up into the mountains. It was one of the curviest railways I've ever been. The wheels were squealing the whole way up as the flanges hit the tracks on all the curves. Then we transferred to the cable car which is funicular that takes you up to the plateau where the city is. Mt Koya is home to headquarters of the Shingon sect of Buddhism and has 120 temples, many of which are monasteries where monks live and study at.

Day 15

We got to the monastery we were staying at around noon and were able to store our things there until check in at 3:00. We walked to the center of town about 10 minutes away for lunch and then we wandered around and saw the historic buildings in the town.

At 5:30 we were invited to attend there mediation ceremony. The monk in charge spoke english and guided everyone through how to meditate. Basically you sit cross legged with your back straight, close your eyes and take deep breathes. We then did this for about 40 long minutes. I think the only two people in the room who didn't fidget was the monk and Stan. Everyone else shifted positions at least once. A brief moment of giggles broke out in the middle of it from someone but lucky it didn't spread. I was happy when it was over because I ran of things to think about after 20 minutes and started counting how many times the air conditioning cycled on and off. It was a really long 40 minutes.

Day 15

Then we had dinner. They served us traditional Buddhist cuisine, which is 100% vegetarian. The soup and rice were good but some of the other items looked questionable. Luckily we could eat as much rice as we wanted.

Towards the end of dinner, an old lady came in (I can't remember her name) to share with us her life story. She was the wife of the former head monk and had lived at the monastery for the last 63 years. In her youth she had studied English literature at university in Tokyo and spoke very good English. She told us how english was just obscure foreign language when she started studying but when the war broke out she was scorned for studying the "enemy's language". It wasn't until American forces came to Mt Koya looking for weapons during the occupation that her language skills were needed and she had lots of work as a translator. Now her son is the head of the monastery.

Day 15

After dinner, Some of us decided to go see the Cemetery. The temperature outside had dropped so only those who brought warm clothes went. the Cemetery is totally different from anything in the west, it was a massive collection of monuments spread every which of way. It is also less creepy because there are no bodies buried there. Cremation was the norm.

We slept the traditional Japanese way on futons rolled out over the Tatami. There were two rooms for the girls and two rooms for the guys but they were all side by side and we were only separated by sliding screens. Next time you complain about your apartment walls being paper thin, it is much worse when the walls really are just made of paper. No private conversations here. The futons didn't do much to soften sleeping on the floor but it explain why our beds at our hotel are so firm.

At 5:30 we were woken up by the sound of a gong. We were invited to here their morning ceremony which consists of a chanting of their scripture. Very interesting to say the least. Then the Monk shared this really long story of how good thoughts can keep water pure and thus by the transitive property, Happy thoughts keep your body pure because the 70% that is water is pure. The monk had pictures and everything. It was one of those stories that sound like something for Mythbusters to test. It was almost comical some of the claims he was making.

We were served breakfast afterwords which looked a lot like what we had for dinner

Day 15

The rest of the morning were on our own. There were suppose to be some good hiking trails but after looking for most morning we couldn't ever find the entrance. Oh well.

After lunch we headed back to Kyoto and now tomorrow we start our charette (weekend design project) with some students over at KIT.

Pictures Day 15 & 16

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