Monday, November 6, 2017


Shikoku 88 Temples Pilgrimage, day 47.
Distance: 0.0km (1297.4km).
Weather: Great, but chilly in the morning.

Early morning at Kōyasan. I eat a simple, but good, breakfast in my room at Tentokuin. Next to me lies my henro outfit, the white vest and the sedgehat that I worn on my pilgrimage around Shikoku. They have done their job. Today, I will leave for Nara to meet Tomohiro-san, but I have lots of time to explore Kōyasan before I have to go.

Kongobuji temple at Kōyasan, the headquarters of the Shingon school of Buddhism, with a group of henros outside.

The dry landscape garden in Kongobunji.

Stepping out to a chilly morning, I wear my 'normal' clothing. It is still quite quiet in the streets and outside the temples when I am out around half past eight, but the town appear to be waking up and coming to life. Yesterday I just had a brief look at the Kongobuji temple, but now I go to take a better look at the main headquarters for the Shingon sect. I smile when I see a bus group of henros appearing in front of the large building, guessing that they recently also have finished their pilgrimage on Shikoku.

At Danjo Garan with Konpon Daito standing tall over the Toto pagoda, Sanmaido hall and Daiedo hall.

Inside the temple, I walk around looking at the small rooms containing old shoji screen paintings. Within its walls they have a nice dry landscape garden, where you can see trees and rocks in the sand surrounded by concentric circles. Simply put is the dry landscape garden a symbolic representation of mountains and water using rocks, sand, gravel, and moss. You are not supposed to walk in them, instead they are designed to draw your eye into them, and therefore your mind.

The huge Konpon Daito pagoda, the side of the Kondo visible to the left.

When I leave Kongobunji, Kōyasan is all awake and the place is now bustling with tourists. Then I realize one thing. The moment I stepped out of my henro outfit, I felt like a tourist. And with that, I do not feel at ease being here, it feels wrong in a way. I did not journey here for the sake of tourism. So I walk back to Tentokuin and change back into my henro outfit. I know that my pilgrimage is fulfilled, but I still feel more true to my cause now. Another idea has also formed in my mind, I have some free spaces available in my nōkyōchō, so I get a stamp and calligraphy at Kongobunji.

The rotating pagoda at Danjo Garan.

The templegate to Danjo Garan.

Back as a henro (sort of), I go straight to the largest temple compound in the area, Danjo Garan. This is an important place and sacred spot at Kōyasan, remember that it is to this compound that the old stonemarkers on the Chōisimichi path guides you to. At the centre of Danjo Garan stands the huge Konpon Daito pagoda. The vermilion pagoda stands 45 meter tall containing a large Dainichi Nyorai Buddha inside. A smaller pagoda next to the gate to Danjo Garan has some levers you can use to rotate the pagoda around, some force has to be applied to make it go around. You can choose between two stamps and calligraphy for Danjo Garan, I added both to my nōkyōchō and so my book is now full.

A torii stands across the Women Pilgrimage Route that goes around Kōyasan, here on my way up to Mount Bentendake.

Views from Mount Bentendake.

From Danjo Garan, I make my way back to the Daimon gate again. It is still as impressive as yesterday. Then adventure spirit overtakes me, and this yearning to keep on walking. It was not my plan, but I start walking on the path leading away from the two fierce statues within the gate, stepping underneath a red torii while ignoring the warning signs about bears. This is the path up to Mt. Bentendake and is actually a part of what is the Women Pilgrimage Route of Kōyasan. Before 1872 women were banned from entering the temple town, and so instead they walked around on this path and others to get glimpses of the holy places within.

View of Kōyasan from Mount Bentendake with the roof of the Konpon Daito pagoda clearly visible.

A line of toriis stands over the path as it climbs upwards towards Mt. Bentendake. Although I find it a little bit unlikely to actually meet a bear here (given all the people here and the sounds they make) and despite the rumours of bear sightings and all, I walk with my ears open listening to any unusual sounds. There are views where I can look out from the mountain to the hills and ridges below. However, standing up here and looking down at the temple town as women did in old times is the most interesting. Down there, the roof of the Konpon Daito pagoda really stands out. At the top of Mt. Bentendake there is a small shrine. From the top and shrine, the path goes quite steep down to Nyonindo, the women's temple. It was a great tiny hike, which cured my abstinences for a while.

Shrine at the top of Mount Bentendake.

I have no time to continue on the women's pilgrimage, so from Nyonindo I walk back to the temple town. Autumn colours. Temples. Pagodas. Lots of people. I had forgotten a little about the time when I decided to hike over Mt. Bentendake, so I speed up a little on the way to the Okunoin. There is no way I will leave Kōyasan without seeing it again.

Trees and leaves reflected in a pond.


Wandering through the ancient cemetery for the second time is no less wonderful than the first. It is so atmospheric, so ethereal, and a little haunting too. It is a forest of trees and stones. Some of the tombstones are almost green from all the moss. I find a path going through the woods next to the Okunoin, next to the path there are shrines, toriis and old tombstones. All of them covered by moss and vegetation, with nature about to retake them into its embrace. Looks like a forgotten place. Truly amazing.


Forgotten tombstones at Okunoin.

After another visit to the mausoleum to say a sort of final thanks to Kōbō Daishi, where it was even more people than yesterday, I have to be quick getting back to my temple. At first, I disregard the bus going from the busstop, but after walking a little bit I quickly find out that I should take the bus. I do not want to miss my train.

A small shrine in a small pond.

The Lotus Pond next to Danjo Garan.

Back at Tentokuin, I collect my backpack and in full henro outfit goes to the busstation where I can get a ride to Kōyasan train station. The cable car is not working, I have to take a bus instead. Now, I had hoped to experience the cable car ride and the following train ride, but the bus ride is quite nice. Passing by the Daimon gate, and at a later point seeing the same gate from below. I reach my train for Nara, saying a final goodbye to my wonderful pilgrimage in Japan (but I still wear my henro outfit when on the train).

<- Kudoyama - KōyasanEpilogue: Nara ->

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