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  • Writer's pictureRuss Tierney

Japan - Day 10 - Traditional food made by monks in Koyasan - the holiest part of Japan!

Day 10 in Japan. We explore Koyasan, Japan, on foot from our Saizen-in Temple accommodation. We find a multitude of historic and religious temples, eat vegetarian Buddhist food which is prepared by the monks, and attend morning prayer.

Traditional Buddhist food prepared by monkl at the Saizen-in Temple in Koyasan, Japan
Traditional Buddhist food in Koyasan, Japan

If you're just joining us here, we're currently at the Saizen-in Temple in Koyasan, Japan... you can see yesterdays blog here. It's an early start as we choose to get up and experience morning prayer at the temple inside of our 'hotel', which was at 6am, maybe - it was pretty early! I'm not a religious man, and I'm not sure what I expected from a Shingon Buddhism ceremony, but it was something that needed to be experienced either way, even if it was just the once. I think I was expecting a 'hummmm' type vibe, but it was more of a chant, a layered chant at that. I think Marc felt it more than the rest of us as we chose not to do it the next morning whereas Marc did. I think I could have got on board with the ASMR vibes of it all if it was a quieter, more serene experience, as I guess I envision such things are portrayed in the movies, but it was a bit chaotic for my tastes without any investment in the ideology. I'm afraid to report that I didn't feel any energy, mystery or enlightenment; yesterday's relaxing experience photographing the stars on sacred ground while being surrounded by the temples was more my speed and more magical. This video by our accommodation on YouTube gives a slight vibe as to the chanting, but imagine it with several voices, not harmonizing the same line, but others, and then bell rings and other instrumentation (I guess) that I couldn't tie down rhythmically.

Included with our stay at the Saizen-in Temple was breakfast and lunch, which were served at pre agreed set times. It was a traditionally prepared vegetarian Buddhist meal by the monks from the temple. A quick dig in to as to what that might entail via Dr Google reveals this: "There are not set dietary laws in Buddhism, customs vary with region. Vegetarian is common due to the principle of nonviolence and the avoidance of suffering. Theravada and Mahayana: often do not eat meat and fish, some are vegan". At the time of eating, we knew it was vegetarian, but we had no idea what it was we were eating. There were no menus, it was set, so you ate (or in some cases of those I was with, didn't eat) what was given, so it was only later on that we found out, after we realised it was in the folder of information in our room. I noticed on Google there was a negative reviews for both this and the fact the gates were closed (see yesterday's blog) at 9pm as it wasn't obvious upon booking or during eating.. but c'mon son, you don't go and stay with monks to not experience life in such a way. There's no-where to stay out partying in Koyasan, and it gets dark in Japan by about 7.30 at the latest, so you can experience the nighttime atmosphere and still be home for 9pm!

Anyways, having said that, I'm not the most adventurous person when it comes to sticking stuff in my mouth without prior knowledge of what it is, but given it was all veggie and fish based, and served by monks, I was confident I wasn't going to be chowing down on anything weird. I gave it all a go, while the others were pretty hesitant. In their defence, there were so many different textures and flavours (or not), and it was definitely not to my pallet by choice, but then that's massively subjective too I guess. Case in point, Marc fell in love with matcha tea, whereas I drank it begrudgingly because it was there and there was no English tea. The miso soup, which seems to be the basis of many Japanese soup dishes, however, is lovely. I also loved that you'd get a candle based mini stove cooking/heating your food too. There were some nice bits, but the majority wouldn't be to my taste outside of experimentation, but then, i'm not a fan of veggies in the UK either. The presentation was stunning, and of course we ate it in the traditional manner of sitting on the floor surrounded by different trays. Weirdly, having taken a while to get used to them, I kinda miss eating with chopsticks now too!

We had some pretty heavy rain fall today, so we all had quite a chill day on the most part, with us all doing our own thing and relaxing our feeties. In the breaks in the weather, I left the guys to go get some stuff from the shops that I'd already eyed previously. I always fancied a singing bowl as I watch a lot of ASMR on YouTube, and I just find them relaxing and intriguing. Prior to Japan, my sister had a few as she'd just started dabbling in such things (she now owns a shop in Llandudno selling them and other spiritual based stuff), but I had to think about it because it's not cheap for something that isn't going to get much use, or at least, it's hard for me to justify it in my own mind.. but they are atheistically beautiful too. I'd had a go on a few of Sonia's and found them to be a pain in the arse to get ringing consistently, but the ones in the shops in Koyasan rang first time, every time. Even without taking special care to get them going, you never have to fight them to get a song out of it, so along with it being somewhat poetic to be buying something serene from the holiest part of Japan; I was sold!

After heading back to the hotel and back out again, I had a wonder around some of those easily missed temples on the other side of the Danjo Garan sacred temple complex. It's a road that kinda runs parallel to the main one from our temple accommodation in to town. As you turn left after passing through the wooded complex, there were loads of little spots of beauty, temples, and statues to find in just that one small run, so I had plenty of fun just exploring alone with my camera and without having to ever get too adventurous on aching feet. It was here you'll see things like monks moving between their residence and work (I imagine, maybe just picking up supplies), bowing as they pass every gateway to another temple. It's where I also took the majority of the pictures from today's pictorial below.

Buddhism monk bows as he passes temple in Koyasan, Japan
Monk bows as he passes temple in Koyasan

I of course had to make sure I got back in time for dinner, even if we weren't hugely in to it, but it's the polite thing to do, and the monks were lovely. Despite all the scaremongering over tattoos, this was one of the few times in Japan that someone had referenced my tattoos directly to me, with one of the younger monks loving my leopard arm. Afterwards, Marc wanted to drag me out to where he'd found a dirt path further up the mountain. Turning right through the complex, you head up the slight hill which starts to get less templely and more of a little village with houses and utility type shops such a petrol station, before you arrive at a corner and the site of the Dai-mon gate. That corner looks down over the various peaks of the mountain, where we're treated to a sunset. It transpires that the sunset was more luck than judgement, and that wasn't Marc's aim, but more so him wanting to walk through the old torii gates that were covered in spiderwebs up a dirt path.. he just didn't want to be the first one attacked by any of Japan's exotic creatures in doing so, so that was my job! At this point the sun's falling rapidly, and the path just keeps going up in to more dense woodland though these raggedy torii gates, so we head back. I do see something dart across the floor of a fair size, but by phone light, I have no idea what it was. Fortunately, I never encountered any huntsmen spiders on the trip.. or just did I? It was my only way down, and Marc was ahead at this point, so hey ho.



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