Journal: Naoko Matsushita
Mt. Koya

On January 19th, we left Kyoto where we had spent the first ten nights in Japan and headed for Mt. Koya in Wakayama prefecture. It was quite a long trip. We took two buses, three trains and a cable car with our all luggage.

Mt. Koya is also a name of town, not just a mountain land is the headquarters of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism. In 816, Mt. Koya was opened as the center of religious esoteric discipline by Kobo-Daishi KUkai, who had studied Esoteric Buddhism in China. It is also known that no women were allowed to enter the mountain until 1872 when the prohibition was lifted.

Nowadays there are four thousand people including a thousand monks living in the mountain. They have educational institutions from kindergarten through university as well as shops and restaurants. It is also a very religious site. There are more than two thousand temples, shrines, towers, stupas, and assembly buildings.

We stayed two nights at the temple "Rengejoin." Because tourism is one aspect of the mountain, some temples offer accommodation for tourists. We had nice heated rooms, hot bath, and plenty of meals. The meal at the temple was a traditional vegetarian food, called Shojin-ryori in Japanese. Many kinds of vegetables, seaweeds, and tofus were cooked in variety of ways. The monks served us rice and tea during the whole meal.

We participated in the morning service, sutra chanting from 6:00 a.m., and the evening service, meditation practice. Unlike at the monastery , we sat on the heated carpet and we did not have to sit in seiza or lotus position. After the services, the head monk told us about ~bo-: Daishi, the Shingon sect and its practices, and the history of Mt. Koya.

On the second day, we walked around the town and visited temples, buildings and a museum. It was snowing and the coldest day in this winter. In the afternoon, some ofus took a walk to the mausoleum, at the east end of the mountain. The body of Kobo-Daishi is enshrined in the shrine "Okunoin." The followers believe that Daishi is still alive. The mausoleum has a number of visitors who come to see and worship Daishi throughout the year.