“wanderers this morning came by”

10/31/11   –   0:31

‘Sup nature. Long time no see. The past month, I’ve been cooped up in the confines of the Keihan line between Osaka and Kyoto. Although dotted by an occasional park, it is basically building upon building from one endpoint to the other. When I saw an advertisement for a one-day all-you-can-ride train pass to and from Mount Koya in the boonies of Wakayama Prefecture, I could not turn it down.

This time, when I yelled out “who wants to climb a mountain with me?” people actually answered. So I set off for the middle of nowhere with Andrea and Dylan in tow. The day was to consist of a bit of hiking and temple hopping on the mountain town of 高野山 located about 850 meters above sea level. As it turns out, this is the headquarters of the Shingon Buddhist sect [one of the two major ones in Japan] and is either a start or end point for many pilgrimages.

As the train pulled out of Namba station in Osaka, the stacks of buildings peeled away into clean-cut suburbs which finally gave way to green trees and rice paddies all the way down onto a mountainous horizon. When we arrived about an hour and a half later at Gokurakubashi, we had the option of taking a cable-car up to the last station ::cough:: CHEATING ::cough::, or hiking up the 不動坂 trail which wound about 2 kilometers up the side of the mountain, leading to 女人堂 aka the woman shack  which was the highest point women pilgrims could go before they were finally let onto the mountain proper in the 1870s.

不動坂 literally means “immovable hill” and that’s essentially what it was. The incline never relented for even a second and it was a challenge to keep going. Especially since none of us had eaten lunch yet. But all in all, I’m pretty glad we took the hiking path up. Not only did we get some physical exertion out of it, but we had several close encounters of the natural kind. The first was with wild berries. Andrea found a patch of tiny red berries growing on the side of the path and we all agreed that they looked exceedingly edible. I was the first to try the [possibly] poisonous berries and concluded that they tasted like raspberries and were probably safe to eat. So we sat there plucking all the red off of these poor plants and cramming them into our mouths. Didn’t even wash them. And later I washed them down with water from a small waterfall trickling down the side of the mountain. Oh, we’re so nature-y.

And it wasn’t just inanimate things, either. Of course there were the billions of bugs everywhere including this handsome looking spider right here. Ugh. Nasty. But there was also a very very tiny rodent-looking thing. It was definitely a baby and it was tiny and furry and cute as hell. We tried capturing it [both with our hands and our cameras] but the best I could get was its tiny behind hiding from our probing. Nice camouflage there, looking leaf-like, but I’m sure you can spot the critter in this picture.

~ ~

When we finally got to town, Andrea and I were first struck by the incredible 紅葉 [momiji] (n.) – autumn foliage–that had begun to paint all of the trees in town yellow, orange, and red. Dylan, being from New England, was less enthused about the changing leaves, but coming from a state where the leaves turn straight from green to dead, finally seeing the intermediate stage was impressive.

The temples were just as beautiful. Being a sectarian […sectual?] headquarters, every other building in town housed monks or other devout and these were just as striking as the trees that lined their grounds. One of the main attractions of Mt. Koya [according to Tripadvisor, the epitome of all travel review sites] is staying at one of these temples and living the monk lifestyle for a few nights. Due to lack of time and admittedly a lack of interest, I passed on those and did what sight-seeing I could given the time period.

We actually spent the most time at 奥の院 Okunoin Cemetery which is a mass of over 200,000 graves clustered around the beloved founder’s mausoleum. Happy Halloween? Some of the grave markers were massive but most of them were small and covered in very photogenic moss.

There’s a building near the mausoleum that is filled with lanterns. That’s all it is, there are lanterns hanging outside and lining shelves inside. There are over 10,000 of them. It’s like a library of lanterns and navigating between the [lantern]cases is like going through a maze where you have to walk sideways because that’s how narrow the corridors are. The lanterns are said to have been burning since the 11th century and I doubt these pictures do it any justice, but we’ll try anyway.

Among other sites: A mountain of Jizo-sama statues, a bunch of old people chanting […or yelling] the heart sutra at large clusters of golden lotus images, and a line of maybe fifteen Buddhist images where you splash water on them and pray for your deceased loved ones.

It was getting sort of dark really quickly, but we did manage to see the Daito Pagoda. The thing is gigantic. I feel like things that large should not exist in space-conscious Japan, but there it was, staring me down from 45 meters up. I believe the phrase “too big to be allowed” comes to mind. [Actually, the only other time I’ve ever heard that phrase was in descriptions of Hagrid. >_>] There weren’t any other people around to show scale, so I had to sit in front of it. If you’re not wowed by the three-dimensional mandala of the UNIVERSE inside, it’s enough just to feel so small, I think.

And then it got pitch black. Apparently Mt. Koya, party central that it is, is not a fan of being very alive or even well-lit at night, so it was a bit of a trek to find the bus to get back to the station. But we made it, tired as fuh, but still intact.



– I feel like my parents have recently discovered their desire to travel. I tried to skype with them this past weekend but it turns out they were in Los Angeles on some sort of medical mission. [No kidding, that’s what it’s called.] They’re going to Arizona in April too. I’m glad they’re getting out.


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