Due to the revving of car engines and people chattering, I wake early on a damp misty morning to discover that michi no eki Kudoyama is a meeting point for Suzuki Jimny fans. More and more of the 660 cc. jeeps were arriving every minute, I had no idea they were so popular.
We leave the michi no eki and head for Koyasan as the rain arrives. I can feel my muscles complaining as I swing from side to side, winding the car round the incessant bends. I don’t think I have ever felt that sensation before in all my years of driving. Is it the road or the years beginning to tell?
Koyasan, Chumon and Daimon 高野山
We arrive and park without difficulty, taking a quick look at Chumon, temple gate, before going back up the hill and checking on Daimon, gate of the mountain, which was a lovely colour, not red but a wonderfully muted reddish brown. The Guardians, Niosama, (the figures on either side of the gate) were impressive and very old too. I think Daimon was last rebuilt in the early 18th. Century.
We then return to Chumon, which is modern and colourful, and look around the temple complex ‘Danjo Garan’.
The first temple we enter is unremarkable but the second is the main building, called ‘Konpon daito’ and rebuilt as a replica of the original. The interior has a number, I forget how many, of large wooden pillars and perhaps 5 large Buddhas. People have left coins standing on edge on the dais supporting the statues, something I had not noticed anywhere before.
D. got a new Goshuin book and, for the first time, the priest told her to ‘please go and pray at the temple and then come back to get Goshuin‘. Collecting Goshuin is popular these days so most of temples and shrines just dish them out regardless of worship…
We look at other smaller temple building from the outside and I am struck by a small temple, ‘Fudodo’ which was unassuming but had beautiful roof lines. It dates from the Heian era but cannot be original. There are many wonderful views of the trees, rich in lichen and dripping in the rain, against a background of temple architecture.
＊Konon Daito ; 200 yen / adult
We walk on to Kongobuji, the main temple.
I am reluctant to go inside but D. wants to so, we go to look at the paintings. There are, it turns out, some really beautiful fusuma with paintings of bamboo, storks, snow covered pines. These are old and very fine but the newer paintings are not to my taste at all. I enjoyed the stone gardens especially a small one of irregular, shaped red stone and attendant mosses and a larger one, that D. explained was something to do with a dragon, was serene. But I don’t like to look for dragons or turtles or storks or whatever the design of the thing is supposed to suggest. I just like the garden.
The rain is relentless and we are getting hungry so we head back to the main street and get some lunch from a convenience store and eat in the car. Next we attempt to drive to Okunoin, which we think is deep in the mountains. Our navi takes us to a route that has no entry for vehicles and there is no car park. We drive around fruitlessly, but fail to discover the temple. In fact, it was just down the street from Kongobuji. We could easily have walked there. No need to drive at all.
It is still teeming with rain so we give it up and decide to descend by an easier route than the one we arrived by. Our navi has other plans however and we find ourselves on the same narrow road. This time we are following a steady procession of cars and from the back it is much easier.
＊Kongobuji ; 500 yen / adult
Jison-in Temple 慈尊院
Next we go to the tits temple, Jison-in. When Kobotaishi Kukai founded the temple at Koyasan, women were not allowed to enter the Koyasan mountain. So when his mother came from Shikoku, she stayed at this temple unable to approach her son’s.
Temples or shrines, almost always, have the little wooden plaques for writing wishes on called Ema. These usually depict a horse, fox or turtle but Jisonin has tits. Not blue tits or bearded tits but breasts. It also boasts a coke machine covered with cartoon character monks. Three bus tours arrive and leave during the time we take to look around this small temple. The temple is for protection in childbirth and, more recently, against breast cancer.
Also Koyasan has 180 choishi-michi (mile-stones? distance markers anyway) which indicate every 109 meters of the approx. 22km from Kudoyama to Koyasan. The180th. one is placed at this temple.
From Jisonin we make for michi no eki ‘Yoshino Oyodo i Centre’ via a supermarket, still in solid rain. The michi no eki is very busy and it is difficult to park due to the number of K trucks but, as the five o clock chimes sound, everyone packs up and leaves very quickly. We set up the shades and settle down for the night.
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.