Please start at Day One

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Days 44~45 - Koyasan

The town of Koya, sitting on top of a mountain, feels much colder than Shikoku. At 6am this morning Kazu and I, Shun-san the trainee-priest, and three other priests huddled together in the relative warmth of the temple's main hall for prayers. During the prayers, there were various offerings of incense and tea which were made to various deities. We were invited to participate but I felt nervous because I didn't know what to do, and so I was very glad to have Kazu so that I could watch her then follow her - although I think she was just bluffing actually. We spent all day sight-seeing, and there are plenty of photo opportunities at this World Heritage Site. It felt good to have the opportunity simply to explore, without having to worry about the time and to start plodding on again to reach my next stage.
Not so many people stopped to talk with me here at Koyasan as we wandered around the pagodas and the 100 or so temples taking pictures. A Gaijin - foreigner - even one wearing the Henro pilgrim outfit is possibly not such a novelty here, or maybe it was because I was with Kazu and so less approachable. I am sure that I would not have practised my Japanese so often on Shikoku if I had been walking with Kazu. I had decided to wear my Henro outfit for the last time today. Technically, I had already achieved Kechigan - the 'end point' - when I reached Temple 88. Then when I returned to Temple 1, I completed the circuit of Shikoku's circular pilgrimage route. However, many of the other pilgrims I spoke with on Shikoku planned to visit Koyasan after completing the 88 temple circuit, to report to Kobou Daishi who is laid to rest at Okunoin Temple. Many see this as the true conclusion to the Shikoku Pilgrimage. 
The route to Okunoin Temple was via a long winding forest path, lined with hundreds of thousands of tombstones, making this Japan's largest cemetery. We stopped to read some of the stones, Kazu helping me with the Kanji, picking out important family names. It was an enchanting and peaceful approach to the temple, and to Kobou Daishi's Mausoleum. When we reached Okunoin Temple, we followed my familiar temple routine and then I received the final stamp in my Noukyouchou - temple stamp book. 
Back in the town centre later on, Kazu and I wanted to ask someone to take a photo of us. I approached a young man walking past and I asked him, but he started laughing at us and pointing to himself: we hadn't even recognised Shun-san - our trainee-priest from the last temple - in his school uniform! 

For our second night at Koyasan, we had booked a different Shukubou - temple lodging - at Muryokoin Temple. This temple was slightly larger that Sanboin and had a few other guests staying there. We were served more delicious vegetarian food by young trainee-priests. The bedrooms were all in a long row along a  corridor at ground level. They were separated from each other and from the corridor outside, only by thin paper, glass and wooden sliding doors. Kazu and I spoke in whispers. The floorboards creaked loudly with everyone's footsteps. Kazu told me that this was a deliberate security designs in older traditional style buildings, something to do with advance warning of assassins during the night. It was at Muryokoin Temple that I proposed to Kazu, and she accepted. We agreed that I should still formally ask her Father's permission when I would meet him for the first time the next day.
The next day, we walked back to the cable car station, rode the cable car back down the mountain, took a train to Osaka, and then caught the Shinkansen to Tokyo. After a tube ride, a local train and then a taxi we finally arrived at Kazu's parents' apartment and I met her family. I gave Kazu's Father my completed Noukyouchou - temple stamp book, which was currently my most treasured possession; and I asked him for permission to marry his daughter, which seemed like a fair deal!

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