The Travelling Trooper Explores Koyasan

Even though I always wake up super early, I have a bad habit of waiting until the very last second to get ready. I want to relax for as long as I possibly can.

And that’s how I ended up running a few minutes late for morning ceremony. I couldn’t remember where my calligraphy teacher had instructed us to go for morning ceremony, so I stupidly wandered around outside. I thought that maybe everybody was running a little late–because obviously, monks seek enlightenment to curb that pesky tardiness of theirs–and so I figured I might as well snap a few shots of a snow-covered Kumagaiji. As soon as I snapped my first photo, I realized I’d left my memory card inside.

As I got inside, I remembered where I was supposed to go for morning ceremony. I ran to my room, grabbed the memory card, and headed for the ceremony room.


Slawomir was already there, because he’s obviously responsible and has good time management skills. The Buddhist leader we’d met the previous night at dinner was leading a chanting session. During the morning ceremony, they pray for the souls of their ancestors.

In the section discussing the morning ceremony, a booklet in my room read, “To practice virtue lets your ancestors rest in peace and brings rewards to you.” I wish more people would remember that.

The ceremony lasted a solid 20 minutes. I don’t know if I was supposed to feel anything or think about something–I didn’t know that the ceremony was for our ancestors; had I known, I would have thought about my family or something. Instead, I just looked around the room like an idiot and wondered over and over, “How the hell do these monks stay warm? My feet are freezing!”

Still, it was cool to bear witness to the ceremony. I have no idea how those guys make that sound. It’s super trippy.

There’s my spiritual insight for ya: It’s super trippy.

After the ceremony, we had a delicious breakfast and headed back to our warm and cozy beds for another hour or so.

Some random photos from around the temple.


At 9:00, Slawomir and I met downstairs and headed for the cemetery once more. It felt even more like something pulled out of a fairytale in the daytime than it did the previous night. If Narnia has a cemetery, this is what it must look like. The trees are majestic, and the snow adds a divine touch to the many tombs.


These are called Gorinto. They are five-tiered stupas. They are gravestones/memorials that represent the five elements taught in Buddhism: earth, water, fire, wind, and space. Buddhists believe that “the five elements form the body of the cosmic Buddha Mahavairochana, and also our own bodies and the physical world, and are not destroyed at death. In death, therefore, an integration with Mahavairochana is possible. “
This guy was a successful businessman and a big believer of Shingon Buddhism. He donated the money to construct the path through the cemetery, so his statue was placed at the start of the path.


These small statues wearing bibs are Jizo Bosatsu. Hizo watches over and protects children in the afterlife.

To the right of the mausoleum sits a building dedicated to lanterns. It’s literally filled with row upon row of those gorgeous lanterns we’d seen the previous night. They’re like large fireflies floating in the air.

Being in that hall felt like being in a library of souls, since each lantern represents a soul. It might have been my highlight in all of Koyasan.

Slawomir and I left the hall of lanterns and waited around for about 40 minutes. At 6:00 am and 10:30 am every morning, monks bring out a meal for Kobo Daishi. I’d tried to make it for the 6:00 session, but the gates at our temple hadn’t opened yet, so I’d gone back to bed.

At 10:30, three monks came out carrying what looked like the Arc of the Covenant in Indiana Jones. We followed them as they headed for the main building across the bridge.

Once inside, they spread the food down at the altar, and one monk remained behind to meditate. At least, I think he was meditating. We stood around for a good ten minutes, unsure if there was anything else to the ceremony, but that was it. And with that, we went out to explore the rest of Koyasan.

Koyasan is home to roughly a thousand monks at a time. Many of them are studying in university while also training to become a monk.

It also used to be home to a thousand temples, but many have unfortunately been lost to fire over the Years. Today, only 117 remain.

(Not so) fun fact: Women weren’t allowed to enter Buddhist temples until 1872. After that, women and families moved to Koyasan in large numbers.

Daimon Gate is the main gate of Koyasan, and it is protected by two wooden Kongo warriors. It was rebuilt in 1705 (probably after it caught fire like every other structure in Japan, it seems). It is 25 metres high.


Konpondaito Pagoda (the massive orange one) stands 48.5 metres tall. It was built as a seminary for rituals and holds five sacred images of Buddha. The pagoda was last rebuilt in 1932 (or 1937, depending on the source), having been destroyed by fire many times in the past. (See what I mean?)


It’s Kobo Daishi, everybody!


Tokugawa-ke Reidai is a mausoleum. It was built in the mid-1600s. The third generation Shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty, Iemitsu, built it to enshrine the spirits of Ieyasu and Hidetada, the first and second generation Shoguns. Ieyasu is on the right, while Hidetada is on the left.


We got back to Ekoin Temple in time for my meditation lesson. I want to try meditation as a way to improve my sleeping. I have a tendency to wake up after only four hours of sleep, so I figure if I meditate after I wake up, it might help me relax and go back to sleep.

Ajikan meditation is practied by Shingon Buddhists. Kobo Daishi first introduced it to Japan in the 9th century upon returning from China. Monks concentrate on the Sanskrit letter “A.” Kobo Daishi believed that this practice, along with other training methods, would help us achieve enlightenment within this lifetime.

There is a picture of a lotus flower imprinted on a moon. Above the flower is the Sanskrit letter A. The moon is a sign of purity of heart and the lotus represents the desire to achieve enlightenment. The letter symbolizes Dainichi Nyorai, the Cosmic Sun Buddha. He is the supreme Buddha, the truth and fundamental essence of the universe. We want to be on his team. We want to be one with Dainichi Nyorai. That’s what the meditation is for.

The intro meditation lesson was started easy enough. First, we had to learn how to sit.

Bend your left leg, and place your right leg on your left thigh. Your right palm goes in your left palm. With your thumbs, make a circle that is practically touching, but not quite touching.

Then things got confusing…

Push out your stomach in order to lift your pelvis. My favourite part was when the instructor said, “Relax and let all of your tension out. Your stomach must be tensed, but the rest of your body must be relaxed.” Tensed, but relaxed. Piece of cake…

My other favourite line was “Place the head on the spine.” Where else would it be?

Oh! And “Your eyes must be neither opened nor closed.” WHAT?!

We just learned how to sit, and already, I was lost.

Then came the breathing. This, I could do. I’ve been breathing my whole life. I can literally do it in my sleep.

Breathe in through your nose, breathe out through your mouth, count one. Repeat until you get to ten, except that you only breathe out through your mouth for the first three breaths; then you breathe out through your nose. Once you hit ten, start again at one, but continue breathing in and out through your nose. We did this for what I’m going to say was half an hour.

I won’t lie, I almost fell asleep a couple times during this session. I remember thinking, “Crap…ugh…eight?…I think that was eight.” I think I need practice. On the other hand, if I’m falling asleep, maybe that’s a good sign for me. It definitely was relaxing.

Unlike the other temple, at Ekoin, guests ate alone in their own rooms, so I spent the rest of my day eating and doing blog things. As usual, the food was top notch.

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Trevor as a monk.

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