A bell sound, then silence. Five other distinct sounds break the silence of Mount Koya. It’s six o’clock, time for the morning service. Out of the room, it’s cool and windy. We kneel in the main temple in complete silence and observe the ceremony. Inside, incense and candles are burning. Few monks arrive but we can’t see them. We hear their prayers in forms of lamentations at first. Then silence. A beautiful voice starts chanting. A drum, rhythmic beats, the chanting continues. A third monk recites mantras at the same time. Another instrument. The feeling is beyond earthly description. More incense is burned and the candles are unlit. The monk who speaks some understandable English then comes to sit with us and the other guests. He mutters something about the meaning of virtue and how we find Japan. Then begins a monologue in Japanese (to Japanese guests) for the next 20 minutes. We can’t really leave the room or sit in a comfortable position until it ends. I try not to look at Jeremie so as not to burst in laughter. Finally, jeremie leaves the room. We soon have our first Japanese vegetarian breakfast: miso soup, tofu, mushrooms, some rice and pickles. Mmm, we’ve had better.
We visit Kompon Daito (the Great Stupa). Inside this uniquely designed stupa is a three-dimensional mandala demonstrating the nondual nature of the Shingon teachings. The little town is very peaceful and the temples are imposing wooden structures though we don’t find much interest on the inside. We wander around the Daishi Kyokai, a beautiful white and brown pagoda. Not a tourist in sight: most of them come in tour buses, at peak times, storm the place and leave right after. We walk towards Daimon, a momamoth gate standing at the main entrance to Koya San. It is flanked on each side by Kongo warriors who guards the mountain.
A bit later, the transportation race begins. We take our luggage and get the bus to the cable car, to the train; we buy our tickets in Osaka, we barely have 30 minutes to get to the Shinkansen station for our train to Tokyo. We run, carry the bags up and down on the stairs, find the right platform, step in the train, the door closes. The journey continues.
Three hours later, we’re there. Busy finding out where our hotel is and how to get there, we fail to notice the world we got to.
Not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined it like this!
Since it’s Saturday night, we head to Shinjuku, a western neighbourhood of Tokyo. At the pedestrian crossing, waves of people of all ages, citizens, tourists, mix and disperse at high speed. I can’t help saying ‘incroyable’ every minute. The fashion, the lights, the tall buildings, everything! I have to say I was not really prepared for this electro-shock. Suddenly, we don’t feel tired at all, even after the earlier run. It’s like another day has begun, we wander around for hours, follow the crowds, then rest. Needy of meat after a few days on tofu and vegetables, we deserve a good steak experience from the top of a second floor bar, observing the crowd.
Tip of the Day:
We stayed in a business hotel, called Villa Fontaine. They have branches in various parts of the city. We chose this one in Ueno because of the great price (8700¥ for a double), good location (close to a JR station which is great given our JR pass), and breakfast included. The only disadvantage is that you are a bit far from the action if you want to go out. Given we just went to our hotel to sleep, this was not a problem for us. If keen to enjoy nightlife in Tokyo (especially staying after the last metro – around 12:30 a.m.) it may make more sense to get a hotel in Roppongi, or Shinjuku). Minimum for a small room in those neighbourhoods is around 15-20,000¥.