I promised myself that I would do something interesting, unusual and experimental
My name is Shannon and I love to travel. I teach, I write and did I mention I love to travel. After years of backpacking, sterile hotel rooms and crowded tourist attractions, my yearn for travel has become more focused on unique experiences. While deciding to make a trip to Japan, I promised myself that I would do something interesting, unusual and experimental. Wanting to have the most traditional Japanese experience I could dream up, and eager to check this one off the bucket list, I booked a weekend stay in a Japanese, Buddhist temple.
Wanting a truly peaceful experience, I found a haven of serenity atop Mt. Koyasan, located just south of Osaka. This wooded mountain town is the center of Shingon Buddhism and remains secluded in the foggy clouds, requiring multiple train rides and a gondola journey to be reached. When I arrived in town, I was met by a grey overcast that gave me the feeling of coziness on an autumn day of east coast America. Antiquated temples and tea houses lined the streets and the silence of the place was almost shocking. A single route traveling bus led me past wooden structures and moss covered monuments, eventually dropping me off at my home for the weekend, a Buddhist temple.
I was greeted at the Eko-in by fully garbed monks who instructed me to leave my shoes outside and follow them to the reception where we did the business of checking in while seated on floor mats. A younger and enthusiastic monk led me to my room through a wooded hall lined with rice paper doors, Buddhist artwork and mini Zen gardens. As he opened the door to my room, the scene before me took me back to every Japanese painting I had ever seen as it was adorned in simple, wooden furniture, gold laced artwork and more rice paper walls. They set up my bedding on the floor, in traditional Japanese style and brought me slippers and a traditional robe to change in to. I was served tea straight to my room and enjoyed it alone and in perfect silence on my enclosed terrace that overlooked the gardens and meditation center.
My days were spent wandering the temples of the town, dining on sushi, tempura and noodles and walking through the moss covered and misty cemetery that sat within the woods. I retreated back to my temple to read books, write from my bamboo chair and eat dinner, served to me, vegetarian style directly to my room. In the evening, I ordered warm sake, and drank it down before adorning myself in the robe and heading to the traditional Japanese bath down the temple hall. Completely exposed to the other women in the room, I first showered at the rinse stations and then sunk into the hot bath, shared by the other women in the temple. Draped back in my robe, I pattered down the silent and dark halls back to my room to fall asleep on the floor.
Awoken by the soft steps of the monk’s bare feet, I was served breakfast in my room to be eaten before a complimentary guided mediation. Slippers on, I made my way to the mediation room with other guests and learned to quiet my mind in the art of this unfamiliar craft. Upon finishing our practice, we were led outside to the fire temple to witness a fire ceremony, performed by the monks through their chanting and intense beatings on the drums. That day was my last and although sad to leave, I felt a wave of satisfaction that I had tried something new, something different and something far more satisfying and enriching than any ordinary visit to Japan.
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