We started our morning with a breakfast powwow to decide how we wanted to spend the day. We were planning on spending the morning in Kyoto and then go on to Koyasan in the afternoon. The two choices under discussion were Nighigib (fix) Street, which is known at Kyoto’s kitchen, and Fushimi-Inara-Taisha, the Shrine of 10,000 torii gates. A visit to N Street really appealed to me, and it would have been interesting to see the nearby shopping areas, which we hadn’t visited. (Note to self: Kyoto requires more days than we allocated to it.) We’d all seen pictures of Fushimi-Inara-Taisha, though, and we reached consensus quickly, although with regret that we had to make a decision!
We left our luggage with the hotel front desk (although forgot to leave our keys) and walked across to Kyoto Station. It was the Inara Station—and the torii gates started right outside of the station. Unlike almost every other stop, we weren’t staring at maps trying to get oriented. I can (and did) collect a ton of maps and directions, but somehow, I still get turned around!
As we started walking up the steps to the temple and shrine, it was clear we were in a very special place. There were many fox statues as well as the various bright orange buildings and gates. (look up and repeat the facts here). We encountered an entire row of what Bethy explained were paper cranes. She said that some students even created 1000 paper cranes to place at the shrine to ensure passing an exam—sometimes in place of studying, which may or may not have been a path of wisdom.
There was a service taking place in the temple in the square. The square itself was a combination of souvenir shops and shrines, and in the center there was a large temple where the service was held. There was a monk who was chanting, and a small number of people sitting, clearly engaged. There was a sign that worshippers needed to register in advance—I’m sure that was to keep observers from disrupting the service. Several people came up to the temple, bowed, appeared to be praying, bowed again, and then left—it was very reverential, and I felt I was eavesdropping.
We walked further ‘up’ the complex and came to the much photographed area where there are gates after gates, and when we walked through, there were two series of torii gates, and they split off. We picked the one to the left and walked up. For me, it was a combination of wonder at the magnificence of the gates and trying to capture the spirit of the place in a photograph. A pleasant Englishman (higher education field, in Sheffield) took a family picture for us (and praised Jennica’s taste in cameras). He told me he didn’t really take family pictures—he was an abstract photographer. I shared that Jennica was the photographer—I just took snapshots. (I admit to it freely—photography is definitely an art, but I still get a lot out of taking the pictures, organizing them, and sharing them.)
We knew we wouldn’t walk all the way to the top—it’s a 2 to 3 hour hike, and we knew we had to catch a train to Koyasan. We walked up several groups of torii, though, and it didn’t stop being amazing—the slight turns to the gates made it appear that they went on forever. Some of our pictures make it look like it, too!
We checked hyperdia.com and the next train was right when we needed it to be. (This turned out to be the last of our train perfection moments for the day—at least, it sure seemed that way! We went back to the hotel where they were relieved that Stan was showing up with the keys we’d forgotten to turn in. We collected our luggage (which was more extensive than we’d ever imagined—10 items that we’d checked, plus Jennica, Bethy, and I each had a ‘day bag’ of some sort. We definitely were at least temporarily flunking the “pack lightly” theory we’d started with. The plan was to check everything but small overnight bags at the Shinishinimamiya train station when switching train lines to head to Koyasan.
Trains: this time a trial
We experienced one of the infrequent breakdowns of the Japan rail system—the train we planned to take to the Osaka Station was canceled—there was a problem of some sort that shut down that line/track altogether. It took us a while (and too many steps, especially as we’ve learned that not all platforms have elevator or escalator access) and a few ups and downs. We made our way to the Shinkansen area and took a much faster train, but since it required an additional transfer, it wasn’t really faster overall! On the other hand, the Shinkansen was running and the Rapid Express was not.
We made it to Shin-Osaka, and then transferred to Osaka, and then transferred again on the Osaka Loop Line to Shinimamiya. At least, that’s where we were trying to go—we got off a station too soon, struggled down the stairs, and looked for the transfer to the Nankai line. The JR attendant told us we needed to go another stop—and so we struggled our way back up the stairs and waited for the appropriate train. Success—we found our way to the Nankai area, bought our Koyasan Heritage passes, and had about 15 minutes until our train—and the track was right there.
It wasn’t as easy to check our luggage as we thought it’d be. It turned out there wasn’t a locker big enough for Bethy’s big suitcase and there was only one medium sized locker available. We managed to get Jennica’s case and Bethy’s small case in the one locker, Bethy’s backpack into a small locker, and Stan and I went searching for the JR lockers. It turned out that all of those were small—and we went back to the Nankai section, by which time someone had kindly made another medium locker available. Somehow, Stan managed to get both my and his cases into that medium locker, leaving only Bethy’s large suitcase to deal with. We each had a small backpack—and that was it. We ended up not only skipping lunch but didn’t even have time to grab a snack at one of the kiosks. We made it on the train, transferred at Hashimoto, transferred at <G> to the cable car, and then took a Koyasan bus.
The bus driver and two men on the street directed us to our shukubo. We made the first turn correctly and then branched incorrectly. Fortunately, a monk from <temple name> called to us and so, after 6 train rides, a cable car, and a bus, we arrived at the Shukubo.
The monk welcomed us. Jennica’s slippers were too big, so he gave all of us big slippers. This was non-optimal for me-the smaller slippers actually fit me and the big ones are hard to walk in. I managed, though, and as Jennica said, I “took one for the team”.
He asked us when we wanted dinner and we settled on 6:00—it was just a bit after 5, and he showed us to our room—a 10 tatami mat room. I think he was relieved to see that we all already knew that we didn’t wear slippers on the mats. We got semi-organized and I realized that Bethy’s big suitcase had an advantage—it makes a great table for me to type!
The toilets are actually “down the hall”, if by “down the hall”, one means past a garden courtyard, down a hall, through an outside garden courtyard, down the hall with a turn or two, and finally to the facilities. It seems like a long walk, but the fact that we get to walk through the garden courtyard makes it a pleasant walk. (I do hope I don’t need a middle of the night bathroom break, though.)
Just before 6, the monk called us to dinner. I had expected to be served in our room, but instead we were served in a separate room that was just for the four of us, so it was still a private meal. The room was lovely, and the presentation of the meal was amazing. Apparently the presentation can be as important as the food—many foods were cut into beautiful shapes and the layout was balanced and very pleasing.
Because it’s a Shinto Buddhist temple, the meal was vegan. (I was actually not sure if the soup stocks were fish based— I’ve heard that Japanese consider fish-based stock as still being vegetarian, but found out later that <fill in type> really is vegan.) We couldn’t identify all of the foods, and I tried pretty much everything, even though I’ve established for myself that I don’t care for tofu particularly. It was served in several forms; there’s something about the texture that just doesn’t work for me. That didn’t leave me hungry, though—there was fruit, tempura vegetables, rice, pickles, and two soups that I enjoyed quite a bit.
We returned to our room to find the center table had been moved and the futons laid out for sleeping. After dinner, it was time for baths. I’d only noticed one bathing room when going in, but we checked with the monks and there were separate baths for men and women. I never did figure out where the men’s bath was, but Stan did, so I guess that’s all that mattered! The bath room had a large soaking bath—large enough for multiple people, and the wall was lined with showers. Each shower had a low shower head, a seat in front of it and a bowl—I don’t know what the bowl was for. There was a slot to put the shower head higher up, but we each sat down to take our showers. After our showers, we eased into the very hot bath. If I hadn’t wanted to experience the bath, I probably would have skipped it because of the heat. We mostly sat on the steps, but the bath itself was deep enough to sit in but shall enough that our heads were still above water. When we left the bath we were quite warm, we all showered again in cold water to cool down (it didn’t work).
Stan reported the men’s bath didn’t have showers the way the women’s bath did—it just had a faucet. Like us, he tried the bath and found it hot—and that by the time he returned to the room, he wasn’t cool and refreshed as he’d hoped.
One by one, we discovered that the Japanese pillows aren’t as soft as what we’re used to at home. This one was a hard stuffed rice pillow. We called 9:00 (or just a little after) as bedtime and settled down. Because it was hot and I couldn’t get used to the pillow, I slept with the bedding/duvet as a pillow and used the provided pajamas as a sheet. That worked fine until very early in the morning when I found I was cold. It turned out that Stan had opened a window at some point in the night, which is when I awoke cold.