After an excellent trip on Japan’s amazing train system, we rode the funicular up Mount Koya to Koyasan. February temperatures were cold, and snow covered the ground.
Koyasan was founded 1200 years ago by the Buddhist priest Kukai who was posthumously known as Kobu Daishi, and it remains an active monastic center in Esoteric Buddhism. Many of the temples receive guests in a Shukubo, an accommodation that is part of their activities, and we stayed at Shukubo Eko-in Temple.
The temple grounds are peaceful, and our accommodations were excellent. We appreciated many traditional Japanese details such as shoji (sliding doors), straw tatami mats on the floor, sleeping on futons, kotatsu (a low table on the floor with a heater underneath to keep your legs warm), green tea, yukata (casual robes), wearing slippers after removing our shoes, and onsen (hot baths with natural mineral water supplied from the Koyasan mountains).
Guests are invited to participate in the temple’s services, and we joined monks and other guests in an evening meditation service, which they graciously led in English as well as Japanese. As we meditated, I could see my breath in the cold air of the temple. The following morning, we attended the main morning service and a Goma Fire Ritual, which is believed to have cleansing effects physically and spiritually.
The delicious food was Syojin Ryori, Buddhist vegetarian cuisine, and we were served on trays in a private dining room.
One of my highlights was sitting with my children in worship experiences that were very different from those they have known in our Christian church. They noted both similarities (candles, sacred books, prayers, monetary offerings) and differences (sitting on the floor, a drum and gong, food on the altar, Buddhist monks).
One of my hopes in our round-the-world adventure is to allow our children to experience things that are both similar to and different from their regular lives — and to find that good things occur in a variety of places.
I think that happened at Shukubo Eko-in Temple.