Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Day 12: Oh Deer!

Nara was not on the agenda for this trip to Japan.  I didn’t even know about Nara until we got chatting with Vince and Wes at the Iwatayama Monkey Park.  Once we learned of this city where deer are sacred and roam free through the city centre, we decided we had to check it out. First, though, we had more exploring to do in Koyasan.

An early wake-up at Shojoshin-in temple is necessary to make the 6:30am prayer ceremony.  Though I am not Buddhist, I wanted to go.  As it was, attendance is expected if one is staying at the temple – respect for the religion and its practices. The ceremony was…interesting.  Discordant chanting for about 40 minutes, accompanied by an occasional bell and hand cymbal. The relics in the temple were stunning, though I was never afforded the chance to inspect them up close.  Once the monks stopped their chanting, they turned to face us, bowed, informed us that the ceremony was over, and invited us to leave.  We were immediately walked to breakfast.

More delectable Shojin cuisine! So many variances on tofu and bean curd, delicious miso soup, and hot tea.  That latter is necessary in a temple that is un-insulated and questionably heated.

If you’ve been following this along, you know how long I could go on about Okunoin.  I will try to restrain myself, even though the morning light made the place look magical in new and wonderful ways!



The Okunoin graveyard wends its way along the path from Koyasan to the Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum.  Rather than suffer a mortal death, the faithful believe that Kobo Daishi retired to his mausoleum for permanent uninterrupted prayer for salvation and peace for all people. In respect for the sanctity of the area, photos are not permitted in the complex of temples around the mausoleum.  (So if you find these entries run a little long, lucky you!)

While the traditional route along the path showcases ancient tombstones of the Daishi’s followers, the other side of the graveyard proves that the religion is far from dead.  New and grand gravestones mark the recently deceased followers of Kobo Daishi.

I’m not sure the significance of the Nissan emblem; however, we saw many more corporate logos on gravestones in this new corner of the cemetery.

Picking up our luggage at the temple, we asked for a recommendation for lunch. Hanabishi is, apparently, one of the best restaurants for Shojin Ryori.  The beautiful and delicious lunch was reminiscent of our food at the temple – including the wonderfully soft, deep-fried bean curd pancake in sweet dressing! If this food weren’t so labour-intensive, I could eat like that every day.

Less than 24 hours after we arrived in Koyasan, it was time to go.  We embarked on the bus, cable car, and train toward Nara, with high hopes of another adventure.

It was dark and raining by the time we arrived in Nara. The Naramachi guesthouse where we were booked was only a 5-minute walk away…had we gone the right direction the first time.  Happily, it wasn’t long before we were turned around and oriented properly, so we weren’t too wet by the time we got there.

It was 6:20pm.  The owner of the guesthouse told us about a fire ceremony taking place at 7pm at a temple “about 5km away”. (It was only 3km, actually – even better.) We got into our running stuff, grabbed a map, and ran through the deer park and downtown Nara to get to the temple.

I was happy it was raining, as the constant stream of sparks flying off the torches seemed to explain why so many wooden and thatch buildings have burned down in Japan.

After the fire ceremony – deer! In the middle of the downtown!

Admittedly, we later learned that the herd of 3-5 deer that we encountered after the fire ceremony was extremely small.  There are 1200 deer accounted for in Nara! Best that we didn’t face them all that first night.  When we spotted the first one on the road ahead of us (running to the temple), Mindy got nervous and had to slowly walk by it, giving it a wide berth.

By the time our run wrapped up (a fire ceremony and deer sightings makes for a very time-consuming 6.5km), we found the only open restaurant we could – similar to a Denny’s – and waited for our laundry to finish up. Clean clothes are getting low… Time for bed, and another early start tomorrow in this amazing adventure!

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