Day 11 of Japan: Cemeteries, Temples, and back to Kyoto

Today we hit some temples in Koyasan, then spent a lot of time at the amazing Okunoin Cemetery again, said our goodbyes to Koyasan, and headed back to Kyoto. Lots of pictures, and now complete with descriptions!

The first picture is a better shot of the view outside our hotel room window. Very scenic, and I’m guessing that little stone figure is several centuries old.

We wandered out and found another Shinto shrine, the only one we could find marked on our map in the whole village – it was the Bentensha Shrine, a shrine to a local water dragon. Like the smaller one from the previous day, this one was also on a small island in a pond. Very beautiful.

In the same area (Danjo Garan) were several very old Japanese Buddhist temples. Teisha is standing in front of Daiedo Temple. The next picture is of the oldest intact Buddhist temple in Koyasan, Fudodo, from 1198AD (explanation follows the picture). It’s really amazing considering it’s wood – most the other temples we’ve seen have burned down and been rebuilt at least once. The following orange pagoda is the temple Konpon Daito (“The Great Stupa”), completed in 1937. It’s interesting to imagine the Fudodo being as brightly painted and colored as the more recent Konpon Daito – the Fudodo probably looked like this at one time. Hidden among the temples we found another Shinto shrine (in orange), dedicated to the Goddess Nyu and God Koya other divinities which were worshiped by the villagers who lived in Koyasan before Kobo Daishi arrived. After this, Andrew is seen standing in front of the Saito, another temple. We then stopped by the Reihokan Museum (we took a picture of the front) which we could not photograph inside, but we definitely recommend. There are lots of old relics (mostly paintings and statues) and it boasts to hold 8% of Japan’s national treasures (though not all are on display). All related to Japanese Buddhism, of course.

We then walked across town to the cemetery, determined to get an audio guide so we’d have a better idea of what some of the gravestones are. Along the way:
* It was interesting to see that along with soda, coffee, tea, and cigarettes, you can also buy alcohol (including sake!) in vending machines.
* Bad Engrish is everywhere – Andrew had to take a picture of the spare tire cover on the back of a Toyota. I’m still not sure I understand its cryptic message. We’ve seen a lot of stuff like this on t-shirts too.
* We were amused to see the head of Jack Skelington (from “Nightmare Before Christmas”) hanging by a cup in front of a big, ornate Buddhist temple alter (it was hard to capture it all and include Jack). “Nightmare Before Christmas” in general is quite popular in Japan – we’ve seen a lot of merchandise all over.
* And again, lots of tourist shops line the main streets of Koyasan – we felt kind of bad that they were so empty and we’re not real shoppers, but it’s not really tourist season.
* We found another tucked-away Shinto shrine, lead to by many gates up a steep climb. We went up (it was all completely empty) to find a well-maintained shrine and alter. Again, no idea what the name was or what it was a shrine to, but it was in a very beautiful location in the hills surrounded by forest – tons of moss (and a cute shiny green beetle!). We thought it interesting that maybe the same family has maintained this shrine for generations, though we don’t know if this is true at all…

At the cemetery again, we took many more pictures. It’s really the most amazing cemetery I’ve ever seen, and it really makes me wish I knew Japanese better so I had an idea of what was written on the tombstones, though many of the older ones are too worn to read. Some picture comments:
* Unfortunately, we couldn’t figure out what the red “aprons” mean, though they were pretty common – if any Japanese culture scholars know, feel free to comment!
* We went off the main path a little and saw older, less-maintained tombs. There’s a picture of a small group of stones, all moss-covered, that was most likely a family.
* There are a lot of workers that maintain the cemetery. Some stones have been tied up so they don’t fall down, and we saw workers tying a tree together that threatened to fall. Closer to the most sacred section we saw workers actually scraping off a tomb – they couldn’t possibly do this with all of them, and have clearly let most just become part of nature, so it makes us wonder why some are getting cleaned.
* In small crevices there are often little shrines or tombs.
* Again we took a picture of the memorial dedicated to miscarriages and people who have drowned. There’s another memorial like this one in the more sacred section (which we could not photograph).
* The last cemetery pictures are again of the newer areas, near the entrance. It is interesting to think that most of it may have looked like this, but the nature grows up around it when given centuries – it will probably eventually look like the older areas.

We got lunch at a little (non-tourist!) shop on a side-street as we wandered back to a bus stop. Again we got oyako-don (egg, chicken, and rice) and it was very filling. Though it is not listed on the menu, miso soup is frequently included in the meal (along with tea).

We couldn’t resist taking a picture of a bird nest on the side of the Central Information Office front door – it’s such a contrast to the U.S. At our apartment building in California there’s wire mesh all around the eaves to keep swallows from nesting. In Koyasan, they let them nest and just put a cardboard box underneath to catch some of the (tons!) of feces. Nature was here first after all.

We reversed our journey as we went back to Kyoto from Koyasan, though this time with less exciting, unplanned adventures – we actually paid attention when our train changed into another train that we didn’t want (they seem to do this often around Koyasan). So, lots of pictures of our journey back.

For dinner, we went back to the Kyoto arcade area and found a conveyer-belt sushi place recommended in multiple guidebooks. For the close readers, you may realize this is the first time we had sushi in Japan and yes, we are a little ashamed to admit this, but it really wasn’t as common as we thought it would be! There are 6 pictures of this place, ending with the little blue plate of squid sushi that Teisha bravely ate (Andrew would not!). It was good, but very chewy, as squid tends to be. The next picture is of whole eel that was sold at another place (about $17 US an eel).

And then 8 pictures of claw machines! Teisha was in heaven for a little while. There’s also evidence that it’s not just for kids – businessmen also frequent the claw machine arcades. You can win anything from food (frozen or baked), stuffed animals, action figures, to live puffer fish.

Other things of note:
* The picture of the alley near the end is the entrance of Katsukura, where we had great tonkatsu in Day 8 – as you can see, it really is quite tucked away (at the end of the alley).
* Most people reading a book in public have a nondescript book cover so you have no idea what the book is they’re reading (two pictures of this). When we bought a book they made a paper cover for us, though many people own their own personalized cloth covers. We think this is just another way for people to have some privacy in these busy, crowded cities, though it is a bit sad to us because you can’t randomly start a conversation with a stranger over how you like what they’re reading…
* One last picture of the arcade area at night – most the shops are in adjoining covered, closed-off streets (no traffic), but this is the main street where buses go by, and there are many more shops here. It really lights up at night, and is really the only place of action in Kyoto at this time.


One Response to “Day 11 of Japan: Cemeteries, Temples, and back to Kyoto”

Your pictures are so much fun!

The statues with red aprons are of the Bhodhisattva, Jizo – usually referred to o-jizo-sama (or san). He is cast in the form of a common Buddhist priest with a serene smile (though often faceless and formless) to be a comfort to those who are suffering. His role as guardian of the souls of children never born seems to be unique to Japan.

Other musings:

Homeless people in Japan usually organize themselves into a small village with self-assigned duties to keep their space clean and take care of each other – group oriented down to the homeless. (FYI homelessness didn’t exist in the “old days”)

You are right about the cleanliness obsession and little that is eaten with hands. Usually when you are served something that can be eaten with the hands, like sushi at a sushi bar, you are given a damp towel (o-shibori) to clean your hands with first.

Don’t forget that numb look in Tokyo also comes from working long hours and commuting at least an hour each way. It can also be part of the invisible shield that protects some sense of privacy in such a crowded city.

I see you already found out about Tengu. Cute isn’t he.

So glad you made it to Kitano flea market. To think I went there almost every month, for years — close to 40 years ago. God I’m ancient.

Diana Rowland - June 1st, 2009 at 9:48 pm

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