Through the pilgrimage in Tsuyu

When I got to know that tsuyu, the rainy season in Japan, started on the 16th June this year, I felt similar to an anonymous writer’s thoughts on the Asahi Shimbun, “Getting wet at this time of the year is not a bad thing”, so long as it does not cause any serious damage or delay.

Rain is very important for country like Japan with so many rice fields.  Two days later we were on our way to Koyasan.  As accurate as ancient prediction, it did rain.  Except for the unpleasant damp, visiting those shrines and temples in the rain actually gives an extra mystical mood.  Describe this further.

Taking the train and later cable car from Kyoto, we arrived Koyasan at about 5pm.  Most of the shops were closed, only a few restaurants still serving customers.  We went into the most crowded one, a Japanese bar.

Inside, we saw some customers, bald, dressed like monks in grey costumes, having meat, smokinge and drinking wine. They had no shame nor shied away from our sights.

My very first stupid thought was being a monk might not be of their own free wills choice.  However as I later realised that it is indeed not absolutely prohibited if the meat is “blamelessness” – animals not killed for the monks!

Different Buddhisms have different practices.  ”As acharyas, Shingon priests, they are not required to take the vows of monkhood, therefore they have the option to choose to either be celibate, vegetarian or both.”

The rain was so heavy in the evening when we arrived that we gave the night walk through Okunoin a miss.  The following day we walked through the sacred ground.  It is a huge cemetery with a large number of different types of tombstones in peculiar shapes covered by mosses on the top.

Tall and ancient cedars grew along the side of the trail.    The rain had stopped but water was still flowing down the uneven paths.  The whole area was wet like a rainforest.

At last we reached the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, who is the founder of Shingon esoteric Buddhism and is believed to be still alive.  As told by some Japanese tourists, a big “lunchbox” for Kobo Daishi is carried by monks into the temple during the morning ceremony at 6am every day.

Next to it there is a lantern temple where 200,000 are hung and lighted lit up the whole time.  Walking through the cemetery and seeing the lanterns by night might feel more haunted than mystical.

Initially we thought of trekking the Kohechi, one of the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage routes, though we changed our minds as we looked at the miserable weather out of the window and came across a leaflet about Ryujin Onsen.

A public bus is runsning there twice every day the whole year round.  Knowing that we do not speak any Japanese, the youth hostel’s owner voluntarily offered us the help to reserve the bus and the Ryokan.

So off we went.  The two-hour ride was slow with the heavy fog around us and we were the only two customers on the bus.  When we arrived at the hot spring entrance, it was not as empty as we thought, many local customers are were around.

The name Ryujin, which means dragon god, comes from a legend of which Kobo Daishi dreamed about a Nanda-ryuo, one of the dragon gods of Buddhism, telling him to use this hot spring for bathing.

It is also one of the top three hot springs in Japan for beautifying skin.  The best was the outdoor pool where I could enjoy the nature, in rain, while soaking.  Then it became a challenge to be in one of the indoor pools. At 48 degrees, I felt like I was boiling and my heart was like beating out of my chest!  I wondered how I would become in the 50-degree pool…Still sweating after the bath, yet I felt relaxed.

JP - Nachi Temple and waterfall

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We stopped over at Tanabe for lunch - rice with little white fish.
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sesame soft ice-cream...a bit too sweet for me but still yummy
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Japan is truly a paradigm of punctuality.  Travelling across the country with the three-week rail pass we have not experienced one single delay, not even on rainy days, and it has always been pleasant.  Taking a bus further to Tanabe, we continued our railway journey to Nachi to see the most beautiful waterfall in Japan and wander around the UNESCO sites – Kumano Nachi Taisha (Grand Shrine) and Nachisan Seiganto-ji Temple.

Early next morning at 7am we watched the freshly caught tuna at the Katsuura Fishing Port for auction and enjoyed some great tuna dishes after.

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