Yasu heard about this World Heritage site somewhere in Wakayama and he really wanted to visit it. Honestly, I couldn’t care less about yet another temple on yet another mountain (which is how he described Koyasan to me), but I’m really glad I let him drag me there, as Koyasan was definitely worth the long drive up there! Koyasan, or Mount Koya, is the headquarters of the sect of Shingon Buddhism, founded in 819 by a monk named Kukai, who became known as Kobo Daishi after he died. Danjo Garan is a sacred area on Koyasan, and is a complex of temples, halls, pagodas and Buddhist statues. The buildings are impressive and still very beautiful, I just wish the rest of Japan still looked this beautiful. There are only old style Japanese buildings in that town and they all are in great condition, and even the modern restroom buildings are built in such a way that they match the architecture of Koyasan.
Legend has it that Kobo Daishi is actually still alive and in an eternal state of meditation in Okunoin, and only the most important monks on Koyasan are allowed to see Kobo Daishi and feed him. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in the inner sanctuary known as Okunoin, which is Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum (or place of residence if still alive). But Okunoin is surrounded by a thick forest of massive cedar trees with an immense graveyard. The cemetery was fascinating. Sometimes it creeped me out and made me feel like we were part of some kind of Japanese Blair Witch Project, perhaps the Kobo Daishi Project? Sometimes it awed me with it’s beauty and made me stare and stop talking. Sometimes it made me laugh because they have very strange graves there, and it made me wonder whether the occupants of the graves were space rockets, television sets, cars, bottles of yakult, or cups of coffee… But apparently these weird graves were just company sponsored memorials for something, because marketing never ends not even at a graveyard.
There are also several mausoleums of famous Japanese people, like the one Yasu found of the samurai ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi. But of course the most important mausoleum is Kobo’s, and it’s beautifully decorated with hundreds of rows of lit up lanterns which really makes it a shame you can’t use your camera there. But before you enter the no picture zone, you get to meet 15 or so of Kobo’s friends who all patiently wait in a nice row for you to douse them! So Yasu and I entertained ourselves for quite a while with throwing water at all the Buddhist gods, even though it all seemed so unnecessary because of the rain.
Exploring the immense graveyard and throwing water at the Buddha gods
Today we also celebrated two firsts! I drove on the left side of the road for the very first time and it was much easier than expected and actually quite logical when your steering wheel is on the right side of the car. But I just drove in the country and driving in a Japanese city will be a whole different story I’m sure. But it’s a secret that Yasu let me drive, so please don’t tell anybody ;). And Yasu put gas into the car all by himself for the first time! When you want to get gas in Japan, you can just drive into a gas station, and some clerk does all the work for you, you never leave the driver’s seat not even to pay. But today we went to a do-it-yourself gas station because the gas prices were raised about 23 yen per liter overnight, and I taught Yasu how to get your own gas (which is the way we do it in Europe).