Religion in Japan, from my viewpoint, is mixed heavily with culture and the complexities of Buddhism, stemming from India and Shintoism, a native folkloric religion. Temples in honor of Buddhas and shrines in honor of Shinto gods and goddesses are everywhere here and they represent all sects of both religions. We have paid our respects to many and honored the age, architecture, and peaceful surroundings of these places. On a truly soggy, rainy day we visited Koyasan, a mountain sanctuary and monastery established by Kukai a young priest who brought Buddhism to the area from China in 816. To get there we took a tram up to a peak that is surrounded by 8 other peaks. Kukai chose this spot for his school of esoteric Buddhism because the 8 peaks represent the 8 petals of a lotus flower (not to mention a black dog and white dog led him to the place). Today it is a thriving center of Buddhism with more than 100 temples and a Shingon school for monks. The coolest part of this place was not only seeing monks everywhere, walking and praying from temple to temple, driving, but also the path through the Okunoin cemetery. The cemetery is lined with old cedar trees and has over 200,000 graves. As we walked we saw tombs adorned with statues. Some wore bibs and hats, which are known as Jizo. It is said that these Jizo never enter in to eternal enlightenment so that they may remain here in our world to help children who die find their way to the afterlife. At the end of the cobblestone path we reached the Torodo or Lantern Hall that contains a lantern that has been burning for 1000 years. It also is where Kukai is believed to still be alive and in eternal mediation to this day. The sun never showed itself that day, but it made the path through this spiritual place more memorable and it was difficult not to feel the antiquity, the moss on the gravestones was also a reminder. At Koyasan we also visited Daito the great pagoda that burned to the ground several times like many temples have. It is rare to find one that has not burned at some point in history. Daito however, burned so many times, it is said that they painted it vermillion orange (the brightest orange ever) to keep the lightning away. So far it has worked and recently painted it’s hard to miss; so very colorful. This stupa is said to be the center of the lotus flower that is formed by the 8 surrounding peaks. We were moved by the ringing of the midday bell and the sheer height of this temple. After visiting the place, we feel like we know even less about Buddhism, but we respect the age and preservation of places like Koyasan for future generations and people of all beliefs.
You may be wondering what the hell else we are up to and we will get blogging about our trip to Hongu and exploring Kyoto next!