Marie-San and her husband Hiroyuki-San picked us up from Barbara’s home in Nara. We drove for about 3 hours to a place called Koyasan which is a seat of one of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. UNESCO has declared Mt. Koya as one of the world heritage sites. Located in a valley amid the eight mountain peaks, it is supposed to resemble a lotus and hence the location was selected as headquarters of the Shingon Buddhist sect. We had a lovely lunch at a vegetarian place and then took a long walk where on both sides are beautiful graves of various people. At the end of the road the founder of the sect is laid to rest and there is the head temple or Kongobu-Ji. It started drizzling on our walk and Marie had brought umbrellas; so we walked in the gentle rain. It was a beautiful start to awesome experience of spending time at the Buddhist monastery where Marie had made our booking.
At the monastery, at the entrance we were to leave our shoes at the door and use the shoes provided by the monastery. Our room was simple 6 by 6 tatami mat room, with a large table in the middle, where they served us welcome tea. Marie and Hiroyuki came to our room and we all enjoyed the tea together.
We ladies then went for the bath and men went into their own separate bath. This was my first Japanese bathing experience and it was wonderful. We each received a small wash towel and first scrubbed ourselves clean at our individual stalls. Each stall was equipped with a tap and a shower head, a sitting stool, shampoo, and soap. After thoroughly cleaning ourselves, we entered the bath and soaked in the warm water. We scrubbed our bodies clean and rinsed and then entered the bath and soaked in the bath. After we emerged clean and relaxed, we wore yucatas (bath robes) provided to us and then proceeded to a special room, where we were served dinner. I don’t have words to describe the dinner. It was amazingly beautifully served on two trays and had over 22 items and counting lids and chop sticks and chop sticks rester etc. there were 30 plus items. Each item was served decorated into each server. This was the most beautifully presented and the most delicious dinner I have ever had.
After dinner, there was still some time before the curfew (at 9 pm). So we changed into regular clothes and went for a night walk and to watch the pagodas that were lighted. It was enormously beautiful. We returned before 9 pm and went to bed and were at the mantra chanting by 6 am. After an hour of prayers, mantra chanting, and a lecture by the monk, we went for breakfast. Again amazed by the care with which it was served and we ate in silence or minimally talking only when necessary. We then toured the garden and went to another temple for meditation. Here Marie had planned meditation training for us. After each set of instructions, the priest paused, while Marie translated in English for us. We then walked around the various pagodas and had lunch and started towards Nara.
Upon reaching Nara, we went for supa cento. Those are public baths on a much larger scale. There were at least 15 pools or baths (by my count), baths that included cold bath, hot bath, outdoor pool, cave pool, salt bath, small bath tub, lying down shallow pool, jacuzzi with different jets, electric bathing pool, outdoor small pool with TV and there was wet sauna, hot sauna and so on. There were special massage baths as well for those who wanted to pay etc. This was a highlight of the trip. I enjoyed the Japanese bathing experience so much that I made a special request that Marie plan at least one more day of supa cento and she did even though she and Hiroyuki-San had to drive several hours to drop me back since I missed the train back!!