1,200 yr old Koyasan [part 2]

Day 2 in Japan: This post is a continuation of my previous post, click here for part 1. The bus from Okunoin took awhile so I opted to walk to Kongobuji.

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Even though Koyasan is on top of the mountain, the area is flat and walkable.  Aside from the atmospheric and mysterious feel of Okunoin, the town centre has also a serene feeling to it because of the numerous temples dotted along the street. Being pressed for time, I only went to Kongobuji temple and the Danjo Garan Complex- both areas are protected as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

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My very first Japanese temple visit was with Kongobuji Temple.

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This is the head temple of more than 4,000 temples of the Shingon sect of Buddhism throughout Japan and all over the world, functioning as its headquarters. Although Mt Koya is a site sacred to the Shingon sect of Buddhism, it also is a focus of faith of other sects of Buddhism. The original temple was built n 1593 and was rebuilt again in 1863.

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Kukai was a young priest when he travelled all the way to China’s capital to study Buddhist teachings in the year 804. He came back after 2 years, began his teachings and finally in 816, built a Buddhist complex on Koyasan after being granted permission from the Imperial Court.

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Kongobuji features a large ceremonial hall where religious ceremonies are held. The sliding doors are ornately decorated with paintings dating back to the 16th century. Most of the screen doors are off limits to photography. I can only tell you that it’s beautiful! Paintings illustrated here ranges from cranes, willow trees, plums, scenes from all the four seasons, seasonal flowers etc.

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The main feature of the temple would be the Banryutei Rock Garden which is the largest of its kind in Japan. The garden, according to my brochure, depicts a pair of dragons emerging from a sea of clouds to guard the inner building of the temple. The dragons are made up of 140 pieces of granite brought from Shikoku [Japan’s 4th largest island and Kukai’s birthplace] and the white sand is from Kyoto [Japan’s ancient capital].

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Rock gardens don’t hold the grandiosity or magnificence of Western style gardens but they still exude a certain kind of beauty that draws you to such simple designs. I spent a couple of minutes appreciating the beauty of the garden before making my way inside the temple; they just draw you in and make you contemplate. The rain didn’t even ruin the experience.

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The temple itself is large and was two separate temples in the past with large courtyards and other small buildings adjoined. While walking around, I saw several monks going about with their administrative duties.  This temple is worth the visit for the beautiful screen doors and rock garden.

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Last stop, Danjo Garan Complex- which is the first place Kukai built a temple in Koyasan.

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The Chumon gate greets you as you enter the complex. The two structures of importance inside are the Konpon Daito or the Great Stupa and the Kondo Temple.

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The present structure of the Konpon Daito was rebuilt in 1937 and sits at a height of 48.5 meters.

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Painted in vermilion red, the two tiered pagoda is huge and imposing, housing the statue of Dainichi Nyorai or the Cosmic Buddha, other statues of Buddha and the colorful images of deities on the pillars and walls of the pagoda. Together, they all compromise the sacred Mandala- a symbolic picture of the universe. No pictures allowed inside, you’ll just have to imagine it!

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Then, the Kondo Hall which is the main hall of the temple complex is an important site for holding Buddhist ceremonies. The hall enshrines Yakushi Nyorai or the Doctor Buddha. It’s been repeatedly burned by fires and was rebuilt seven times!

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Both these structures were started by Kobo Daishi but were completed by his successors. Over time, his followers built more halls, temples and pagodas inside the complex then expanding outside. Now, there’s like a hundred temples and shrines atop Mt Koya.

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I ended my visit to Mt Koya here and started walking back to the bus stop where the bus will take me back again to the cable car. By the end of the day, my socks were soaking wet from the heavy rain. If you read part 1, you’ll know just how long it takes to go back to Osaka. I left the mountain at almost 6pm and arrived back to my accomodation by 9pm. Thank God Japan’s vending machines dispenses hot drinks cause I really needed one!

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