When spending so much time as we did in Japan you tend to open yourself to a level of experience that wouldn’t be possible on a quick ‘highlights’ tour. This is how we found ourselves on a hill – Mount Koya – sleeping over in a Buddhist temple in the town of Koyasan, finally orbiting into the realm frequented by backpackers. It was a beautiful little town if a bit subdued due to the fact that the whole place is filled with monasteries. We spent the afternoon walking through cemetery towards Okunoin, the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, who built the first Buddhist temple here in 805AD. At night, we explored some of the lit-up temples and shrines.
Staying over in a Buddhist monastery means communal ablutions with bathing hours in the onsen restricted to 17h00 – 21h00, but don’t let this put you off. For the rest, it is a pure Japanese experience similar to a ryokan: vegetarian meals only – silken tofu features in various forms – pillows made of buckwheat husks – more comfortable than expected – and futons. Here’s the snag…beds are made up strictly at 07h00…my daughter was traumatized and now categorizes hotels in two kinds: those which take the mattress at the crack of dawn, and those that let you sleep in. 🙂 There were a lot of things to do in this area and our only regret is staying only one night and not two.