Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Monkey park Ywatayama and temple lodging in Koyasan

 After reading the reviews of the Japanese macaque or snow monkey park, I got the impression that it would be a rough climb up the hill.  Not even close, unless you have some inability or high heels. Also not recommended taking kiddy stroller with you. Though there is a playground on top of the hill.
 We arrived 1 hour before closing time, at 16 o'clock. Also exactly one hour before it starts getting dark.
 The monkeys were everywhere going on with their daily lives. There were signs warning people not to crouch down, no to point camera close at the monkey (who would want that?), not to feed them and not to stare in their eyes.
 They were so fast at grooming that at times it looked as if they were reading a book, hidden under all the fur. Watch out for the fleas!

 After you have seen enough you can go inside the building and buy really inexpensive snacks to feed the monkeys from inside.
Psst, look, nice play of words on the sign :-D

 The parlor of beauty with a view of Kyoto.
 We wanted to look at the bright future in this pic.
 If a fight broke out, the park workers would intervene.
 To get down the hill one needs to take another way and exit through the gate one came in.
 As it happens we experienced a very odd mating ritual on our way down.
First the monkeys copulated, then they sat for a brief moment with their backs against each other looking around as if ashamed. Afterwards they walked ca 4 meters and repeated everything. We saw at least 7 cycles of this! It was mostly funny. Reminded of stories people tell after a wild night they have had.

Ōi River and it's gems.

 The next day we took our long trip Kyoto-Koyasan. And again, while researching before the trip I got a bit worried that it will be a very complicated ordeal. Not even close. We changed a few trains and the last part was really spectacular. We rode up and up in the mountains until we reached the cable train station. The last bit was amazing. Probably the steepest thing I have ever ridden  after the cable car on Gediminas mountain in Vilnius.
We found our temple, left our stuff and headed to the main temples.
Mount Kōya is primarily known as the world headquarters of the Kōyasan Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. It's located in an 800 m high valley, surrounded by the eight peaks of the mountain. The original monastery from year 819 has grown into the town of Kōya, featuring a university dedicated to religious studies and 120 temples, many of which offer lodging to pilgrims. 
 And we stayed two nights in one of them. This is the roof of the temple, visible from our room. 
We were allowed to participate in the morning ritual inside the temple.
 The view from the other window.
 The next day was sunny again and we got hot very fast.
 Our main goal was the ancient Okunoin's cemetery, the largest in Japan, with over 200,000 tombstones lining the almost two kilometer long approach to Kobo Daishi's mausoleum.

 The light was perfect...
 Later we had a snack and went back to the town center. To look for the stone garden.

 We find it in the Kongobuji temple. The  modern Banryūtei rock garden is Japan's largest (2340 square meters), with 140 granite stones arranged to suggest a pair of dragons emerging from clouds to protect the temple.
The temple also contains  many sliding screen doors painted by Kanō Tanyū (1602-1674) and members of Kyoto's Kanō school. But it's forbidden to take photos or even sketch them.
 There are also prayers to the god of beautiful leaves :-)
 I think I understand why the Japanese maple looks so stunning. Sure, the color is more vibrant than the maples manage to produce in the Baltics. But it's also the way the leaves are situated on the branches. They are all in one plain, not overlapping that much, so the sun can illuminate them as if they were a plate of stained glass.

 We just let it go and gazed at the colors open-mouthed. Took photos like crazy and prepared to go back to Tokyo.
 If you find yourself in an earthquake, please, at least turn off the stove. 
 Ah, yes. All the food we had in the temple was vegan. Filling and tasty. But two ingredients of some dishes remain unsolved.

 It was rather chilly as soon as the Sun settled down. Down to minus 1 Celsius at night. So we had the opportunity to experience the traditional heated Japanese table-kotatsu. I think there is no outsider on Earth who doesn't get exited over it. 
It's such an odd concept...
A photo especially for you, if you have been wondering. There is an electric heater underneath the table. And a thick blanket to cover your legs. Nobody wants to move after entering this warm realm.
Mount Fuji on our way back.

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