Monday, December 15, 2008

Koya-san (高野山) - Origin of Esoteric Buddism(密教) in Japan

The trip to Koya-san (高野山) started as as early as 7am in the morning. It was a 5hr bus ride to Mount Koya passing by Matsusaka, Iga, Nara etc. It was a great ride as we were greeted by great scenery along the way.

Left: Sunrise
Right: Mountains full of autumn colours.
A brief on Koya-san.
Founded in the 8th century (Tang Dynasty) by Kukai (空海) or Kobo-Dashi (弘法大師) to spread the Esoteric school (密教) of Buddism after he spent 2 years in China's Qinglong Monastery (青龍寺) and gained the knowledge. Located in a 800m high valley and surrounded by 8 peaks, it was said that when viewed from the top, it resembled a lotus in full bloom. Thus from Koyasan, Shingon sect buddhism of Esoteric school spreaded throughout Japan. In its peak years, Koyasan had over 1,500 shrines and temples in an area of approx 6km length and 3km wide. Currently, Koyasan has over hundreds of shrine and more than 500,000 graves spreading over 2km and includes the graves of famous fedual lords as well founders of corporations such as Glico and Sharp (Oh, the Tan Tans did not took any shots of the cemetary in repect of the deceased but some interesting finds in the cemetary included a shrine for dead termites that is set up by a pest control company as well as graves shaped like a rocket for a space-shuttle company and LCD TV for the founder of SHARP)
Koya-san was hot when the Tan Tans arrived: 7.3 degrees, which also meant that there would be no snow. First, the Tan Tans were greeted by the Daimon.
Daimon(大門): First built in 12th century and rebuilt in 1705. Measures 21.4 meters by 7.9 meters and stands 25.1 meters tall.
Thereafter, the Tan Tans commenced the tour around Koyasan including the headquarters of the Shingon Sect - Kongobuji.

Video: Mrs Tan Tan demostrating how to cleanse yourself before entering Japanese temples.
Steps: Rinse your left hand, then your right. Thereafter, raise your mouth and spit out the water and finally run the remaining water down the handle.

The Konpon Daitô - A symbol of Shingon buddism.
One of the popular shrines in Koyasan being sketched by one of the tour group members and she was good!

Pix below: The oldest building in Koyasan. Funny thing is that in this sacred land, it seems like a lot of buildings were burned down due to lightning strikes and thereafter, rebuilt.
This is the sacred pine tree that supposed to hold the Dorje (a buddhism ritual tool) when Kukai threw it from China seeking location guide from Buddha. The Pine tree was the 4th generation pine tree which was unique in that it has 3 forks instead of 2 forks which is reflective of the ritual tool as of the myth.
Left: An interesting map of koyasan with buddha playing tennis?
Right: The sacred aura that enshroud the whole koya-san
The unforgettable experience in this trip will be a stay at Rengejô-in (蓮華定院) which is a temple that provides lodging. (more info at
The Tan Tans underwent 2 mediation sessions (1 in the evening and 1 in the morning of 40 minutes each) in which Mr Tan Tan gained a pair of numb legs after each of the respective session but Mrs Tan Tan gained an open airway at the end of the second session.
Monks welcoming us on our visit. The signage on the right are made to welcome our group - Kii-Nagashima International Exchange Association.

The wife of the ex-chief priest of the temple who look much younger than her supposed age of 90. She shared with us her impressive story of her life as an English-Japanese intepretator after the war and settling down in Koya-san in English.
The vegetarian meals served in the lodging and it was the nicest I ever tried. No gluten and starchy stuffs.
Nice view of the garden and the temple.

Our blanket which comprises of buddhism scriptures.
The Tan Tans were given a pleasant surprise upon departure from koya-san. The first snow for the Tan Tans this winter.
Right: A thrilled Mrs Tan Tan after a mini snow-ball fight.

Top: Video of a wonderful scenario.
Along the way back, the Tan Tans stopped by Kumano Hongu Grand Shrine (One of the 3 grand shrine in Kumano along with Nachi Shrine which the Tan Tans visited the last time - so, only one more to go)

Together with the beautiful morning sun that greeted the Tan Tans when they set off for Koya-san, they were embraced by the wonderful sunset a day later on their way back to Owase.