Wander Guide | Japan Part 3 | Koyasan Temple Stay

Haruka and I met in Kyoto train station. I’d been alone for a little over a week traveling in Tokyo and Tsumago. Having a companion was a relief, a Japanese one even better. No more language barrier, no more silence. The silence of traveling alone in a country with a significant language barrier took me by surprise. I’m an avid traveller, generally preferring to go it alone, but usually I can either get by in the language or I encounter a few denizens of whatever country I’m in that can get by in English. In Tokyo, I didn’t encounter that and in Tsumago even less. It was a solitude of a different variety. I’d text my then boyfriend and now husband every little thing I saw, photos & thoughts. Due to ravenous love sickness, that didn’t stop when Haruka joined me. I was as irritating as they come, I’m sure, but she graciously tolerated my incessant boy talk as we explored the country together. Our first two stops were a little machiya in Kyoto & a temple stay on Mount Koya. Following is my photo journal & a portrait session I did with Haruka in the temple, perhaps my favorite session to date.

My time in Kyoto was a blur. We arrived at the machiya, ducked through the little door, and climbed the stairway (which was more like a ladder) to our sleeping quarters. Downstairs there was a record player complete with Japanese vinyl from the 60’s in the sitting room and a little kitchen where we made our tea. We spent our evening sitting around the low table over cups of hojicha (a roasted green tea), me forever going on about the man I love and her encouraging me in my madness as good friends do. Later in the evening I ventured out for food while she, still jet lagged, stayed in. I think I ended up in what I can only assume was the red light district of Kyoto. And of course I saw fit to walk into a little closet of a yakitori restaurant. There were probably less than ten seats, all around a little bar, in the whole place. The food was amazing; everything I hoped it would be. The other patrons had sake sloshing out of cedar box cups, and I had two servings of the grilled intestine. That proved to be poor judgement. They were probably better off with their sake.

That night I was wracked with food poisoning, unable to even keep water down. I laid in bed, pallid and sweating. Haruka nursed me, and Matt face timed with me when I was conscious enough to speak. That was, essentially, my entire Kyoto experience. A beautiful machiya, some great shopping (there’s a knife shop that I fell in love with), yakitori, and illness. I’m looking forward to going back for a do-over in April. We’ll be holding another retreat in Kurokawa, and I’ll be stopping in Kyoto beforehand. If you’re interested in our photography retreat at a traditional onsen, you can sign up for the retreat mailing list here. It’s an other-wordly experience (that I’ll actually be posting about soon!!)

I was starting to feel better as we made our way, our lives for the next few weeks on our backs, to Mount Koya ((高野山, Kōyasan) by a train that weaves through the forests and mist, little villages & stick straight cedars flying by. Kōyasan is a secluded temple town in the mountains, and we were greeted by poetic, slow snowflakes as we we made our way from the cable car to the temple we lodged in for the night. That evening Haruka and I shared a traditional vegetarian monk’s meal, shojin ryori, beneath a heated table, and upon waking at dawn we went to the morning prayers followed by a meditation session with one of the resident monks. The calm of Shintoism permeated the entire village, and that day we hiked to shrines and through the massive graveyard to the main temple, and then onward to the next leg of our journey: to Kurokawa to host our photography retreat. Which is coming up in the next installment of this Japan travel series!

Highlights of this leg of the journey:

1. Haruka Sakaguchi, photographer & most excellent friend

2. Aritsugu Knives – Kyoto

3. A temple stay in Mount Koya

4. Hike through Okunoin

5. A huge bowl of udon when we were both very tired & maybe a little stressed


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