Koyasan and Ryujin Onsen
Monday, September 21st, was a national holiday -keiro no hi, or, Respect for the Aged Day. Actually, this week in September has become known as Silver Week as the 23rd is also a holiday – shubun no hi, or the Autumnal Equinox.
We had planned ahead, and had a reservation at Ekouin Temple (恵光院) in Koyasan. We took the very comfortable Koya-Go train from Nanba station to Koyasan, arriving at about noon. Koyasan is the seat of Shingon Buddhism, and was founded by Koubou Daishi (a.k.a. Kukai) twelve centuries ago. I’ve had a very strong Buddhist bent for a while, and I’d been wanting to do shukobo (sleep in a temple) for a very long time, so this was the perfect opportunity. Using Jalan.net, a Japanese online hotel reservation site, I found a really good price for a night at Ekoin. This is just lucky timing – every month on the 20th, they offer shukubo for 5,000 yen per person (yes, this is very cheap!). The catch was that we had to share a room with others, so for sleeping, I was in the ladies room, and Brian was in the men’s room! But this actually worked in our favour, as the pricier, private reservation options seemed to be flooded with foreigners. I know, as a foreigner myself, it seems snobby to not want to be around other foreigners – but it is just a nicer experience when it feels less touristy. Our shared rooms had only Japanese guests, giving us each an opportunity to learn about Koyasan and Buddhism from people who were really in the know, and to practice our Nihongo. There were ten women in my room, and four in Brian’s – it was just fine with us, and we both slept great!
Actually, the whole experience was unforgettable, and I do want to write about it in more detail later, but the basics are:
* Simple but excellent shojin ryori (vegetarian ‘monk’ meals) for dinner and breakfast
* Pleasant evening walk around Okunoin Temple and all 200,000 graves/tomb stones, including the mausoleum of Toyotomi Hideyoshi
* Participation in morning prayers and meditation (zazen)
* Because it was the 21st of the month, there was also the added, special ‘fire ceremony’ in honour of Kobou Daishi (Kukai)
* Overall soothing, peaceful, spiritual atmosphere.
After a night of shukubo, I felt more at peace, more prepared and accepting of the recent changes in my life and life’s path.
After such a relaxing evening, and cleansing morning ceremony, we prepared for the next leg of our journey. We checked bus schedules, and boarded a bus from Oku-no-in-mae (in Koyasan), and rode through the most spectacular mountains to our next destination – Ryujin Onsen.
As the bus wended its way up and down the windy mountain road, we sipped a beer and marvelled at the sublime beauty of these wild mountain ranges – they are quite different in scope to the ones we are used to on the other side of Japan, stretching in rolling hills as far as we could see. It was almost sad to arrive at the Ryujin Onsen bus stop.
Ryujin Onsen is a small onsen (spa) village in Tanabe, Wakayama prefecture. It is not at all a city, of course – just a small cluster of traditional ryokan on the Hidaka River. The idea of this kind of town is to provide a relaxing getaway for travellers, where they can rest, eat amazing food, and indulge in the natural hot spring baths. The hot springs here are actually one of the most famous springs in Japan, being one of the ‘bijin no yu‘, or Beautifying Hot Springs. I suppose my skin did feel a lot softer, and did look a little younger, after so many baths!
But actually, the most amazing thing is where we stayed. Also using Jalan, we got a reservation at Kami-Goten ryokan, which is actually very, very famous and has a rich history, having been opened in 1657 for Tokugawa Yorinobu. It is now registered as a ‘precious cultural heritage’. And this is where we stayed!!
We had a spacious tatami room, and we even got a room with an engawa (sitting room) overlooking the river. We took long baths together in the rotenburo (open air bath), which we could lock and have as private use; and we over-ate a magnificent dinner, and had a lovely evening stroll, walking around outside in our yukata and geta.
We arrived too early for check-in due to the bus schedule, so we went for lunch at a small shokudo (diner) on the hill…(there’s a photo in the slideshow)
The next day, we woke up a bit later than usual at 7 a.m., but then hurried to the baths for a pre-breakfast soak in the rotenburo. We then had an extravagant breakfast with the usual fare of raw egg, rice, miso soup, pickles, tofu, and other delicacies.
As you can guess, it was really hard to finally tear ourselves away from this place, but one night of superiour luxury had to suffice. Our next move was to catch the bus to Tanabe city, where we hoped would be a cute seaside city. Unfortunately, Tanabe does not have much to recommend it – it is a city. That is all. However, we did find a great little shokudo (diner) where we had a good lunch and a cold beer before taking the cozy reserved train from there back to Osaka. Once in Osaka, we did some window shopping around Den-Den town, and stopped for a cocktail at a Mexican restaurant, before going out for dinner at yet a different Mexican place.
Finally, we checked into a love hotel* in the Nanba area, where we were awoken at 4:30 a.m. by the sound of loud, cracking thunder. We opened the one window we had, and listening to the pouring rain, enjoying the lightening and earth shaking thunder.
A lovely few days around Kansai!
The train and cable car to Koyasan from Nanba (Osaka) is very quick and comfortable and convenient, and run frequently. However – buses from Koyasan only run from April through November, and only twice per day. You need a reservation. See the link below for the schedule, and call the number for Ryujin bus for a reservation, or make a reservation at the bus terminal window (Koyasan station), or the tourist information at Oku-no-in mae.
* Koyasan Information – http://www.shukubo.jp/eng/index.html
* Ryujin Onsen Information -http://www.tb-kumano.jp/en/onsen/ryujin.html
* Bus schedule between Koyasan-Ryujin Onsen-Tanabe - http://www.tb-kumano.jp/en/transport/pdf/Kii-Tanabe-Ryujin-Koyasan-bus.pdf
* Ekoin Temple (恵光院） (Not to be confused with the Tokyo Ekoin 回向院） –http://www.japaneseguesthouses.com/db/mount_koya/eko_in.htm
* Kamigoten Ryokan – http://www.aikis.or.jp/~kamigoten/
*A love hotel is a hotel that can be rented for a ‘rest’ or a ‘stay’; we usually choose to stay overnight. Most do not take reservations, and some (a very very few) have cute, kinky rooms, but those ones have largely disappeared.