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15 July 2016 @ 12:11 am
Ultra Potato: Total Car Produce  
If you've ever stayed with me in Japan, I've probably taken you to Koya-san.
We went by fast train, slow train, creaking-up-the-mountain train, and cable car.
And we didn't walk, for sure. . .

Long, long ago Kobo Daishi, posthumously referred to as Kukai, ventured into the mountains and found a peaceful area surrounded by five mountains. Five is a very auspicious number in Chinese lore, which spread to Japan as well. It represents all elements of this world: Fire, earth, water, air, and space. Kobo Daishi was the founder of Shingon Buddhism and he had erected a stupa which is said to be at the center of the earth. What more could you want in a center than a giant religious symbol surrounded by the five elements of the world? I'd certainly believe it!

The appeal of Buddhism was originally in contrast to idol-worshipping religions that came and went like fads in ancient times. I suppose if you are Japanese, you could still see the worship of kami as frivolous idol worshipping and wish instead to find peace within yourself.

One stipulation of those times was that women could not step upon religious ground. In Japan going way back to even before Shinto and Buddhism, purity and cleanliness was a holy virtue, so you can imagine their ideas about something that bleeds. So for monks meditating on Mt. Koya with Kukai, all their wives, mothers, girlfriends, and daughters had to be left behind. There is a small town at the bottom of the mountain, full of many temples of its own, where Kukai's mother lived. Once a month he hiked down the mountain to visit her, and back up again.

I couldn't imagine old-timey vegetarian monks being much good at hiking. It sounded like a fun little trail.
Y'know, if it wasn't 35 degrees celcius out with humidity at 87 percent, no wind.

This trail is marked with choishi, which are giant stone pillars. Originally they were made of wood, but wear and tear on them convinced the monks to reconstruct them with stone. The stones were taken from a quarry in Kukai's hometown in Shikoku.


Each choishi has the same shape. One of the guys in my hiking club drew a diagram of one for me. At the top is sky/space, followed by wind, fire, water is the round part, and earth is the long part. There are 180 of these and they are each numbered, with 1 being at the gates to the holy grounds.

The first part of the trail goes through a persimmon orchard. Being an orchard, the trees are cut short and spaced evenly, allowing the blistering sunlight to cut through and wear down one's ambition. This is also probably the steepest part of the trail. Halfway up, we stopped at a viewpoint where a tool shed allowed half of us to find shade. Suddenly a man lowered a large cardboard box from his back. He had lugged up two watermelons for us to eat!! The watermelons were a lifesaver and suddenly all energy was renewed!


The next part of the trail went deep into the cedar forest, which sheltered us from the sun. As my body became accustomed to the climb, I found myself enjoying it immensely. Here and there I could find traces of history.. A pillar, an old piece of stone wall, a moss-covered jizo statue. . . And nature presented itself to me in all of its wonder: bugs, frogs, butterflies, caterpillars, and snakes. I had a great time.

Halfway there, we arrived at two giant stone torii, the gate that separate the secular from the sacred. Usually, one passes through gates to a shrine. But these gates stood on the face of a cliff. The sacred world beyond was the gorgeous scenery itself. Green mountains, a blue sky, houses and rice fields nestled between expanses of trees. It was just beautiful. I said my prayers to the world, then sat down nearby for lunch. People had brought all sorts of goodies to share. . . little jellos, fresh blue grapes, tomatoes and apples. One person brought coffee for three. Another woman shared around all her hot green tea until it was finished. One person actually fell asleep on a picnic bench.


The rest of the hike was a bit of a pain, because when you get to the Koya area, you'd have to take a bus, a cable car, and some trains to get back. Or you can be like us and walk an additional hour and a half out of your way to get to the nearest local station. It would've been nice to stay the night at Koya, but my job doesn't allow for that.

I was in such a good mood the whole time, though. I kept finding fascinating treasures of nature. Flowers called "bags of fireflies," a moth called "The Jaguar inchworm," a tiny tiny tiny green frog, a snake with a yellow stomach, a daddy-long-legs with legs longer than my fingers, a giant orange mushroom as wide as my face. . . We even ran in to some people picking leaves. Thinking they had found something interesting and edible, my hiking buddy questioned their antics. It turns out they were finding good grasses to display their fish on at their local restaurant that night. The grass growing on the shady side of the road had very broad, green leaves.

Next year we are doing the hike again, only going backward. We'll start at the first choishi pillar and go down. I can't wait! Only I hope it's not in the middle of summer again. . . Six hours of walking in intense heat can be really draining.


P.S. The subject is the name of a small car dealership