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Entry #12: Koya-San

Everything around me seems so different than where I’m from…”
The song is called ‘Homesick’ and while I wasn’t homesick while riding the funicular, the lyrics resonated. You don’t see things like this in Tennessee or Chicago- the mountains completely shrouded in mist, the palm-like trees right next to pine-like trees. It felt otherworldly and I was certain that this would be one of the highlights of the trip. I was right.
Staying overnight at the temple was unlike anything I’d ever done in my life. I was surprisingly okay with the unusual rooming situation and found the tofu dinner rather tasty. The language barrier made me feel slightly lost at some points, but in general the monks got their points across as far as how things would work. The schedule was a little more strict and defined than it had been most of the trip, but I got the feeling that is how things work for these monks. A bath before dinner, tofu dinner, and then they probably go to bed so they can wake up early for chanting and meditation.
The chanting was also a unique experience, mostly because I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I was reminded of a time my parents and I went to Mass while we were in Italy: the only words I caught were ‘panne et pesce,’ so I knew it was the Gospel about loaves and fishes. But sitting in an incense-heavy room, with unknown iconography all around, listening to foreign, incomprehensible words was a surprisingly familiar difference. The difference between a Catholic Mass in Italian and a Buddhist chanting ritual in Japanese, however, was that I know the parts of a Catholic mass, I know when to stand and sit and I know, in general, how things go. With a Buddhist morning chant? I was clueless. I didn’t know if we were supposed to stand when the monk did or chant along with him or bow or clap at certain times. Luckily for me, our role in the chanting was extremely passive: we sat quietly in the back of the room. That was pretty much it.
The breakfast was, again, tofu-based, and then it was time to shoulder our backpacks and continue what by then was starting to feel like a pilgrimage. It was raining and miserable but we trekked through a Buddhist mausoleum to see Okunoin, the burial place of Kukai. While the mausoleum was beautiful and it was an honor to be able to see Kukai’s importance, it was wet and cold. So I was very relieved to get back on the funicular headed towards society.
Now I’m sitting in the Narita airport hotel and this adventure is winding down. I think these journals could have been better-written, but I don’t have time to fix them. Seeing the western-style bathtub in this hotel reminded me that in 24 hours I’ll be back in my own apartment in Nashville, able to read every sign and understand every conversation I overhear. It’s kind of a sad feeling, for some reason…

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One thought on “Japan Journal Entry 12

  1. Pingback: Rozumíte? Nerozumím. (Understand? Nope!) | Dorothy Ann Writes!

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