Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Japan 6: Zen, Tofu & Futons

So we picked Nara as the place to try out the "Ryokan" experience, and even though the one we picked had a bit of a 60's look to it (hence being more or less within our price range), it did have a beautiful Japanese garden, tatami mats on the floor, Yukata dressing gowns provided and a generally very relaxing atmosphere.

Nara Ryokan

Otherwise Nara was a little bit of a let-down - sure, there were tame deer who'd head butt you if you didn' give them food, and the huge buddha was rather awe-inspiring, but the rather wet and grey weather meant we didn't really want to stick around. We went to see a fire-ceremony at a temple as well, that people got bussed to in droves, but saw mainly umbrellas. Oh and there was a bit of cherry blossom.

After that, we headed up the holy mountain, Koya-san. Even though it was pretty close to Nara, it took us hours to get there on a number of regional little trains hugging the side of wooded mountains, then a cable car, then a bus on a windy little road. The town, if you can call it that, consists almost exclusively of temples. We found one to stay at and went for a little walk in glorious evening sun, and were then served our "Zen dinner" in our room. The food was maybe a bit of an acquired taste, involving a lot of tofu in different states of sogginess, but looked beautiful and was no doubt very good for us.

Zen Dinner

We didn't do much after that, just tried to soak up the Zen... and we had an early start ahead of us, getting up for the 6 am prayers! There was chanting, fire, incense, gongs, cymbals, we were allowed to make a sacrifice of tea and incense to the Buddha, and afterwards the big cheese monk asked us for tea, chocolate and coffee in his office. We met a 21 year old Zen cat, and I was very surprised when it turned out that the monk spoke perfect German, which makes sense now I've done my internet research. The whole experience was so surreal and pleasant that we didn't even feel fazed by two groups of monks with drums, flutes and dragon masks who were dancing up and down the stree as we waited for our bus later that morning (after another zen meal for breakfast. morning is not the time for tofu and seaweed.)

Getting back to civilisation was a bit of a mission, but we did make it to our Hiroshima hostel (with the comfiest beds so far!), even with a short stop to see Himeji Castle, eventually.

the ghosts of Himeji Castle

(PS: Oh yes - I have a job! Will be starting in Bristol a few days after I get back from Thailand. Am highly excited)

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