Cherry Blossoms by the Sacred Graveyard of Koyasan
Just prior to my arrival in Japan, a giant storm swept through the Kansai area scattering to the wind the beautiful cherry blossoms petals that attract millions of tourists to Japan each spring. Bah! Such terrible luck! That perfect picture of the famous Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto lost until my next visit. Japan’s love of the Sakura tree, a species of the Genus Prunus, has blossomed throughout history, dating back to the Heian Period (After the Nara Period if you saw my Nara post). The flower is of enormous cultural significance and even minted on the back of the 100 Yen coin! ‘Hanami’ is a social tradition referring to picnicking under the Cherry Blossoms for flower viewings. As drinking in public is legal in Japan, don’t forget to pack your Sake with your delicious Onigiri, egg roll and pickled beets, as it is also part of the tradition!
Sights to see in Koyasan
So Alas! Here was my second chance! Koyasan (Mount Koya) is located deep within the mountains of Wakayama Prefecture and due to the 800 meter elevation, experiences the blooming of the Sakura Trees from the end of April to the beginning of May.
The small town is home to Japan’s grandest ancient graveyard: Okuno-in Temple, hidden within the old cypress and pine forest. The mountain settlement grew to be an important pilgrimage site and home to the Shingon Buddhism sect. Founded by one Kobo Daishi who oversaw the construction of the Konpon Daito Padoga among others, is one of Japan’s many famous historical characters tied to Mount Koya. The town embodies it’s humble beginnings, attracting the spiritual, artistic and nature enthusiasts. Many of the 120 temples in Koyasan offer lodgings for visitors and pilgrims. The scenic mountains and thick forest are also a great place for a short day hike or spooky evening walk, if you don’t mind the waiting spirits of Mount Koya… and bears.
Daimon Gate (大門)
This gigantic gate marks the entrance to the village of Mount Koya and the arrival point of the “Choishi Michi Pilgrimage Trail”. Most tourists ascend the mountain on an awesome Cable Car that climbs the very steep terrain from Gokurakubashi Station. However, avid hikers intending to stay overnight may delight at the 23.5km (7+ hour) hike up the mountainside from Kudayama Station! Imagine walking the traditional pilgrim’s path deep into the gorgeous forest! Of course, there are other, shorter hiking trails too!
When you reach the Daimon gate, walk through one of the three openings and find tranquility for you have arrived to a place of calm, space and spirits. The gate itself is beautifully intricate dating back to 1705. The original gate dates back to Heian Period (774-835). Two massive Kongo Rikishi Warriors (Ungyo & Agyo) stand flanking the entrance guarding the Buddha.
Kenta and I actually visited the gate at the end of our day trip. To the right, looking out of town, you’ll find a series of Torii Gates that mark the beginning of the trail. We stumbled upon this ‘beware of bears sign’ pronounced ‘Kuma’ in Japanese. Phones dying, we reached the top of the small hill, being the genius that I am, I decided to shout out. Kenta followed suit to which he received a response in the form of rustling in the bushes just below us. 10 seconds later we were running full tilt back down the path. Ha, so maybe pick up some bear spray if you intend on a day hike.
We’re just getting started! Okuno-in and Kongobuji Temple in progress!