Koyasan was pretty amazing. As I write this, Brooke and I are on the train back to Osaka, winding our way through little hillside towns and stopping at train stations that are little more than a platform and a painted wood canopy in the middle of what looks like a mountain forest and sounds like a tropical jungle. There are many strange animal sounds to be heard on Mt Koya. The most prominent among these is the constant buzzing from cicadas, which I have now learned can chirp too. These bugs are as big as a hummingbird but are not nearly so cute nor graceful. Believe me – I have seen them close up.
After arriving at Koyasan (Mt. Koya), checking in to our room at the monastery and having a really interesting traditional Japanese vegetarian dinner, Brooke and I decided to go exploring. The late afternoon on the mountain was reasonably cool even without a/c, so the traditional, screenless sliding windows were open to let in a nice breeze. I remember remarking before we left that I was surprised we didn’t have lots of bugs flying in the windows. Famous last words. Brooke and I ended up exploring a massive cemetery for several hours, and came back well after dark to find our room full of agitated, screeching cicadas. Well, by “full of cicadas” I mean there were five, but that’s plenty, isn’t it? We had not only left the windows open, but the light on as well.
I’m very lucky to have Brooke. Were it not for her, I might have let those wicked bugs have the room and slept in the hallway all night. She bravely batted the nasty, angry bird-bugs out of the ceiling light shade repeatedly with a brochure until they finally stopped shrieking and flapping around and played dead on one of our blankets. We would then pick up both ends of the blanket and use it to pitch them out of the window. Don’t want to kill anything while you’re staying with monks – even evil bird-bugs.
Eventually we got them all out. Then we tied on our “yukata” – light, kimono-style robes for wearing around the inn – and headed downstairs to shower – communal style.
The traditional Japanese bathing experience is an interesting one for us westerners. We are rarely naked in the company of others. Occasionally it happens at the gym or spa, of course, but normally you have your towel wrapped around you at all times. Then when it’s time to get dressed, you keep the towel wrenched awkwardly in your armpits while you try to scoot into your panties without dropping it. Here at the inn we had to strip naked in an ante room with strangers, leave our things in a basket, and march naked into the shower room in all our glory. There are no stalls, of course. You take a seat on a little stool near a spigot, possibly only inches from your naked and crouching neighbor, and use the provided hand-shower and bucket to wash off. Once clean, you can go soak in the hot spa-like bath. Brooke and I had fortunate timing, so we were the only ones in the shower for a bit and I took advantage of our privacy by having a short soak in the bath. However, once you are naked in public for a little while, you actually get used to it, so passing the other ladies going out was not so weird. Seeing as how they are naked too, and all.
Back in our room, now all scrubbed, soaked, and relaxed, we camped out on our veranda to enjoy listening to a summer rainshower. Shortly before ten we were asleep on the floor on our futon mats, getting a good nights sleep before an early Buddhist prayer service the next morning.