Guns and Frocks

Loving Delta and the Bannermen since 1987

48 hours without coffee or garlic

Monday 24 March 2008

We’re back from our stay in the Buddhist temple, and it’s quite different from what I expected.

We stayed at Eko-in, which is a shukubo, a Buddhist temple which doubles as a hotel, where the guests are looked after by novice monks. I had expected hard benches and drafty rooms; instead, our room was the most beautiful one I’ve had on the trip. There was a TV and an electric heater; the toilet outside had one of those creepy Japanese heated toilet seats.

Eko-in is in Koyasan, a mountain village full of temples and holy places, the home of the Shingon School of Buddhism, founded by Kobo Daishi in 816. He’s still there, apparently, in eternal meditation, although I didn’t see too many signs of life at his mausoleum. Calvin remains convinced, however.

It took us five different trains to get here; the last was a scary funicular railway like the one in the Blue Mountains. A bus took us to the temple. We didn’t have much time once we arrived. We wandered through the cemetery, which is beautiful: crumbling lichen-covered monuments surrounded by tall cedar trees. Very sad and peaceful.

Dinner was at 5.30. There was sake, but the monks can’t eat meat or onions or garlic, so neither could we. (No garlic! This is exactly the sort of thing that gets me so cross about religion.) Calvin enjoyed the food, but all I could think about was that fantastic plate of tagliatelle I had in Nîmes. The breakfast next morning was even more bland and horrible.

We spent yesterday going from temple to temple. Japanese Buddhist temples are beautiful. They’re dark inside, full of black lacquer and red and gold and soft orange lanterns. Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum contains tens of thousands of lanterns. When I expressed awe at this, Calvin pointed out that they ran off electricity; this was his revenge for my skepticism about Kobo Daishi’s immortality.

We reached Kyoto this afternoon, and were immediately unimpressed by the hotel. Mind you, it was better than any hotel I stayed in in Europe (apart from Sorrento), but Calvin hated it the moment we walked in. So our plans have changed. We’ll spend the morning sightseeing in Kyoto, and then we’ll catch the train to Tokyo, where we’ll stay until we leave for home on Monday night.