Koyasan: a place of tranquility 

An early alarm and a quiet sneak out of my dorm in the morning, and I was prepared for the day ahead! Unfortunately, because it was a Sunday, there was nothing really open en route to Osaka station to grab a bit of brekkie. But Starbucks was open at the station (of course!), so I put up with an overly expensive coffee and some rather tasteless breakfast food. I caught a train to Shinimamiya and quickly changed to get to Gokurakubashi. I had to rush to grab a ticket at this point, as this was not covered by my JR pass, but it took a while to know what the right fare was. You have to look at a train line map and it shows the fare payable depending on the distance away from the station you are in. After arriving, I caught the cable car up to Koyasan station, followed by a bus into the town. Koyasan is a little town up in Mount Koya where Shingon Buddhism originated in the 9th century.

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I hadn’t bought the right ticket to get me through the train and cable car, of course, so there was some sort of fare adjustment I had to pay which was easy enough to do. I bet it regularly happens to tourists. Anyway, there was a helpful bus attendant fellow, who made sure I got on the right bus to where I had to go. There were 3 different lines and you get on at the back of the bus, and exit and pay the fare at the front, depending on where you had got on. He gave me a very useful map of the town. I managed to find the temple that I was staying the night in – Kongo Sanmai-in – and leave my bag whilst I went exploring. It was built in 1223. I had to reshuffle a few dates around when I was in London, so I ended up getting quite a large room all to myself (a triple…!) which cost me a little more, but the experience was definitely worth the price. Off I went and saw the largest cemetery in Japan – Okunoin. It is where a lot of feudal dynasties have been buried since the age when the town was founded. Kobo Dashi is also interred here in a mausoleum at the end of the cemetery. He was the founder of this community and sect of Buddhism and was an influential monk. It took a long while to wander around as it is fairly big, but very peaceful and thought provoking. I get the impression it could be quite an eerie place during the evening, or when there is fog around. This is the traditional entrance to the cemetery – called Ichinohashi – and you see a lot of pilgrims pay their respects here before entering.IMG_3932IMG_3967IMG_3937IMG_3938IMG_3946IMG_3949IMG_3959Then it was a nice little walk through the town, which is essentially just one long street full of unique shops and the odd cafe. I had a quick pork miso soup and sesame tofu thing for lunch which was about right and continued.IMG_3968I then found myself in the Danjo Garen complex at the other end of the long street which consists of a series of temples dedicated to Shingon Buddhism. Kobo Dashi played a big part in the design of these.  Apparently, he founded the community here because he found his ceremonial tool in a pine tree that he threw from China. The pine tree has become known as the three-pointed Vajera pine tree because the pine needles only fall in clusters of three and not five. The temples were all rebuilt several times since they were first constructed due to several lightening strikes over a period of time which has caused them to burn down. This has happened a lot in Japan. The main temple is the Konpon Daito Pagoda. Inside is a statue of Dainchi Nyorai who is the main Buddha worshipped in this particular sect. Otherwise known as the Cosmic Buddha, the origin is Indian.IMG_3972IMG_3973IMG_3985IMG_3988IMG_3991IMG_3994There is also a large hall called the Kondo Hall which is where major ceremonies are held. I also went to Kongobuji Temple which is the headquarters of this sect. There are lots of prayer rooms heavily decorated, with sliding doors. After a pop into the Reihokan museum, I headed back to the temple to check in. I was told that my evening meal would be served in my room at 17:30 and that the temple would be closed by 8pm. IMG_3948I was invited to attend a morning prayer ceremony in the morning at 06:30, and then have breakfast after. I was shown to my room and it was amazing. No shoes, obviously, and very basic to fit in with those who lived in the monastery. There was also a public bath (onsen), and this would only be available in the evening. I would be sleeping on a futon bed which would be made up after I had finished eating. I enjoyed the peace and quiet after a few hectic days. The food was incredible! No meat or fish, but I think there was tofu….I thought it would be quite a lonely experience, but I enjoyed the time to register my experiences so far….and to sort my bag out! Living out of a bag can be like playing a lucky dip sometimes – you’re never quite sure what clothes you’ll pull out. I was able to relax. IMG_4007IMG_4008IMG_4021IMG_4036IMG_4041The prayers the next morning was something that will stay with me for a long time. Even though I did not understand any of what was happening, there was a sense of spirituality and dedication from the monks who devote themselves to this way of life. We were invited to make a wish on a piece of wood which would get burned, as well as contribute to the incense burning by adding wood chips, and think about those who we would wish good health. It was quite meaningful actually and I would recommend it to anyone. IMG_4023IMG_4024IMG_4026IMG_4028IMG_4030IMG_4031IMG_4033Above: my supper! All of this just for one person….! In the big red dish on the floor was a huge amount of rice that I could not finish. You also got served rice for breakfast too. It was way too much food and consisted of mainly vegetables and carbs – but I wasn’t sure what most of it was. There was some sort of miso soup which was nice. Lots of tea!IMG_4043IMG_4044IMG_4045IMG_4046Breakfast: mainly pickles, seaweed, soup and rice. Oh, and gallons of tea. For the prayers in the morning, you had the opportunity to write a wish on. a piece of wood which would get burnt during a ceremony and the wish would be granted. Traditionally, these are more commonly known as Ema in the Shinto sect and are usually left hanging at the shrine to be received by the gods. IMG_4091

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Japan wow! Himeji and Osaka

Japan, you have thrown me. Completely. From the heated toilet seats to the endless warm flannels and taking off/putting on shoes. I’ve only been here 5 days, but it’s enough to see a stark contrast. From Miyajima, it was a train ride back to Hiroshima to catch a crowded Shinkansen to Himeji, en route to Osaka. I was able to dump my large bag in a locker in the station – I was definitely not going to carry it around with me all day! I went to Himeji castle which was built originally as a fort in the 14th century and completed as a castle in 1609. The structure has withstood all natural elements, although there has been some restoration work done from time to time. It is quite imposing as it stands alone on top of a hill. You can climb to each floor and see the inside structure. A scale model was made to illustrate the detail in preparation for restoration. There are racks that weapons were stored in and a couple of slits in the walls that were used for defence. I also visited a lovely little set of gardens close by which were very pretty and peaceful. IMG_3713IMG_3719IMG_3723IMG_3724IMG_3732IMG_3743IMG_3751IMG_3758IMG_3760IMG_3766IMG_3770IMG_3776From Himeji, it was another bullet train to Shin-Osaka, and a local train to Osaka station. This rail pass is so great – it’s getting me everywhere! It even got me on the ferry to Miyajima island. My hostel in Osaka was fairly close to the station, but I still managed to get lost. I ended up walking for ten minutes in the wrong direction because I came out of the wrong exit. Drop Inn hostel was fairly decent. In a 10 bed dorm with individual cubicles was nice although it did mean I slept with both of my bags for company at night as there was no bag storage area – just a little cupboard in the cubicle to lock your valuables in. It had a screen so there was a fair amount of privacy. 2 nights here was fine. After some sorting, I headed out to explore. It was late afternoon by this point so there was no need to do anything too much, I ventured into Dotonbori by metro (a challenge in itself – almost got quite lost) which was the Leicester Square of Osaka, although much more colourful, large and noisy than London. I’d never seen anything like it in my life.IMG_3778My bed for a couple of nights! The dorms are actually quite nice – the beds are quite private.IMG_3787IMG_3790IMG_3791IMG_3792IMG_3794

Big objects on the walls above food places illustrate the main selling point (I assume, anyway) e.g. Crab/squid. There was lots of shops in arcades too. There were so many food places to choose from. Especially down little alleyways off the main drag. IMG_3824There was one little street which was meant to be the oldest street and there was a temple nearby. This temple was called Hozen-ji Temple and was just off the Main Street in Dotonbori. IMG_3819You get this a lot, I think, in Japan where you can turn down a little side street and come across a small temple or shrine. IMG_3910This was tuna that I had in a sushi place on the main street in Dotonbori. It proved to be fairly popular as there was constant queues.2017-06-IMG_3840Above: prawn tempura. Below: gyoza – pork, I think. They were so yummy that I had some more the next day!2017-06-IMG_3841Below: an assortment of sushi – salmon, tuna and some rolls.IMG_3918Below: Salmon sashimi which is basically raw salmon. Fairly decent, and healthy!IMG_3842Eventually found something to eat after wandering around for ages. It was a little place down a side street which wasn’t too crowded and decent food. I went back there the following day. I’m still walking around 10 miles a day on average. The next day, I got up early and headed out to Osaka castle. My alarm went off which I really hated, but I wanted to make the most of the day. Had a couple of coffees before heading out. I caught a JR train, so I could use my pass, from Osaka to Oskajokoen and walked through the park. I was still feeling tired which was annoying. I’ve noticed that there are trains with women only carriages – apparently this was to ward off lewd conduct. The castle was imposing, although not as much as Himeji. It sits in the middle of a park surrounded by gates and moats. The construction was started in the late 16th century. Inside was a series of exhibitions about the history of the castle and you can climb to the top for an impressive view. IMG_3864IMG_3866IMG_3867IMG_3868I then took another JR train to Teradacho where I could walk to Tennoji which is a big temple complex. One of Japan’s oldest temples is here (called Shitennoji).  I was able to go to the top of the pagoda and have a look around the many temples. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take many photos around the religious sights. IMG_3882IMG_3884IMG_3885I then wondered back to Dotonbori via a different path. There was a bit of town which was the ‘gaming’ part. There was a Namco store so I had a peek inside to see how it compared to the one in London. I expected the usual sort of thing – air hockey etc, but I was very wrong…..It was amazing. There were so many teenagers in there (and smoking was permitted upstairs) and they appeared to have some sort of loyalty card or a pre paid thing. The way that their fingers moved around the screen when they played the musical games was so quick!IMG_3892IMG_3893IMG_3895 I walked into another arcade and had a quick massage on a chair and then found a little tribute to Alice in Wonderland shop.IMG_3916IMG_3834IMG_3833 I did some research about how to get from Osaka to Koyasan the following day using some free wifi. I was still knackered so I was looking forward to some peace and quiet! After a bit more food, I headed back to the hostel early to sort stuff. Early night required for another early start!

Day 1 – the beginning of #lexit

Woke up confused and realising that my life will now be different. Here I am sitting in Gatwick ready to board a flight to Lima (delayed however 🙄) and I’ve just realised how much it has taken for me to get here – all the hard work and planning has finally come to fruition. In this one particular moment, I’ve felt excitement, relief, anticipation of what lies ahead, nervousness (only natural and a positive thing), happiness and that feeling that you think you’ve not done something or left something behind. It’s very surreal. But I’m looking forward and upwards and not focusing on what I’ve left behind. I know I can do this and I’m sure there will be moments along the way that will catch me out but I say “Bring it On!”  Right – I should check the plane status situation – it would probably be a good idea if I got on it first!2017-04-IMG_1369

Two weeks to go!

In just over two weeks, I’ll be getting on a plane to Lima. A very daunting thought! Everything has come around unbelievably quickly and I’m not feeling as prepared as I should be.

Malaria tablets √
Jabs √
Visas √
Copying documents √
Making sure parents are ok √
Having a party √

The list continues…

I have got most things organised which is good. I’m really looking forward to Japan – I was able to look at a few other blogs of other travellers and some were able to see a lot in the time frame that I’m going. The town of Koyasan looks fascinating and I’ll be staying here.

Doing a fair amount of research has been amazingly helpful, and I in turn would like to be able to share my experiences so that others can do the same.

Hope to be able to trend #lexit on the way too! Hardly an in or out referendum…more of an in and out crazy time!

The snow has started…in London…during rush hour

You can sense the tension in the air among the snowflakes falling from the sky….can’t you? 

While I am now safely in the warmth of a South West train carriage heading into London, I am accutely aware of the disappointment of the commuters trying to make their homeward journey. The floor is wet. Glasses are steaming up. My feet are cold. As you’d expect, everyone has their head down either in a device of some kind, a book or a damp copy of The Evening Standard. I, meanwhile, guilty of being one of those people (while writing this), am also listening to ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ by Joy Division, and was convinvced I was almost dancing along at one point due to several odd glances from those unhappy commuters who really need to brighten up. My smile soon vanished and I became one of…them…

It’s officially zero degrees and the beginning of January. No one is happy. Snow in London during rush hour adds to the despair as public transport will just seem to…stop. 

Oh well! I’ll just have to find somewhere to build a snowman! If it ever settles…

It’s been a while….but here I come, life!

Sooo…after a long time, I’ve finally got back to organising my  life a little after a difficult few months.

And it’s beginning with going back to the trip. I need a distraction anyway!

trello

I discovered Trello while reading a very informative backpacking blog called Almost Landing. This appears to be a good way of collating useful information together for planning purposes, as well as being easy to use. Only 7 months to go now, and I’m still feeling quite overwhelmed by the whole thing. Hopefully, this will help to sort my brain out and have all the relevant information in their allocated spaces.

Reading blogs has been immensely helpful. A ex-work colleague of mine did a similar thing a couple of years ago so talking to her has given me a positive vibe. Topics range from things such as how to get from place to place, to where to go and eat or which temple to visit – obviously adding all these ideas to my newly formed Trello organiser..!

Also in the process of doing up the flat a little in preparation for renting it out. It all sounds very grown up and I don’t think I exactly know what I’m doing, but it’ll be ok in the end. I know what needs to be done but there’s always something else that crops up. Looking up ideas on what sort of shower screen I can buy to fit over the bath – sounds inspired! Fingers crossed, it won’t be too expensive! Don’t want it to eat too much into the travelling savings!

From now on, I hope to be blogging a lot more. Hoping to be more determined to succeed with it, and celebrate being young and free in the 21st century. As well as being overweight (AGAIN!), adjusting to being alone (but not lonely) and looking forward to whatever the future may bring. Yep, need to get back on the bike……