Japan (October 2016): Koyasan

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Koyasan is a mountain in the Kii peninsula south of Osaka. In 816 a Buddhist priest named Kukai (posthumously known as Kobo Daishi) founded a monastic center on a small plateau on top of Koyasan to study and practice Esoteric Buddhism. Since then Koyasan has been a major pilgrimage destination. Today, it is a thriving center of Shingon Buddhism with many temples, halls, and pagodas. Several temples offer lodging for visitors.

 

Until 1872, women were not allowed to enter the precincts of Koyasan. However, at each of the 7 entrances there was a small temple, called nyonindo, where women practicing Shingon Buddhism could pray. Only one nyonindo remains today at the northwestern entrance (close the funicular terminal).

 

Nyonindo at northwestern entrance.

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Otake-Jizo, facing the nyonindo. It was donated in 1745 by Mrs. Take Yokoyama (hence, the name of the Jizo), who used to pray for her deceased husband at this nyonindo.

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Daimon, a 25.1m high gate, marks the western entrance of Koyasan, originally its main entrance. Statues of guardian deities stand on both sides of the gate.

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At the center of the Koyasan precinct stands Kongobuji, the head temple of several thousand temples of the Shingon sect around the world.

 

- Entrance of the temple.

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- Bell tower (shoro) and monk in the front yard.

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- Main building.

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- Ohiroma room (main hall) used for important ceremonies. The gilded sliding doors are decorated with cranes painted by famous Japanese painter Kano Tanyu (1602-1674).

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- Rock gardens in the temple.

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Autumn colors on the pathway from Kongobuji temple to Garan, a sacred complex of about 20 temples and buildings.

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Today the Konpon Daito (Great Stupa) is the tallest structure (48.5m) in Garan. It is a symbol of the ideals of Shingon Buddhism.

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Kondo, the main hall in Garan, hosts major Buddhist ceremonies.

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Golden lanterns in Miedo hall and adjacent bell tower. Miedo has been the residence of Kobo Daishi.

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Saito, the Western Stupa, a 27m high stupa built by Shinzen Daitoku, the successor to Kobo Daishi.

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Left: Sanno-in, a hall of worship. Right: Rokkaku Kyuzo, the hexagonal depository of the scriptures.

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Kongo Sanmai-in temple.

 

- Main building.

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- Old pagoda.

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- A benevolent deity?

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Tokugawa mausoleum. It consists of two identical buildings built in 1643 at the request of the shogun Tokugawa Iemisu (1604-1651), the third of the family, in honor of his grandfather Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) and his father Tokugawa Hidetada (1579-1632). 

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Shojoshin-in temple, one of the temples that offer lodging for visitors.

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Some other temples.

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On the eastern side of Koyasan lies Okunoin, a huge Buddhist cemetery spread on both sides of a 1.9km alley among tall cedar trees. Okunoin looks like a disorderly accumulation of strange monuments, statues, and stelae, some looking extra-terrestrial. There are graves of famous people, such as religious leaders, feudal lords, military commanders, and business leaders. Some monuments have been erected by companies to commemorate their employees. It is even said that one has been built by a pesticide company to commemorate all the insect victims (but I haven‛t seen it). Due to the constant shade made by the cedar trees and the frequent mist, most monuments are covered by moss. The overall atmosphere is peaceful and a bit eerie.

 

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The photo on the right below shows the largest tombstone in Okunoin. It is 6.6m high and its base covers 14.2sq.m.

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Bronze statues of deities (Jizo, Fudo, Kannon...) lined up below the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi at the northern end of Okunoin. Pilgrims show respects and pray for the well-being of the departed by splashing water from the Tamagawa stream over the statues.

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Until 1872, women were not allowed to enter the precincts of Koyasan (see top of this page). In addition to be able to worship at the nyonindos located at the 7 entrances of Koyasan, they could also do a pilgrimage along a trail circumnavigating Koyasan. This trail still exists today and is called the Women Pilgrims Route. It provides a pleasant hike through forests surrounding Koyasan, with some views over surrounding mountains.

 

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(Source: http://eng.shukubo.net/guidance.html )

 

Views of the trail.

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Views over surrounding mountains.

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Religious reminders along the way.

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View of the Daimon from the trail.

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Torii gates after passing Daimon toward Mount Bentendake.

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Small shrine at the top of Mt. Bentendake.

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