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Koya San

Blimey! Did you know Jon's New Zealand book Squashed Possums is out now - find out more

Sitting in a Buddhist temple, watching TV with an international mix of travellers, it was a strange experience hearing that 'We got him!'.

Saddam had been captured.

The press conference was conducted in English, by an American. On telly, the entire speech was dubbed into Japanese, so there we sat, waiting patiently for a Japanese man on his weekend break to translate the words back into English.

Very surreal. I think quite a lot was lost in the double translation.

Staying at a Buddhist temple isn't so unusual an experience in Japan, although I was surprised to see it had a Christmas tree! Many hostels are infact temples, and one place I stayed in Koya san was virtually a 5 star hotel. Two monks, or Zen Men, came to bring my tofu dinner, and made up my futon, on a traditional tatami mat. Waking up at 7am for morning service, incense wafting around the burning candles, monks chanting in a meditative rhythm, it was surprising to notice them in the evening, casually sitting aroung in their long orange robes watching manic Japanese gameshows on TV.

As I left the following morning, I almost departed without paying my 5% tax, a robed monk chased after me, arms waving. I returned to the temple building, and he almost had a fit, thinking that the foolish gaijin (foreigner) was about to traipse all over his temple with my great big boots. I had no intention of doing any such thing, but I did think that maybe he ought to spend more time raking the zen garden, and less watching Its a Knockout with his buddhist buddies.
On the subject of religious experiences, a few days ago I visited Kobe, where a massive earthquake virtually flattened the city in 1995. An annual celebration, Luminaire, is held on the anniversary each year, and what an extraordinary sight it was. Being herded along the packed streets, we all turned a corner, and straight ahead was what looked like a cathedral made of small lights. It reminded me of the Xmas lights in London, except these had been fitted to a series of arches, giving the appearance that you are walking through a cathedral made entirely of light. Adding to the atmosphere, were the speaker system broadcasting Gregorian chants. The masses funnelled their way through the spectacle, handy phones held aloft, the little digital cameras flashing, capturing the moment. But what they looked like were candles, a thousand electronic candles carried on some vast pillgrimage. The effect was entirely accidental, but not surprising in a country where the Bud! dhist monks sit in their robes, on the shinkanses, tapping away at their laptops!
Well, gotta get back to the temple, theres a 10pm curfew, and if you miss it, well Buddha keeps a pretty keen eye on the time, and youre out in the cold tonight! Returning to Tokyo tomorrow, my Japan Rail pass looking pretty frayed and well used. Oh, I almost forgot, went to a Karaoke bar a few nights ago, well it had to be done, its amazing what a couple beers and a few glasses of sake will do. Fortunantly karaoke in Japan is not a public spectacle, like back home, you have your own little booth, a few friends, and a jukebox of sings to choose from. Living on a Prayer went down a storm, but the accompanying Japanese videos were very odd indeed. Why was a girl putting her mobile phone in the fridge???

Blimey! Did you know Jon's New Zealand book Squashed Possums is out now - find out more


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