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TRIP REPORT: Just returned from first visit to Japan!

TRIP REPORT: Just returned from first visit to Japan!

Dec 13th, 2015, 10:59 AM
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 2,321
Thanks for sharing your impressions of Kyoto. We did not manage to get out to Fushimi Inari on our visit, but it's on our list for a return trip.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Dec 13th, 2015, 02:34 PM
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 1,085
Happy belated 2nd Anniversary! Best wishes for many more happy years to come.

jdc26 is offline  
Dec 21st, 2015, 04:30 PM
Join Date: Oct 2011
Posts: 828
Great Kawaguchiko photos! Fuji-san was totally clouded in the day I was there due to the Phillipine typhoon. Kawaguchiko is on my early list of places to visit when I go back for sakura in 2017.

Looking forward to reading more of your report.
MinnBeef is offline  
Jan 11th, 2016, 01:53 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 180
So sorry for the delay in the last day of my trip report!

November 15/16 - Koyasan

Our last full day in Japan… it was such a somber feeling but we still had so much more to experience in the next 24 hours! We woke up early and headed downstairs to enjoy our last breakfast at Hotel Mume. This breakfast was as delicious as ever and I made a comment to our server about the amazing home-baked breads. I was going to miss these breakfasts! As we proceeded to the lobby to say our goodbyes, there was a brown bag filled with a variety of fresh breads waiting for us to take for a snack on the train. The attention to detail and outstanding service that Hotel Mume offered will never be forgotten. Before leaving, someone sat down with us to go over a train map and make sure we had directions to our next destination – Mount Koya. They also gave us our Takuhaibin luggage receipts and a Kansai Airport map so that we knew where to pick up our luggage that they had pre-sent to the airport for us. It was sad to say goodbye to everyone at Hotel Mume, but if we have the chance to return to Kyoto we will certainly be back at Mume!

My overall impressions from our 4 nights in Kyoto were great. I’m glad that we decided to skip Nara for an extra full day in Kyoto. Not only were we getting tired of all the train travel, there was just too much to see in the city to make going to Nara worthwhile. In hindsight, I think an extra day or two would have been ideal in Kyoto – I would have loved to have seen Nara and to have made a day trip up to Mt. Kurama. Really, I would have LOVED to add a few extra days in each city – but Vacation days are limited

It took us about 4 hours to reach the Koyasan Station from Kyoto (would have only taken us 3 hours but the Nankai-Koya line was broken down for a little while). The last 30 minutes of the winding train ride had beautiful mountain-side scenery. We climbed higher and higher into the mountains and the views were breathtaking. It was our first time seeing this type of landscape in Japan and we welcomed it with ear to ear smiles. We finally made it Gokurakubashi Station, where we had to switch to a short 5-minute cable car ride. Try to get a spot near the bottom end of cable car – the view as you are pulled up the mountain and above the clouds is truly memorable.

We had reservations for a one night at the Shojoshin-in Temple, which is located just next to the Okunoin Cemetery. We picked this temple based on recommendations from this forum and from TripAdvisor. We hopped on a Koyasan Bus and took it the Okunoin Cemetery stop where we easily found Shojoshin-in. We wandered in through the side entrance and there wasn’t a soul in site. It was very peaceful and very different from our time in Tokyo and Kyoto. We found the front of the temple and saw a cubby hole for our shoes and small slippers perfectly lined up on the stairs. We slipped into some slippers and walked up to the main deck. Before we had time to wonder where anyone was a monk showed up out of nowhere and motioned for us to follow him into an office. We took a seat on the floor pillow and handed him our printed our reservation. He knew very little English but just enough to get us checked in. He grabbed our bags and we followed him through the temple. He showed us where we would be meeting for dinner, for breakfast, and for the morning prayer ceremony. He showed us our room which was on the 2nd floor overlooking the garden (which we requested). He pointed out 2 traditional robes which we were supposed to wear to dinner, but not to the prayer ceremony or to breakfast. He showed us the shared bathroom just down the hall and then he disappeared to someplace else in the temple.

We headed back to room to settle in. There were two futons in the middle of the tatami floor. There was another smaller room which could be separated by sliding doors and had a table and two pillow seats. Adjacent to this sitting room was another small room with a sink and a mirror. The room was basic but very charming. After looking around the room we decided to head out and explore the Okunoin Cemetery next door.

Not even a one minute walk and we were at Okunoin. I immediately noticed the giant trees at the cemetery entrance which gave me a very majestic and ancient feeling as I entered the area. The massive trees lined the walkway all the way through the cemetery. There were so many beautiful gravestones, made even more striking with age and covered in moss. The path ends at Torodo Hall and Kobo Daishi's Mausoleum, a couple of miles from the main entrance (I learned that there is a side entrance if you get off at the Okunoin-mae bus stop which cuts the walk in half). The night was approaching and it started to get dark so we made our way back. The walk back was very different – all of the lanterns along the pathway started to light up. It was very magical (and a little eerie) walking through the cemetery in the dark, with only the glow from the lanterns and the moon lighting our path.

It was time for dinner when we got back to Shojoshin-in so we hurried up to our room and switched into our robes. We were showed into a private room for dinner by one of the monks. Our food was already waiting for us. We took a seat on our pillows as the monk began to uncover each item of food. He made us a cup of tea and brought in some steaming hot rice before leaving us alone for the rest of our meal.

My husband and I each had 3 trays in front of us, with about 4-5 dishes per tray – there was a lot of food but I could hardly identify any of it! What I could identify was miso soup, beans, tofu, rice, grapefruit, and vegetable tempura. This was the scariest meal of the entire trip for me. I nibbled at everything but ended up filling up rice. The food wasn’t my favorite. It was even a difficult meal for husband who is known to eat anything.

After forcing as much of the food down as we could, we excused ourselves and thanked the monks for our meal. We spent about half an hour walking around and exploring the temple before heading back to our room for the night. It was mid-November and very chilly in the evening. Luckily our room had a space heater which we turned on. The futons were not the most comfortable but perfectly fine for the one night. I got a great night’s sleep and was woken up to a very loud “gong” sound. It was time for the morning prayer ceremony.

We hurried down to the prayer room only to find 3 other people sitting to observe. We joined them on the bench and the door was closed after us. The prayer ceremony began and guests continued to flow into the room over the next 15 minutes. I did find it a little rude that some guests couldn’t get there on time and had to interrupt such a special experience. I understand that it is 5am in the morning, but it is such a great honor to be given the privilege of staying overnight in a beautiful temple, it would only be polite to follow the minimal rules. Anyway, after everyone was done settling in, the real magic began. I closed my eyes and listened to the chanting – it was very spiritual and beautiful to me, I began to tear up just a little. I wasn’t sad or happy; I was just overcome with emotion by the beauty of the experience.

The prayer ceremony lasted for about an hour, after which we were immediately directed to breakfast. We were shown to the same private room that we were in the night before for dinner. Breakfast was there waiting for us – another assortment of unidentifiable objects. Luckily for me, there was rice.

After breakfast we went back up to our room to pack up, although checkout wasn’t until about 11am. We wondered around town to kill some time but nothing was open yet. We found a small temple that we explored for a bit. We returned to grab our luggage and thank the monks for a one of a kind experience, but we could not find anyone around to thank. We left a thank you note and made our way out to the street to find a bus and start our journey towards Osaka. A relaxing night on Mt Koya was the perfect way to end our trip.

Before we left for Japan, I was very worried about traveling from Koyasan to the Kansai Airport in the same day. I’m such a worry wart when it comes to being on time! However we had plenty of time to spare as it only took us a couple of hours to get to the airport. It was a very sad feeling as walked onto the plane, not knowing when we would be back to this amazing country. As the plane pulled away from the terminal I peered out the window and saw every worker stop what he or she was doing to face the plane for a long bow. Wow, what a truly incredible place that I will never forget!
rachill_az is offline  
Jan 11th, 2016, 06:25 PM
Join Date: Sep 2012
Posts: 2,321
What a fitting end to a beautiful trip. While I was not able to get to Koyasan during my visit to Japan, I appreciate getting a sense of the place through you. Thank you for sharing your visit with us.
tripplanner001 is offline  
Jan 11th, 2016, 07:08 PM
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 610
So glad to read the rest of your report! Making wish we were going back there soon, but I know we will some day. Thanks for bringing back some great memories!
russ_in_LA is offline  
Jan 12th, 2016, 05:21 PM
Join Date: Oct 2011
Posts: 828
Great trip report, Rachill. I enjoyed it very much. Welcome to the Japan "experts club".

Koyasan is on my itinerary for my planned trip back to Japan for cherry blossom season next year. Definitely glad to hear that you enjoyed Shojoshin Temple. I know kja and Kavey have both stayed there as well, so it certainly sounds like the place to stay. I also hope to stay at Hotel Mume again. I've emailed them twice through their website re. when reservations will open up but have not received any reply from them either time. Very strange.

Anyway, great report.
MinnBeef is offline  
Jan 12th, 2016, 05:35 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 180
MinnBeef - when are you going to Kyoto? I've checked online and Hotel Mume has open reservations through December of 2016. For my stay during Koyo season I booked 11 months in advance to make sure I got the Flower Room. It seems like they open reservations about 11-12 months in advance. That is strange that they haven't emailed back as they were always VERY responsive and usually emailed back within 24 hours. Are you using their [email protected] email address posted on their website? Have you checked your spam? I hope you get to stay there on your next visit, you will love it!!
rachill_az is offline  
Jan 14th, 2016, 09:14 AM
Join Date: Oct 2011
Posts: 828
3rd time was the charm, Rachill, as I heard back from Hotel Mume. I also thought it strange as they could not have been more responsive and kind when I stayed with them in 2013. I'm very much looking forward to staying with them again next year.
MinnBeef is offline  
Jan 25th, 2016, 09:31 PM
Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 102
I kept your report in my box so I could refer to it often
Thank you so much for all your insights
It's been very helpful
dondonandjj is offline  
Apr 7th, 2016, 05:57 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jan 2015
Posts: 180
I know this is a long time coming, but I finally made the time to sit down and post my trip report along with photos of my time at Koyasan and my stay in Shojoshin-in Temple. I hope you enjoy the photos from the final leg of my Japan trip!

rachill_az is offline  
Apr 7th, 2016, 06:17 PM
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 610
Great report, Rachill! Koyasan and Shojoshin-in Temple were definitely highlights for us on our first trip to Japan. We didn't even mind the food! Glad you enjoyed your trip. I'm imagining trip 3 for us, maybe next year or the year after. Japan really got under our skin, in a very good way. Thanks for sharing with us!
russ_in_LA is offline  
Apr 7th, 2016, 11:13 PM
Join Date: Apr 2016
Posts: 5

Thankyou for your response on my 4 days in Tokyo post
I have printed your comment out and read your livelifeoutoftheoffice website
Your responses on the food was amazing JUST what i wanted thankyou!
Its a shame a few more people did not follow in your footsteps then i would have plenty of ideas. Seems they still want MORE details. For me i wanted peoples opinions with a blank paper.

Ah well I am so excited/nervous about Tokyo to read other peoples experiences makes me feel better as i am not alone. I will also copy your idea of writing things in english and Kanji and having pictures.
again a big THANK YOU !!!
Shazzlich is offline  
Apr 30th, 2016, 06:59 PM
Join Date: Jul 2008
Posts: 2,764
What a great report! It as a pleasure reading this and I've taken notes for my upcoming trip. Thanks for sharing.
dgunbug is offline  
Apr 30th, 2016, 10:09 PM
Join Date: Nov 2010
Posts: 102
Great trip report Will be so useful for us
dondonandjj is offline  
May 1st, 2016, 05:57 PM
Join Date: Oct 2011
Posts: 828
Great photos! Koyasan is on my tentative itineray for trip #2 for Sakura 2017. Thanks for sharing, Rachill.
MinnBeef is offline  
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