Koya-san, tucked into the forest up in the mountains, is the headquarters of one of the schools of Buddhism. And, we were lucky enough to be there on the eve of a festival commemorating Kukai, the founder of the school. To celebrate, they had a little parade of brightly lit floats, a carnival of booths selling all sorts of junk food (kind of like if Japan were to have a State Fair), and a gathering of people in a light-hearted mood (and one creepy American dude who we thought was being too friendly to the locals).
The town was pretty small (although, not as small as we thought it would be) so we basically covered it in a few hours. Probably the best part of town, oddly enough, is the cemetery. This is what Lonely Planet says about it, and since I don't know enough about Buddhism to really understand what this means, I'll just say it word for word: "Any Buddhist worth their salt in Japan has had their remains, or just a lock of hair, interred in this cemetery-temple to ensure pole position when Miroku Buddha comes to earth." The place is huge, since it's been around for hundreds and hundreds of years, and filled with both ancient and modern burial sites. Well, burial probably isn't the right word because I think most of them are like little shrines to house people's cremated remains. It feels like the ghosts of samurai are haunting the surrounding forest of HUGE cedar trees and the bugs were on attack. So, we played a little game called, "How much money would someone have to pay you to spend a night in this cemetery?"
We also visited some temples, the largest of which is another photogenic red pagoda. While we don't appreciate these as much as the people who were there to make a religious pilgrimage of sorts, we did enjoy just observing their rituals. For example, people were bowing to and picking up three-pronged needle pods from one of the trees in front a temple, the monks who worked at the temples wore either really simple clothing or sometimes really ornate clothing and platformed flip-flops, people would sometimes quietly bow and clap in temples or would sometimes start chanting, and sometimes the monks would get mad at us for wearing shoes in places that we shouldn't be.
That night, we stayed in some accommodations of one of the temples for the truly authentic Japanese kind of living (except they were kind enough to include A/C, television, and western style toilets). Each room was small, enclosed with sliding doors, decorated with classic Japanese paintings onto the walls, and we slept on the floor on futon mats. Traditional vegetarian meals were served to us while we sat on the floor. We even bathed in the bath house. Although in the girls' tub, we established the rule of "Close your eyes until I'm in." At 6:30 in the morning, we were woken up to attend the temple's prayers. We thought it would be a little more participatory, but instead, we just watched three monks chanting for about 30 minutes.
Then, we hopped back on the cable car to take us down the mountain and then trains to take us to Osaka. From there, Hyeku left for Korea. Sara, John, and Lizzy spent a little time in Osaka checking out the shopping malls. Well, basically the whole city is a shopping mall with high-rises above them. The Japanese must like to shop because we have never seen another country with many stores, especially designer store. We also spent over an hour in an arcade. Having not been in an arcade for years, it was quite addictive. Then, that was basically it. Sara and John left that night and I, Lizzy, left the next day. Sad! The saddest part: I had to go back to work while Sara and John keep on traveling the world! (Until I meet up with them again in a few weeks. See you soon!)