I followed the advice of fellow hostellers to wake up around 6am from my snuggly cave room to head into Oko-no-in the vast cemetery in Koya San and home to the remains of Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism. Having layered up literally all of my jumpers, thermal leggings, my new jacket and anorak, I waddled through the main gates to be greeted by a forest of graves, some shiny and neat and hundreds with mossy covering, nestled into the roots of the towering cedar trees that filled the cemetery. Amongst them lay a cobblestone pathway which I followed until all sights of roads, cars and the village streets were hidden. It was silent and with my breath crystallising in the air there was an almost enchanting atmosphere. I eventually reached Toro-do, the main temple building within Oko-no-in, with its lantern filled ceiling and inviting warmth and darkness. I slipped off my shoes and nestled into a corner to watch the monks completing their morning chants and offerings to Kobo Daishi. I must have been there for at least half an hour listening to their voices and admiring the glow of the temple from the candle light inside. As I left the building it was a lot colder and the graves around were topped with a thin layer of snow! This was just unbelievably beautiful and added to the atmosphere as the monks walked back over the crisp white pathways with their mustard robes dusting the powder at their feet. It was probably due to being so early in the morning but the whole experience feels even now almost dreamlike! I grabbed breakfast at my hostel and warmed up my toes before heading out to explore the temple complex in the town centre and the huge Daimon pilgrimage gate. Later as I waited for the bus back to the train station more people started to potter about the town and the tarmac began to steam as the sun finally started to warm everyone up!
(Photos; my breakfast, Exploring Oko-no-in and surrounding temples in the snow (2/3/4), Daimon gate, the freezing temperatures of Koyasan!)
My next stop was Osaka where I was informed by my trusty lonely planet guide that I should be prepared for the Osakan custom of kuidaore or ‘eating till you drop’! I was starving when I finally arrived and after checking into the Khaosan World Hostel I headed to the local Kuramon Market to feast! Osaka is so busy, filled with people and every shop is bursting with huge signs, fantastic light shows and massive hanging 3D models. The food market was equally bustling and I managed to elbow my way into a queue for takoyaki which is a local speciality of octopus in spongey dough balls slathered in mayo, soy sauce and sprinkled with fish flakes. With that boxed up I also grabbed a platter of sashimi and took my feast to a bench in the sunshine on the bank of the central canal. I dug in and wow both were incredible! Later that evening when I was settled into my new home for the next few days the hostel staff explained that they were hosting a cook your own takoyaki party that evening and well I couldn’t exactly refuse round two! This hostel was by far the most sociable of my trip and soon enough myself along with a crowd of fellow travellers had created and demolished stacks of takoyaki washed down with plenty of Japanese beers! The next day I had a proper explore of Osaka’s crazy streets and of the super quiet but very hipster Nakazachinko area nearby. With the sun shining I took a picnic to Osaka castle’s gardens and read in the sunshine until the heavens opened and I was forced to grab a subway train back! Sheltering from the downpour I found myself in a gorgeous Japanese bookshop filled with amazing books, magazines and exclusive and endlessly cool zines and grabbed a tea in their beautiful cafe to journal away the afternoon. That evening, as I was now part of a pack of travellers, was designated to partying, trying my hand at arcade gaming and exploring Osaka’s nightlife until the very early hours before finally heading back to my little hostel dorm!