Never, ever, ever wait until the last minute to book hotels in Kyoto during Cherry Blossom season! What to do? Five homeless days in Japan before my residency starts, when I was supposed to be settling in, and getting materials ready...Then I spy that "Japan By Rail" book I bought for my son last summer. "Hmmmm..."
I start reading and narrow my journey to around 5 places. I then go to cross reference these places in his Lonely Planet guide, and this tome randomly falls open to one of the 5. That's it! I'm going to Koya-san, Buddhist mecca, UNESCO world heritage site, on the top of some mountain where they said the journey was half the value of the entire trip. Yes, this was the most difficult of the 5 places to get to, but would there be any rooms left in any of the temples to stay? Two days later a monk confirms via email a room, and my pass arrives via Fedex. I also find out that despite not hearing from any of my friends in Japan, 5 of them are now available to see me and now I've only got 1 day in Tokyo planned. So I arrive in Tokyo, go straight to lunch with 2 of them, the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art with another, and arrange to stay with another on my way towards Kyoto from Koya-san, in Nara. The last one I'd see at the end of my journey.
I LOVE my Japanese friends. I lived here 12 years ago, and they are still the most loyal, thoughtful, kind and generous friends on the planet! Lunch was extra-ordinary italian food, done as only the Japanese can with lotus root, and other Asian flavours and plants highlighting the pastas and soups. The Tokyo Museum of Contemporary art is a phenomenal structure, but not the easiest of trips from Central Tokyo, and my friend trekked all the way out there the day before she was leaving the country, never having been there before either.
A great night's sleep at a Courtyard Marriott with easy access to the Shinkansen train, and I was speeding down the coast from Tokyo to Osaka, on the first of many legs of my journey to the temple.
Koya-san was reached after 3 trains, a cable train, and a bus. It started snowing as we climbed the mountains, and one of the young Western women in our group (which was formed when a very kind Japanese woman informed us that our portion of the train was not going where we'd thought it was, and perhaps we should move to the front of the train...) saw snow for the first time. She was like Tigger in Winnie the Pooh. Such a celebration for all.
Except that there's not much heat in these Temples at night.
I slept in 5 layers of clothing, including a down coat, hat and gloves, and still managed to feel quite cold. But it was worth every minute as the next day was extra-ordinary and never to be forgotten... However, it's late and I must get some sleep before our Calligraphy tutorial, and lacquerware making session tomorrow. So stay tuned, for why my morning in the cemetary was amayyyyzing...