Weather: The day started off well however, once past midday dark clouds encircled the mountains in which I found myself in and rain started to spit; however it soon stopped.
MP3 track of the day: cars - Gary Numan
I pulled myself out of bed at 6:10am and started to get ready. Within less than a week I'll be back at work so I better get used to it, I thought to myself. Once again I skipped having breakfast within my local area in favour of seeing what options were close to my 'car hire shop'. Yes indeedy; today was my third 'car hire day' and this time, I would be taking my 'wheels' into the mountains to see one of Japan's most holiest sites.
I used the same underground line as I had when I went to the aquarium yesterday however, this time, I went four stops in the opposite direction. When I surfaced, I immediately saw a Mr Donuts. It was then that I knew that today was going to be a good day. Sadly, the selection in Mr Donuts stores in Kansai, is not as broad as what I'm used to. Within the kitchen, I could see a tray of freshly made 'cream doughnuts'; I waited a couple of minutes to see if they would hit the shelves any-time soon however, they did not. I therefore bought three doughnuts which, though delicious, were not my most favourite. I then sat down and started to read my guidebook about where I was going to today. Two seats to my left was a middle-aged man who'd I'd seen on the train. On the train, he was fixated on his smart phone. In Mr Donuts too, he rarely looked up from it. For quite a lot of my trip, all I've witnessed is people either walking around, on buses, in restaurants or on trains glued to their phones. Is this really where the human race is heading? Are we so bored with what's around us that we have to continually live within a virtual world of games and messages filled with smiley faces? If so, then maybe we shouldn't bother trying to save the planet; it's probably best if we end it all quickly.
I was so engrossed within my thoughts that time slipped by. I had to eat my last doughnut in rather a hurry so that I could get to my car hire place on time. The service at this garage was very professional; the car was ready and filled with fuel. Today I would be driving a 'Suzuki Alto'; probably the sportiest out of my three car hires. Though the ride, and the sitting position, were both uncomfortable, the dashboard did have a cool feature. Depending on how economical you were driving, the dash would either light up 'blue' - if you weren't being economical - or 'green' if flowers were coming out of your exhaust pipe. I was enjoying the light display so much that for the first few miles I accelerated hard, before removing my foot from the accelerator peddle, before accelerating again just to see the dash board change colour. This wasn't at all dangerous.
Though the route I'd chosen meant that I left Osaka in the quickest direction possible, it was still pretty scary. Multi-laned roads went in every direction; and there were so many traffic lights I lost count. Thankfully the lanes rarely changed direction without ample warning therefore, without any troubles, I left the city of Osaka on it's eastern edge, heading south.
I decided to slick to the 'outside lane' along the '170' as it was the quickest overall. Within Japan, there are no 'driving lanes' and 'over taking' lanes. Basically the 'inside lane' is full of cars which will turn left 'quite soon'. The 'outside lane' is for cars which will be using the road for quite a while. Apart from the endless traffic lights, nothing else really held me up. Though the traffic was relentless, it kept moving and soon buildings gave way to small pieces of farm land. I proceeded onwards ever south.
Yesterday, Google maps had said that it should take two and a half hours to get to Koya-san from Osaka however, here I was an hour later and Koya-san had just popped up onto the top corner of my satellite navigation screen. I was starting to rejoice; maybe it wouldn't take anywhere near as long as I thought it would to get to the places I wanted to see today, I thought to myself. I had of course, rejoiced too soon. In between me and Koya-san lay the windiest mountain road you've ever driven up. My speed was reduced to a stand still and, because of the amount of clouds in the sky - plus possible death at every corner - sightseeing wasn't that great either. It took another hour and ten minutes to park within a free car park in the heart of Koya-san.
There has been a monastery on this site since the ninth century and now, hundreds of Buddhist sites fill these mountain tops. It is said that a monk named Kukai – known after his death as Kobo Daishi – got tired of urban life as he found it almost impossible to meditate and reach enlightenment. He therefore threw his vajra – religious implement – and, wherever it landed, would be the site for his new temple complex. Apparently it landed in a tree here. Kukai looked at this site; it was a plateau, with five mountain peaks forming a protective bowl – the five peaks would later represent the five leaves of a lotus flower – and everything was good.
Wanting to get the most of my car – and having had enough of temples – I quickly walked around the site as fast as I could, taking photos wherever possible. The sky was filled with clouds therefore, I knew that photos with the sky in them would look pretty bad. I therefore decided to work on my 'close-up' photography skills. Now that everyone was back at work, their were only a handful of people around. Being halfway up a mountain, it was pretty cold which added to the tranquillity of the place. Within one of the temples, prayers were being said and, I had to admit that the whole place had a strong feeling of peace. Once I'd photographed the main sites, I walked up to the main gate to take a photo before heading back to my car. I then drove to two UNESCO world heritage sites; one of which was located at the most northern end of the town, and the other at the most southern end. Having not paid for anything so far, I paid £1.00 to enter a UNESCO heritage site which contained the burial chambers of the Tokugawa clan. After that was done – and still being pushed for time – I proceeded down to the areas huge cemetery where, sadly, I had to pay for parking. This huge area houses over 200,000 stone stupas, spread within an ancient cedar forest. Though it was a cemetery, I still look quite a few photos as there were quite a lot of interesting bits (though I did feel bad). The first interesting thing was that, at the end of the cemetery was the burial chamber of Kukai himself. Before reaching his grave, a sign asked people of all faiths to be respectful of the area. I mean; this is like the father figure for Buddhism within Japan. I therefore put my camera away and took off my hat. His mausoleum was extremely interesting because the roof has ten thousand paper lanterns burning brightly. It is said that Kukai is not actually dead; he has entered 'eternal meditation' and is waiting to return as Miroku – the future Buddha – when he will help lead the faithful to salvation. It is for that reason that a lot of companies have bought land close to Kukai's mausoleum so that their high ranking employees can be laid to rest here. On my way through the giant cedar trees, I saw a grave site purchased by Panasonic. Interestingly, at the front of most companies mausoleums is a small post box. This is for current employees who, whilst visiting the graves, are able to post their business card and address it to a fallen colleague, asking for help with a tricky business decision.
Though I had raced around the whole site - and had only paid to enter one thing – I had still spent three hours in Koya-san; one hour more than I wanted to. I had planned to head to the sea next however, with an hour less of time, I wasn't sure if I could make it. The sea was kind of on my way back to Osaka plus, to get there I had to follow, what looked like, a beautiful road which wound its way along a valley. My road map made this road look so appealing that I decided to follow it and, when I reach 2:30pm, I will just cut my looses and head back to Osaka.
The road did not disappoint. Luckily for me, there were two roads heading in the same direction away from Koya-san; this one and another. Of the two, this one was the slower road therefore, I pretty much had it all to myself. There were far fewer sharp corners than the road I had taken to get to Koya-san, and a lot more straight bits. This allowed me to appreciate the scenery. The floor of the valley was covered in dried rice fields, with small farm houses dotted around. The river raced me all the way to the sea. The sides of the mountains were so sharp, I wondered how all of the trees stayed upright. This is what I wanted to do on one of my 'car hire days'; I wanted to get lost within the mountains of Japan.
Once the valley opened out, urban settlements came into view. It was then that I wondered why I had ever wanted to go to the sea; it would just be an urban site. The time also helped me decide to abandon my plans for a drive along the coast; once out of the mountains I actually back-tracked a little, and hugged the edges of the mountains before I found myself on the road I'd used to get to Koya-san. I followed it back, ever wishing that I could replace these endless traffic lights – and countless cars – with the corners of that superb valley road.
As I approached the suburbs of Osaka, the clouds darkened and spots of rain fell. I thought it was fitting that it should rain on the first, and last days of my holiday. I had been blessed with such wonderful weather that I could not begrudge a small sprinkling of rain on my final day. Even so, I got lucky again and, by the time I gave my car back, the rain had stopped. The time was 5:30pm and, having not had lunch I was very hungry. Having seen a sign for a restaurant I decided to walk in the direction the sign was telling me however, I never did find the restaurant. What I did find was a 'Jolly Pasta'; a restaurant which I haven't tried before. I went in an ordered a superb pasta dish with many different cheeses, potato and a lovely meat sauce. It also came with a nice salad. Being my last full day I decided to 'push the boat out' and order a chocolate cake which I'd had my eye on ever since I read the menu. Once finished I paid the bill and waddled to the nearest underground station.
Once back at my hotel, I inquired as to how long it should take me to get to the airport tomorrow. After a few minutes a lady came back with three possible routes, all suggesting that a little over an hour was needed. I would therefore need to visit the three museums I have planned for tomorrow by 3:30pm; this should give me ample time to get my 6:40pm flight back to Sendai. As the lady was explaining one of the three routes, I noticed that it was quite close to one of the museums I want to visit. I may take my bags with me and find a locker, before visiting said museum. So there you have it; I now find myself in my room on my final night. Can someone please explain where the last two weeks have gone? Tomorrow's blog will be written from the frozen north of Japan; which is where my shoebox of an apartment is located. When, now that’s another question. As I arrive home late tomorrow, my blog may not be written until Thursday.
Though Kansai has been busy beyond belief, I have still thoroughly enjoyed my holiday. I have managed to fit in so much within a short space of time. Once home I need to plan another trip soon so that I don't just reminisce all of the time.