I had no idea what Golden Week was until two months ago. It is called Golden Week because three Japanese public holidays fall in the week and it is common for most people to have the whole week off and this was my case. Being a national holiday it mean that it would be a busy time to travel.
I decided that I would try and get away and take lots of day trips. I had been told that Koya San was a really nice and relaxing place. The area is well known for being the spiritual hub in the Kansai area because there are many temples and lots of monks reside in the area.
I booked to stay in a temple under the conditions that I would attend morning prayers. The temple was within walking distance to many of the temples that I wanted to visit. The temple also served Shojin Ryoi which is a traditional Buddhist vegan meal and provided me with a yukata (a casual summer kimono which can be used as pyjamas). In true Japanese style it was beautifully presented and was very delicious. Koya San is known for it’s sesame tofu. It was very rich and creamy for me so it was the only thing I didn’t finish.
The temple had an onsen style bathing area which I tried and I was lucky because I had the whole bathing area to myself. It also enabled me to practise the ‘rules of washing’ prior to entering the ‘bath’ without the eyes of others.
Waking up for 6am prayers wasn’t too bad but watching the monks pray felt really magical. Their prayer space was beautifully lit with candles and light fixtures creating a zen like atmosphere. Of course I had no idea what they were saying when chanting but watching them chant was entrancing. They would chant in one long continuous breath rarely taking pauses before drawing another large breath to continue.
One thing that took me by surprise (and also highlighted my ignorance) was that these monks wore black robes. I had been under the impression that monks wore orange but the majority of monks I saw in Koya wore black robes.
I visited a famous forest cemetery called in Okunoin, it took me about three hours to walk around it and I still didn’t cover all the ground. Within this cemetery thousands of people have been buried. I learnt that most people are cremated in Japan and their ashes are buried in a grave.
I visited the cemetery after the morning prayers and breakfast so it was eerily quiet when I arrived. I was a little apprehensive at first because of the sheer vastness of the place but I soon became accustomed to the surroundings. I noticed that throughout the cemetery there were lots of statues of ‘Ojizo – San’ a popular Japanese diety dressed in a red cloth. I enjoyed wandering through the cemetery and it dawned on me that this is now the fourth cemetery that I have explored in a different country.
After my time in Koya San I was told about an annual Golden Week Jazz Street festival in Takatsuki (Osaka). I went with friends and it was good fun, we saw a couple of bands play in a bar, watched another band in the train station and then ended the night doing karaoke. It was lots of fun and it was good to watch live music as it’s something I quite enjoy.
I also went to the Kobe Coffee Festival which was held at the harbour on such a beautiful day. There were around 30 different stalls and your entry ticket included three samples. I’m known to be quite a fussy coffee drinker because I like a dark roast bean with maximum strength and flavour. Unfortunately none of the coffees I sampled had the taste I was after but it was still a really cool event.
I ended my Golden Week by attending a Cinco de Mayo party in a club in Kobe which was lots of fun. My friends and I hadn’t planned on it being a big night but it turned out to be arriving home just after 4am!. I danced lots, taught the bartender to make an espresso martini and had most importantly of all had lots of fun. It was the perfect end to my week!