Day 12 in Japan: Trains, trains, trains, Matsumoto

6:30am still half asleep, we dragged ourselves out of bed to observe the morning prayers of the monks at Shojoshin-in. That is all of us, except for one Viola, who was more than happy to abide by the “optional” clause and stay put in the warmth of her futon. Close to an hour of melodic chants, dongs, clangs, and we were back in the dining hall for another assortment of vegetarian dishes for breakfast. Today was the longest travel day on the entire trip. Train, after train, after train. 6.5 hours of trains in total to be exact, to get ourselves off of Mt. Koya and to our next destination of Matsumoto.

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“You live in Canada?! And you go to Matsumoto! To see mountains?! Bahahaha” Apparently an older Japanese couple talking with Andrew were in stitches over our next destination choice.

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This pretty much sums up our day. And yes, he slept like this for close to an hour!

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What better way to perk up a bit than a cappuccino in Osaka during a “layover” before catching the next train onwards. Did I mention that we also had our first McDonalds of the trip? Oops, I’ve said too much!

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Arriving in Matsumoto!

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Our AirBnB for the next 2 nights in a quiet residential area of town.

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By far the highlight of the day, and arguably one of the top highlights of our trip, was when we stumbled across The Source Diner for dinner and pulled up a seat at the kitchen bar. Chef and owner Makoto treated us to an amazing assortment of dishes as he prepared and cooked everything in front of us, sharing stories and laughs about his career (learning to cook on the job in NYC), life and culture in Japan versus NYC, and a bit of everything else in between.

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Day 11 in Japan: Koyasan temple stay

A 1.5 hour train ride through forests, hillsides, isolated villages and towns, a steep funicular ride up the final ascent of Mount Koya followed by a short bus ride, and we were out of the big city of Osaka and had arrived at one of the most sacred Buddhist sanctuaries in Japan: Koyasan.

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The highlight of visiting Koyasan is being able to spend a night in one of the 50+ temples that offer accommodations. Ours was the beautifully landscaped Shojoshin-in.

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Making our way to the simple yet breathtaking 3rd floor rooms, tripping all over our polished, slippery and ridiculously loose indoor slippers, at one point watching as they rolled down the stairs, we had to laugh as even the most traditional, old Buddhist temple had a touch of modern Japanese technology: a mini luggage elevator.

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Warding off full blown hangry after missing lunch by about 3 hours, the Pyes opted for a warm, hearty donburi style meal in town (and as Andrew tells me with miso soup, just what we needed), while we succumbed to the far more sophisticated cuisine of prepackaged cold noodle salads from the convenience store. Sarcasm? I don’t even know the meaning!

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A late afternoon of exploring the many temples, pagodas and torii gates of Koyasan and it was time for dinner back at Shojoshin-in. With Yukatas strapped on, we left our slippers of doom behind and made our way down to the dining hall. There we were presented with an assortment of colourful dishes full of vegetarian delights prepared by the cooking practice of Japanese Buddhist monks known as shojin ryori.

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Buddhist temple or Jedi training academy? Either way, the grounds here at our temple stay were amazing.

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A late, dark, eerie walk through the 2km cemetery path, past over 200,000 tombstones, towards Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum (founder of Koyasan and the Shingon sect of Buddhism that is said to be inside in a state of eternal meditation since year 835), with shrieking animal noises that had Viola and myself running at one moment to catch back up to Andrew and Sarah, a spider as big as my palm back in our room as we changed for bed prompting a 911 emergency text to Andrew to come save us, a thunderous hammer from the heal of his leather Wolverine boot sending multiple fragments of body and leg across our tatami mat floors disturbing the complete silence throughout the temple, yeah, no wonder I was afraid to fall asleep!