By Tania Ho
July 3, 2017
I just went to Osaka and Kyoto, Japan for one week in mid June with my husband, and it was my first real vacation after my honeymoon last November.
We came across a few sacred sites that I would highly recommend if you plan to travel to this area.
Below I share my journey and experience in each of these three places: Todaiji Temple in Nara, Okunoin in Mount Koya, and Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto.
Please note that below was my own unique experience in each place, and you may or may not feel the same way when you visit these places.
I do suggest visiting these places in the early morning or when there are fewer people to truly experience the magical energy without being interrupted by flock of tourists.
1. Todaiji Temple, Nara
Todaiji Temple, or called the “Great Eastern Temple” is one of the most famous temples in Nara, a city about 30 minutes away by train ride from Osaka.
In most temples, usually there is a walkway leading up to the main gate entering into the temple grounds. For Todaiji Temple, the main gate was this huge wooden gate that already set the mood and the tone of this sacred place.
After entering into the gate, I could feel the peace and serenity inside the temple grounds. It feels quite different than the touristy ambience outside the gate, with tourists feeding the deers and screaming and running around. It’s like entering into a different dimension.
Inside the temple, there was a huge Buddha bronze statue in the middle and a Bodhisattva on each side. Entering into the main temple is like entering the heart of the entire temple grounds.
The first feeling was “wow”. I could feel the sacredness of this place very strongly. Even tourist groups lowered their volume. Partly I think it was because of the majesty of the statues and the high ceiling, but it was probably also because of the energy of the temple.
My husband and I lit a candle to show our respect. Then, I spotted this wooden bench on the left side of the entrance, a bit tucked behind the crowd and a quiet space facing a Bodhisattva statue. I followed my intuition and went to sit down by the bench. Partly to take a rest (we walked a lot, seriously), partly to close my eyes to really just feel the energy in this temple.
My hands were tinkling with vibrations. I could feel that there must be a lot of grand ceremonies performed in this temple before for so many years, and the memories and vibrations of these ceremonies contributed to the purity of energy here.
I could feel that my energy was being cleansed and purified. There was a feeling of sorrow rising from the depths of my heart. I wondered what it was about. I opened my eyes before anything else would happen. I didn’t want to embarrass myself if I started to cry all of the sudden.
The Bodhisattva statue seemed to know what I was thinking. Everything was okay, I felt the message. Just trust and allow.
I mentally said thank you for the message I received in this temple. Then off we went, continuing our journey to explore other parts of Nara.
(For more information about traveling to Todaiji Temple, you can visit this website: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4100.html
2. Okunoin, Mount Koya
Visiting Okunoin at Mount Koya, was definitely the highlight of my trip this time. It is the site of the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, one of the most revered and influential Buddhist monks in Japan.
My husband and I were relieved to see that Mount Koya had much fewer tourists compared to other places we visited.
We were recommended to start at the traditional entrance entering into Okunoin’s cemetery, which was a 2km walk to the main temple.
As everything was meant to be, when we arrived at the main entrance which was called Ichinohashi Bridge, there were 2 young Japanese monks there at the same time. With my limited Japanese, I could understand that one monk was teaching and explaining the other monk what this whole place was about. So this young monk showed the other monk to bow and pay respect at the bridge before crossing it. Little did I know at that time who they were paying respect to ( they were paying respect to Kobo Daishi). So, as good tourists we were, we followed what they did and entered.
The feeling of this whole area was so different than the rest of the other places we visited at Mount Koya. There were huge cedar trees along the pathway leading all the way up to the main temple, along with over 200,000 tombstones placed here over a century ago.
Usually, I’m not really a big fan of cemetery. But this place is a totally different story. There are only a few words I can describe here – purifying, cleansing, serenity, inner peace, silence. I was in awe of the energy here.
Even my husband, who was a Buddhist and actually quite an intuitive himself, started to quietly recite Buddhist chants along the way. I was going to make a conversation and saw him doing that, so I walked on in silence which turned out to be the best way to enjoy the energy of this place.
We made it to the outside of main temple. Most people there were Japanese, so I figured we should observe what other people were doing and followed. We threw water at a row of statues called Water Covered Jizo to pay respect, and also bowed before crossing yet another bridge to enter the main temple grounds where no photos were allowed at this point (again we saw people doing that so we followed).
Up inside the main hall of the temple, there were thousands of lanterns lit inside, dedicated to loved ones who passed away. When we walked around and behind the temple, there was Kobo Daishi’s Mausoleum – the site of his eternal meditation.
There were again benches for people to sit down, and I did notice another lady shedding tears. Probably because this temple also performed memorial services.
My husband sat down by the bench and closed his eyes to meditate. So I walked to the offering area facing directly to Kobo Daishi Mausoleum and closed my eyes while standing.
After a few deep breaths, the sorrow that I previously felt deep in my heart when I was in Todaiji Temple slowly resurfaced. This time, thanks to the other woman who was brave enough to shed her tears in front of others, I allowed myself to feel this sorrow completely. Slowly, tears started to just drop down my cheeks.
I didn’t know that I was carrying this sorrow inside of me until then. It was my heart in grief, grieving for my loved ones who passed away, mainly my dad and the unborn child from my miscarriage.
I could feel this heaviness inside my heart slowly melting away, allowing my whole being to feel lighter as more tears came down. There were people who walked pass me, I didn’t care now what they thought.
My husband then came by, and asked why I was crying. For a short moment I couldn’t speak or express what I felt. All I could do, was to be thankful for this time and space, that allowed me to release what was buried deep down inside my heart.
With a much lighter heart and a sigh of relief, we departed and continued on our journey.
(For more information about traveling to Okunoin, you can visit this website: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4901.html )
3. Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto
Fushimi Inari Taisha is a famous Shinto shrine located in Kyoto, where there are thousands of red torii gates leading up to the sacred Mountain Inari. This Shinto shrine is dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice, and there are many statues of mythical white foxes around which are believed to be messengers to Inari.
As this was a very famous shrine (especially great for photos), there were tons of tourists here. Like everyone else, we loved taking photos with the thousands of torii gates. Walking past the main shrine, there was a trail leading up towards the mountain, and the higher we went up the trail and into the forest of the mountain, the fewer tourists followed.
Honestly we did not make it to the top of the mountain. It was so hot (Kyoto was about 34 degrees that day), so sunny, and I was not wearing hiking pants. When I was walking up the trail, my lower back was burning with heat. At first I thought it was because of my backpack rubbing against my back, or because of the material of the clothing, or because I put some herbal balm on my lower back the night before (my lower back was so tense and tight from all the walking).
It was a very strong burn sensation radiating from my lower back that made me very uncomfortable. I did switch to carry my backpack in the front, but it didn’t seem to help much.
We made it to the first mini shrine of the mountain trail, and according to the map it was another 30-minute walk. My husband and I were both tired from the afternoon heat, so we decided to go back down the mountain.
When we were heading back down away from the mountain, the burn sensation started to go away. The heat was completely gone when we were back down to the main entrance.
The funny feeling I got from this burn sensation was that it felt like it was coming off from my kidneys rather than my lower back. I had a feeling that perhaps the burning sensation was related to the energies of this shrine and the mountain, rather than from a physical cause.
By the way, I never felt the same burn sensation again from my lower back for the rest of the day or the trip even though I was carrying the same backpack in the same Kyoto heat.
Perhaps next time when I am better equipped, I will go all the way to the top of the mountain. I’ll probably go early in the morning as well so there will be fewer tourists.
Till today I’m not so sure what that is about. I believe that sometimes we do not need to know the answers to everything though. One thing I know about kidneys is where we store our fears. Perhaps, some of my fears were being burnt away, assisted by the energy of the shrine. Now, let’s see what unfolds in my future journey.
(For more information about traveling to this shrine, you can visit their website: http://inari.jp/en/ )
Great Massage in Kyoto: Hiyoshido
On a side note, since you know how much my husband and I both love massages, out of three massage places we visited in Japan this time, I would highly recommend this traditional massage shop I visited while in Kyoto called Hiyoshido.
We both had the “anma” session which was a full-body massage combining Shiatsu and other massage techniques. If you feel muscle tension and enjoy deeper pressure massage, I would highly recommend this. My body felt so much lighter after a 60-minute session, and I felt that their massage prices were very reasonable.
What is Conscious Traveling?
Have you read a certain passage before about traveling as a pilgrim versus traveling as a tourist? I came across this passage in the first retreat I ever joined (which was in Chiang Rai by the way).
Below is my own interpretation of the differences between traveling as a tourist versus a tourist:
Traveling as a tourist is what most of us are familiar with. We visit famous sites to take photos, learn about the history of that place , and move on to another site. We indulge in the food, in shopping, in spas, in exploring a new culture that engage and stimulate all our five senses.
Now there is nothing wrong with that. I enjoy being a tourist. I love shopping, spas, and definitely eating.
When all our five senses are awakened, and when our mind and body are fully engaged in the present moment, this is then our sixth sense can also be activated and engaged. This is what I call “conscious traveling”, or traveling as a pilgrim.
We don’t only see with our physical eyes now; conscious traveling is “seeing” or “feeling” with our inner eye and our heart.
Particularly when we visit a sacred site, take a moment to feel the energy of the place, and observe what kind of feelings, emotions or thoughts arise from deep within.
I believe that when we choose to visit a certain country or place, it’s because at this point of our spiritual journey, a part of us must resonate with the energy of this place.
Conscious traveling is not just about taking nice photos, eating nice food, or buying nice stuff anymore. It is about connecting with the energy of the surroundings. To see beyond what our physical eyes can see.
Imagine going on a retreat. Only this time, the Universe is the retreat organizer. Pay attention to the subtle signs around you, and follow your intuition.
Put away any expectations or judgments and allow the magic to unfold. Trust that everything happens for a reason, and sometimes we do not need to know the answer to everything.
Sometimes things may not happen the way we want them to be. But know that we always receive what we need.
Be grateful for all that presents in front of us.
When we are able to incorporate mindfulness into our daily lives, including traveling, this is to me, what it means to be spiritual.
Have you been to the above places before? What was your experience?
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About Tania Ho
Founder and owner of Museflower Retreat & Spa, Tania is a Hong Kong native who now makes her home at the retreat in Chiang Rai. Trained in a number of holistic therapies including Flower Essence consultation and Hado Counseling, Tania believes that healing can take place when we start making changes from within, and it starts from listening to the voice of our soul within.
Museflower Retreat & Spa provides a quiet space for city people who feel stressed out, disconnected and tired an opportunity to get away, slow down and learn to reconnect to themselves again. To receive a free 500THB credit voucher to use towards your next retreat or spa booking at Museflower, subscribe to our newsletter and claim your free gift here.