A Woman’s Place, a Woman’s Watch

A sign in the hall said, “Take valuables with you.” I would normally stash my laptop out of sight in my room but it was now my only means of communication so I stuffed it into my backpack.  It only weighed four pounds when I left for the day but it felt like it weighed 20 by the time I returned.

There is a bus that covers all of Koyasan, but I felt like walking. My destination was Nyonindo, the only surviving women’s monastery of seven that used to exist.  Since it was for women, naturally Nyonindo had to be outside the city walls.  Women were granted permission to enter Koyasan in 1872.

It was still early so the tourist buses and day trippers hadn’t arrived. Nyonindo was about a 20-minute walk from “my” monastery.  I left the shops and restaurants behind and there were only monastery walls on either side as I walked up the long roadway.  It was a beautiful morning, although already getting hot.  Massive cedars loomed over the walls, and jays called back and forth. Old men with straw brooms were sweeping pine needles into heaps.  They ignored me, which was fine.

For the first but not last time, I was glad I didn’t have a camera.  If I had, I would have been tempted to surreptitiously capture the old men with their rustic brooms.

Nyonindo was tiny.  I wouldn’t have even taken notice of it if I hadn’t been looking for it.  As usual, even in the smallest shrines, there was a guy sitting behind a counter ready to sell you a lucky charm.  He ignored me, which was great.  There was a water cooler and I gratefully partook,  then threw a coin in the donation box and walked out.

Now, supposedly there was a “nature path” that started near Nyonindo.  I wandered back and forth along the road looking for it, then used the toilet and discovered that it began behind the toilet.  Nice!  There were some dilapidated signs and maps on boards that didn’t help much, so I just plunged into the forest.  Surely I couldn’t get lost if I kept track of my turns.  But I didn’t go far, because the path was like climbing muddy stairs.  I could imagine myself slipping and tearing my ACL, and then where would I be?  Alone with no phone on a deserted path in the deep woods.

I used to love this kind of hike and am still tempted to follow the lure, sometimes.  I relish being alone in nature.  I get a little thrill out of the slight feeling of danger.  But about five years ago I slipped on a muddy path along the Mississippi and sprained my MCL.  There was nothing for it but to walk home—about a mile—which made it much worse.  I was on crutches for six weeks and couldn’t drive my car because I couldn’t engage the clutch.  So now I use common sense.

I walked back down the long hill to two tiny mausoleums built by the third Tokugawa shogun in 1643.  I paid Y200 ($2) and mounted the obligatory steep set of stone steps.  The mausoleums were ornate “on the inside,” I read, and visitors weren’t allowed inside.

The next logical attraction would have been the Daniyo Garan complex.  Built in the ninth century, it is the “second most important” area in Koyasan, after the cemetery.  I walked to it.  I walked around it.  I walked through the courtyard.  I went back outside.  I walked in again and looked around.  I just couldn’t get excited about another temple complex.  Besides, busloads of tourists were beginning to fill up the adjacent massive parking lot.

Maybe tomorrow.

I was bothered by not knowing what time it was, so I stepped into a clock shop smaller than my living room in which it appeared time had stopped.  The walls were covered with ticking clocks and the display cases full of watches.  It wasn’t dusty, but it felt dusty.  The proprietor suggested a mandala-themed watch, but I chose a $50 water resistant model.  He suggested I take the pink version, and I acquiesced.

So now I have a pink Japanese watch.

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