It was by some strange coincidence that I booked my ticket to Japan not realising that, as a student of Reiki, I would have the chance to visit its birthplace on Mount Kurama. My Reiki handbook gave a detailed outline of what to expect, but no pictures or words can really substitute for experiencing first hand the energy of this place.
I managed to convince my traveling partner that we should take an excursion to Mount Kurama as part of our stay in Kyoto, hoping that he would not somehow be bored by this Reiki pilgrimage of mine. We hopped on the two-carriage train bound North from Kyoto and arrived half an hour later at the foot of the wooded mountain. On exiting the station, we are greeted by the huge red nose of Tengu, the mountain spirit, who looks like an angry version of Pinocchio.
Upon entering the temple grounds the first step is always to cleanse ones hands and mouth at the spring, guarded by a small dragon which represents the water ‘kami’ or spirit. There are many springs along the way, so if you miss this one, the next one wont be too far away. Mt Kurama manages to blend Buddhism and the indigenous and ancient Shinto belief, only found in Japan, which is the worship of anything sacred, whether a waterfall, a tree, a mountain or a deity, depending on what is being prayed for.
Huge stone steps and a zig zag path lead you up very steep slopes. Along the first set of stairs, a familiar orange butterfly flutters around as if to beckon us upwards. We pass a set of ‘baby’ Buddha statues wearing bibs, which is said to represent the souls of unborn and stillborn babies. A little further up, we walk under a wooden ‘tori’, which is like a square archway – this is a Shinto gateway which marks the passage from the everyday world into the sacred and acts as another purifier, protecting the area from evil influence. Beyond this is a huge 800 year old cedar tree, stretching up to the heavens with a thick rope tied around its trunk – decorated with zig-zag folded white paper called ‘shide’, again a Shinto tradition.
We see very few Westerners here, but quite a few Japanese visitors. We continue up the cool shady path and pass a very modern looking sculpture, which looks so out of place on this ancient mountain. The sculpture looks like a very steep pointed mountain, encircled by 3 solid metal rings – which represent ‘Sonten’ the trinity of Love, Light and Power and the source of all creation.
Continuing upwards, we come across a small unassuming building. We draw open the sliding door entrance and incense smoke wafts out… our eyes meet with a huge, octagonal golden (brass?) chandelier, and sat behind the altar, an equally huge tranquil Amida Buddha. This is the smallest temple I have seen so far, but definitely the most beautiful. The temple is empty, except for an old Japanese lady sitting on the tatami floor mat spinning a prayer wheel. We kneel in a similar fashion and silently absorb the beauty and serenity of this place. For a while, I say my internal prayers and am thankful to have found such a perfect place in which to say them. In the corner of my eye I see a spot of green on one of the dark wooden columns. Its a Praying Mantis (Kamakiri in Japanese), which is having difficulty climbing the smooth wood and keeps slipping back down to the floor. We decide that she probably would rather be climbing a rough tree trunk and take her outside into the sunshine. But she turns her tiny triangular shaped head towards us, and away from the tree, refusing to take a step onto the branch. I follow the direction of her head back to the temple and as soon as she is within reach of the wood, she hops straight back onto the temple without hesitation. We clearly have no idea of the needs of a Praying Mantis. There are so many gorgeous little insects here, including dragon flies, centipedes and iridescent beetles which glitter like jewels.
A few more stone steps upwards and we reach a large courtyard with a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains. On the floor, in front of the main hall, there is a geometric pattern made up of many triangles set in stone, with a triangle at its centre. This is said to be a place where you can stand and receive the energy of the universe. I notice one Japanese lady standing on the spot with palms facing upwards, receiving the energy, whilst most people don’t seem to notice the pattern (or her) at all. I take a moment to stand on the ‘power spot’ with my eyes closed, once again thankful for the privilege of being able to visit this special place. Upon opening my eyes, I can sense the magic of my surroundings. Waiting at the edge of the viewpoint, my friend is watching some sort of Eagle circling in the sunshine, diving for its prey. Others are sitting round eating Onigiri (triangular parcels of rice) but we have forgotten to bring lunch, and this place would have been the perfect place to eat it, but the stunning view and energy here are more than enough to fill us up.
We continue again up the path, through more shady trees, with thick tangled roots snaking down into the hard ground. The sunlight filters playfully through the myriad of tree trunks and the whole place begins to take on an eerie feeling. The towering trees make me feel small. We come across another small temple, like a hut in the woods where an ancient tree is encased in fencing – this is called Okunoin Mao-Den (the temple where Mao-son, the spirit of the earth, descended 6 million years ago from Venus with the mission of the salvation of mankind). This tree ‘kami’ is said to be the incarnation of Mao-son and is also said to be the spot where Usui Sensei (founder of Reiki) came to meditate for 21 days and receive answers, with the possibility of enlightenment. What he received was a healing ability in the form of Reiki, enabling him to heal himself and others.
There is also a wonderful outdoor onsen (natural hot spring) here which we were stupid enough not to visit… I’ve seen pictures and it looks super, with a lovely view of the surrounding mountains. We also just missed out on the Kurama Fire Festival on 22 October, which is supposed to be pretty epic. I guess I may have to come back at some point to experience this all again!