Two days in a VERY Haunted Monastery in Japan.
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**My photos from Enryaku-ji Temple and Monastery on Mount Hiei can be found on my Facebook page.**
I love Japan in the summer and I have traveled to Japan 2-3 times per year since 2010, to work for a company in Tokyo. They are a school and promotions company that brings authors, lecturers and speakers in from all over the western and english speaking parts of the world. I teach a course there on psychic development and mediumship and consult for clients one to one about various topics of concern from business, to love or career and communicating with their loved ones on the spirit side of life. I love living and working in Japan and have come to feel like it is quite literally a second home and am very comfortable there. Typically, I spend about 5-6 weeks there at a time which gives me a lot of opportunity to really immerse myself in the culture, which is quite different than my own in the US. I just came back from my 8th trip to Japan, and of all of them, this was by far the most memorable and profound.
Japan, from Tokyo south, is quite hot and humid in the summer months. Typically I work there in and around the months of July and February. February in contrast, in Tokyo, is quite cold and with occasional snow. Now it is summer, hot and humid and the rainy season. This summer has been busy as usual with my work schedule and for the most part I am booked solid. I work with interpreters in Japan who translate my classes and sessions for my Japanese clients. I need no translation to work with the Japanese spirits, as they communicate to me in English. This summer I decided to extend my stay an extra 5 days after I was done working, to have a vacation and explore some areas of Japan I have yet to see. Typically on my days off, I take the train to places that are easily accessible just outside of Tokyo. The train system and infrastructure in Japan is far superior to that of the US, so it is easy, fast, inexpensive and extremely efficient to get around. I have decided this trip I would like to see Kyoto and begin making plans to take a trip there after I am done working. Fortunately, one of my coworkers is from there and offers to meet me and give me a tour.
One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to visit ancient, historical places linked to past civilizations. In Japan the oldest and most historical places, are the Temples and Shrines. They are protected and cannot be demolished or developed. So, many of these places are 2000-3000 years old. Shane my coworker and his girlfriend Maki, meet me at my hotel in Kyoto and we set off by foot to explore several Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples around Kyoto. One of my favorite places is a beautiful temple on top of Mount Kurama, just outside of Kyoto, which is the origin and birthplace of Reiki. The natural energy there is amazing, peaceful, beautiful and serene. As we are walking through the woods, I comment to my friends on how beautiful the place and energy are and how much I wish that I could spend the night in one of these temples on the mountain, but that I don’t want to have to be a monk to do so. Only the monks, are allowed to stay in these sacred places and they are the ones who also do most of the maintenance and upkeep as well. As we walk, I imagine how they might be at night, magical and mystical, serene and peaceful. Maki says to me, “I can arrange for you to stay in another monastary on the next mountain if you would like that. There is a Buddhist Temple at the top of Mount Hiei, just outside of Kyoto and I can arrange for you to stay there” I am thrilled, excited and intrigued and say without hestiation…”Yes! I would love that.” The temple is Enryakuji and is more than 1200 years old with a rich history. I have told Maki before that I love haunted places, so she adds that she thinks I will love this place as it is quite haunted. I ask her if she will spend the night with me, but she declines, saying that she already stayed there once and it was too haunted for her!
The next day after hiking all day around Mount Hiei seeing another shrine, which I loved, we proceed to the cable car that will transport us to the top of Mount Hiei where the buddhist monastary Enryakuji is located. The monastary has a small hotel for visiting monks and although not well known, also accomodates other visitors as well. The monastary spans 5,000 acres and is split in to three sections. There is a road that begins at the first section and ends at the third section which is about 5 miles long. We board the cable car and we are the only three people on the car, which is the last one going up for the day. As the car carrying the three of us begins the ascent, I become aware that car is actually full of spirits. A few are connected us and are our own family members, but most are unknown to us. The spirits on the cable car are all chatting away to one another…I find this strange and begin to wonder what I may have gotten myself in to? There has been misty light rain all day, so at only 5pm it is already getting dark with the clouds and fog. As the cable car climbs slowly up the very steep tracks I look out, the fog is low and thick all over the mountain tops. The feeling and atmosphere of this place seems strange, spooky and eerie. The view and architecture of the temples remind me of the movie with Tom Cruise “The Last Samurai”. Suddenly, a wave of apprehension comes over me and I begin to have second thoughts about staying at the monastery alone. Too late now, I think to myself, I’m going through with it. The three of us depart the cable car and begin to walk up the steep mountain road towards the monastary. It is high atop the mountains of Japan, in the middle of thick dense woods, very peaceful, eerie. solemnly, beautfiul…VERY peaceful and beautiful. It is beginning to become dark. The misty rain falls lightly on my umbrella and around us. Shane and Maki walk me to the hotel and check me in. No one speaks english here and my Japanese is limited. We go up to my traditional tatami room on the 5th floor. On either side of my room, are rooms filled with monks. There are papers hanging next to each door with the names of the monks and the sects they belong too. It’s just me, a western blonde girl, and a bunch of monks. Very interesting… Once checked in, I walk my friends back down to the cable car, where we hug and say good bye. They begin their decent back down and take the train ride back to Kyoto City.
I am alone. I walk alone up the mountain road, through the woods, back toward the entrance of the monastery and hotel. I see no one along the way, it is still raining, and I pass by a few shrines on the way. The mountain is steep and I am tired from the walk. My calves burn as I arrive at the small hotel. It is close to dark the air is cool now and there is a thick fog over the mountain. It is unbelievably quiet and peaceful. I go to my room, change clothes and put on my Yukata provided by the hotel. A yukata is a light weight, cotton pajama, and a casual form of kimono. It is customary to wear these around hotels and even in public areas. I take the escalator down to the cafeteria, where my dinner is ready and waiting for me next to my name card.The meal, which is all vegetarian, is prepared by the monks with much attention to detail, presentation and beauty. It looks much better than it tastes. The monks eat along side me, just a few tables away. I am certain I am probably one of the few westerners, and likely the only blonde female, that has ever stayed here. I imagine they must find it odd that I am also there alone. Occasionally, a few young monks glance in my direction, who seem curious about my presence, and then quickly look away. The food is mostly foreign to me. The vegetables are unrecognizable, but the soup and the tea are good. I finish what I can, still hungry, and make my way towards the onsen. An onsen is a public bath where volcanic hot spring water is pumped in a bit like a bubbling jacuzzi, This one is different than usual, as it is actually heated mineral spring water from the mountains. The baths are separate and this one is located in the women’s locker room. I am the only one there, with the exception of one Japanese woman who is leaving. She asks where I am from, in broken english, smiles, nods and proceeds to leave. I take a quick shower and then sink in to the hot water…ahhh. Next to the bath, which is the size of a small rectangular swimming pool, is a wall. It stretches from ceiling to floor , wall to wall is made of glass that over looks the mountain, which is now pitch black. It is beautiful and eeire….and again, I am all alone, yet I don’t “feel” alone. I think to myself, this would make a great set for a horror movie. I feel the presence of spirits around me, although no one makes themselves visible to me. I can feel their energy around me and I can’t help but feel they are watching me for some reason? I ignore them, I soak for awhile, shower again, dress and head back to my room.
I notice as I step out of the elevator to the 5th floor, a saki and beer vending machine. One of the things I love about Japan, the saki and beer vending machines! Apparently, monks are allowed to drink! I put some coins in, retrieve a small bottle of saki and walk towards my room. Other than the monks, I have only seen two families of Japanese people and that is quite literally it. Me, two Japanese families and a lot of monks. My friends have told that this monastery has a long history and is very famous for producing some of the most respected and famous monks in Japan. Monks to this day, come from all over Japan to receive their training here. I have noticed many very young monks and with no disrespect intended, I can’t help but wonder what would make a young man decide to choose this path in life? The tendai sect is quite traditional and strict. Some monks are allowed to marry, but some take vows of celibacy and even vows of silence for sometimes many years at a time. This is the home of the famous “running monks of Hiei” which you can google and find out about on youtube. They practice a spiritual discipline here called “the way of shugendo” -The focus or goal of Shugendō is the development of spiritual experience and power. Having a background in mountain worship, Shugendō incorporated beliefs or philosophies from Old Shintoas as well as folk animism. They further developed as Taoism and esoteric Buddhism arrived in Japan. Shugendō literally means “the path of training and testing” or “the way to spiritual power through discipline.” They are known for walking or running many miles every day for 1,000 days to achieve enlightenment. I walked many of these paths during my stay.
My traditional Japanese style tatami room is comfortable, simple and clean. The bed is a futon on the floor which I am responsible for making and putting away, as that is what the monks here do. It is part of my “monk experience” as they say it. The entire back wall of my room, floor to ceiling is glass, overlooking the mountains. The view is breathtaking and serene and I feel as if I have stepped back in time.. It is now 10pm and the mountains are pitch black with the exception of one street light I can see in front of the hotel. Again, there is nothing here but the monastery. I am in the middle of nowhere Japan and alone. It is exquisite! I take some time to savor the peace and the view. The Iphone is chirping with a message which irritates me and I decide to turn it off, savoring a chance to really disconnect from the world as I know it. Before I do though, I pour a glass of saki and decide to call Lee my assistant back in the US to check in. The cell phone signal on top of the mountain is very strong. We chat a bit about what I have been doing the past few days and where I am, but the call keeps getting cut off. Frustrated, and finishing my saki, I decide to walk down the hall to the vending machine to get another. As i make my way back to the room, walking down the long semi-circular shaped hallway, I pass by the ghost of a monk. He looks right at me and nods as he walks by! I go in to my room and immediately call Lee! “You are not going to believe what I just saw” I say!! “The ghost of a monk, he nodded at me to say hi as he passed by me in the hall!!” Although I imagine most people would be scared by this, I am intirgued and excited. It’s close to midnight now, two glasses of saki after hiking all day and I am tired. I tell Lee goodnight, sit by the window awhile, then climb in to the futon and sleep.
The next morning, I awake to the alarm at 5:30am. As part of the “full monk experience” I am invited to join the monks for their morning rituals at the temple. I am not Buddhist so I have no idea what that might entail? I dress and make way to the temple to watch the monks perform their morning holy ritutals as they have done for the past 1200 years. I have been told to be there by 6:15am. I am not a morning person, so sleepily, I trek down the mountain a short way to the very old main temple. I am the first to arrive. The morning fog is thick, the mountain is quiet, tranquil and peaceful. I have no idea what the protocol is for a buddhist ceremony so I wait for others to arrive but no one does. There are signs with arrows pointing to the left, but they are in Japanese so I cannot read them. I decide to proceed, remove my shoes, open the huge wooden doors and walk in. No one is there. I sit on the floor in front of the altar and wait. There are no chairs or benches. Ten minutes go by and I hear two monks enter from the back. A Japanese family of four enters from a door to the left and sit on the floor beside me. They nod and say “ohio-gazimous” which means good morning in Japanese. I reply the same and nod. A couple also enters from the door to my left and sit on the floor beside me and nod. We wait. I look all around at the very old and ancient building, studying the architecture and design and the three altars before me all made of dark wood and gold. It is beautiful. From behind the altar and out of my sight, the monks break the silence and begin chanting. I cannot understand what they say and the smell of incense fills the air. They chant for close to twenty minutes. It’s beautiful, comforting and peaceful to listen too. I close my eyes and take in the sounds and smells. When the chanting stops, one monk comes to the front of the altar and begins to speak to us. He invites us to come closer and sit around him right next to the altars. I have no idea what he is saying, as he speaks in Japanese. I can intuitively tell he is talking about the shrine and its history. The whole ceremony lasted about 30 minutes. I bought some incense and prayer beads from another monk, nod, bow and leave. I make my way back to the hotel and eat breakfast prepared by the monks and with the monks. Although beautiful in presentation, the only thing I find edible is the soup and watermelon. I drink the tea and leave hungry again. I think to myself this would be a great place to stay for a week and lose weight!
Up early, I decide to begin to trek around the mountain and monastery and do some exploring. Armed with a a small backpack, Iphone and extra battery, I begin my ascent up the mountain on foot. Area one is where the main temple and small hotel are located, along with a half dozen more smaller shrines and temples and is called To-do. It is located at the lowest point and the second and third areas are higher, with the third area at the top. There is a small bus that takes people from the first area to the second and third, but I prefer to walk and take in the sights and enjoy my time alone in the mountains. The climb is steep but equally beautiful. The hotel provided me with a brochure and map of the monastary in english, thankfully.There are many temples and shrines along the way in each area. I take time to stop in each one. Each shrine has one or two monks who are there looking after it and selling incense, various buddhist charms and prayer beads. It may sound strange, but it reminds me a bit of the Catholic Church. The monks are often quietly chattering to one another as I approach, but usually become silent as I enter the temple. They look at me. I remove my shoes, bow at the entrance and nod to them. I toss some coins as an offering to the altar. I imagine I must be an unusual sight to them, a blonde western woman all alone. Some are polite and nod, while others ignore me completely. I take my time studying the art and architecture of each, but am unable to read the signs explaining the history in each shrine. In the first area called To-do, the energy is lighter than the others, but it still feels solemn and stangely eerie. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but this place feels very different than the other temples and shrines that I have been to in Japan. The climb up the mountain road is steep, and each temple sits atop sometimes hundreds of steps. Apparently, the ancient Japanese did not feel enlightenment or spiritual access should be easy!! With all of the climbing and many, many steps, I surmise that they must have felt if you wish to attain spiritual enlightenment and access to the gods then you will have to work for it because they do not make it easy. There are no elevators, escalators, ramps or motorized scooters here…you must climb, it’s the only way.
I visit about 6 shrines and then walk on towards the second area called Sai-to. There were a few Japanese tourists in the first area, but I see virtually no one in the second area. Again, I am alone…walking. Trying to find my way from the first area to the second, I get lost as the map the hotel provided is in english but unfortunately all the signs are in Japanese, so the map is essentially worthless! I ask my spirit guides for help and a few minutes later, I cross paths with a British man. He can tell I am lost and asks me If I need any help? We chat a bit and he walks me across a small walking bridge to the next area. I am grateful. I thank him and he makes his way up another road to his home. I think to myself how nice it must be to live here. He told me he was a teacher at a University in Kyoto. The second area Sai-to, feels much less like a tourist destination and much more like a monastery. There is no one as far as I can see but me!! I walk down a long winding staircase that ends at the entrance of first temple of the second area. I continue to be in awe of how breathtakingly beautiful, peaceful, serene and spooky this place is. I feel as though I am walking through some magical enchanted forest as Alice in Wonderland, or Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. I visit several small shrines and then find myself lost again just as I happen upon a shrine with a monk who is friendy and jovial. He speaks no english but I manage to ask him how to get to where I want to go in Japanese. He calls out to another monk, who is carrying a bundle of tree trimmings on his back. The monk waves for me to follow him and proceeds to escort me up the mountain. He is friendly and speaks to me in Japanese. I smile, nod and say in Japanese ” Im sorry I only speak a little Japanese”. He smiles, nods and we walk silently the rest of the way until he motions with his hand toward my next shrine destination. I thank him, nod and he is off on his way. I visit all the shrines in area two. I like this area, but cannot escape the feeling of a “ghost town” quite literally. It feels like an abandoned ghost town to me and I wonder why? Several of the structures are so huge. The shrines are grouped together like small towns, and most are empty. They are well maintained, but old , empty and spooky. The energy feels strange. I wonder why this place is so vast but no one is here? I imagine that maybe 1,000 years ago there must have been many monks living here for them to build so many structures. Later, when I do some research on the place I find out that there was once 3,000 monks living here with their families.
I leave the second area and head toward the third, called Yokowa. This area was my least favorite and parts of it I did not care for at all. By this point I have walked up the mountain roads about 2 or 3 miles. Again, I get lost trying to find the third area. Concerned I may miss the last bus back down the mountain and back to town, I stop at a small restaurant to get directions. No one outside of Tokyo speaks much english and my Japanese is primitive, so it is difficult to find out how far I have to walk to reach the third area. They point to a bus station nearby and I decide to be safe and take the bus to the third area. Good thing, as it turned out to be quite far. I get off the bus with a small group of Japanese seniors at the entrance to the third area. They go one way and I head the other. I begin walking and the third area feels very strange, even more so that the last two. Still I cannot put my finger on it, but it feels lonely, very solemn, and spooky…it “feels” to me like a grave yard. I visit a few shrines and then come across a graveyard. There is no one around, as far as I can see or hear. I walk inside. Although all of the monastary is well maintained, this place is overgrown, neglected and seems a bit abandoned. There is a large building to my right, which looks very old which also seems unkempt which I find odd,as everything else is so well maintained. By the looks of the building, it looks like a classroom or meeting place of sorts. The architecture looks newer than the shrines. There is a big open space in the center and to my left, standing in the entrance are three very large memorial grave stones, and then several smaller ones. There is a stone fence around the area. There are some very big and old cedar trees around them. Spooky is an understatement and we all know I don’t get spooked easy! I walk back out and around the corner to my right to a small shrine. It is the only shrine with a sign in english, which I read. It is charming looking, flanked by two beautiful orange and red trees with woods all around, but also very spooky. Surrounded by trees, with a smal circular area of grass and trees to the right, I sit down there on the step of the shrine which looks more like a small cottage. It is quiet and serene. I can feel the presence of many spirits all around me, looking at me curiously. I cannot see them, but I can feel them everywhere and I can hear them talking. The strange thing is I cannot hear what they are saying and it actually sounds like they are whispering. As I look to my left, I am drawn to a circular area of grass and my intution feels as though this area may contain a mass grave of some sort. I feel compelled to walk in to the circle, and I have no idea why? It is obvious that a long time ago this area was cleared of trees for some reason, and now is covered with regrowth, but the outline of the circle in the earth is still visible. I have a really strong sense of deja vu, as If I have been here before. This happens to me quite often in Japan, and I actually have had a few vivid memories of past lifetimes in Japan between the years of 1100-1600. This deja vu is not a nice feeling though, it feels strangely familiar and at the same time very uncomfortable. I would not say I felt scared, but just “unwelcome” and like an intruder and as if I was being watched and scrutinized. My intuition was telling me that I should leave.
So, feeling very curious but also uneasy about this area, I decided to leave. Still alone with no people in sight even as I look down the road, I walk back past the graveyard again. I can’t resist the urge to step back inside again as something (or someone) is drawing me there. I look around and take in the energy. Suddenly, I hear two male spirits speaking right next to me (in english) and one says “what is she doing here? (with a tone of disgust) I don’t know her!” Again, I get the distinct feeling that I am not wlecome there. At that moment. I decided I had seen enough. I begin to go back to the catch bus and head back to the hotel. I walked quickly through the rest of the third area and back to the entrance to catch the bus. The whole time walking through the third area, I felt the presence of spirits everywhere. Most of them felt like monks, male and had very stern, serious demeanors. Remember, this particular sect is known for being fundamental and strict, not at all like the lighter more relaxed energy of the Zen Buddhists for example. The Tendai school of Buddhism is Chinese Buddhism. Enryaku-ji, the temple complex on Mt. Hiei, became a sprawling center of power, attended not only by ascetic monks, but also by brigades of warrior monks (sōhei) who fought in the temple’s interest. It was common in the feudal era for these monks to practice self-mortification and give up all worldly desires and possessions. That energy was very apparent to me in the monks spirits and to me, felt much like I was in the middle of some sort of religious “cult” even though at the time, these practices were widely accepted as mainstream Buddhism. This was however, a hub and politically powerful place in the Middle Ages and not a whole lot different than what was going on during the same time period in the Catholic Church, for example. Again, to me it “felt” like the energy of a modern day cult, oppressive and controlling to the extreme. I really cannot stand to be in that kind of energy whether they are spirits or people, as you would know if you read my book. Religious fundamentalist and extremists are not my favorite people to be around.
Oddly, the few people, monks and staff, I encountered in area three were not friendly at all and had a completely different energy from the first two areas. I would even say they were a bit rude. I felt perhaps this area was meant for the monks and they really did not appreciate or welcome the likes of me there at all. Everywhere I walked in the monastery, especially in the third area, I could feel spirits all around me in the places I visited. The energy was much heavier than all of the temples and shrines I had visited in the previous 4 days. I couldn’t figure out why, until I decided to do some research on the train ride home. Although, I was very interested in this place and drawn to it, I cannot say I enjoyed being in all of it…and there were a few areas that I found myself feeling quite uncomfortable and wanting to leave.
As I rode the bullet train from Kyoto back to Tokyo, I googled the monastary and found out that 30,000 people had been brutally slaughtered there over the course of a few days in the feudal period of the 1500’s by a warlord. Samurai from a rival clan and sect came in and killed the 3,000 monks that were iiving there at the time, along with the families including women and children. The many other civilians who lived there at that time, were also murdered. The warlord army set the entire mountain and much of the monastery on fire. So, now I understood why the place was so haunted!!
One thing I teach in my mediumship class is that there are many “spiritual neighborhoods” on the spirit side of life, just as there are many very different cultures and neighborhoods on the planet. I always teach that it is best not to enter spiritual neighborhoods that you don’t know or understand. I have been working in Japan for a while now and have read for hundreds of Japanese people connecting them with the spirits of their families. In doing so, I have visited many of Japan’s “spiritual neighborhoods” and learned about them through the years. This however, was a new spiritual neighborhood I knew nothing about, so I decided it best not interfere or go where I was not welcome. Especially, when I don’t know enough about the rules there. After I returned home to Tokyo and then the US, I began doing a lot of research on the area, the politics, the warrior class and the martial law that ruled the land at that time. Now, having some understanding of the culture of the time and the history of the place, I am excited and look forward to returning to this place again. When I do return, I will “tune in” with a new, more informed perspective and see why I was brought there in the first place. I was definitely led there for a reason, so my next visit I will go back to find out why. Spirit has a way of leading us to the places they need us to be for our own growth and learning or to be teachers for others. I feel very compelled to return there again and a few other places as well around Kyoto. For me, these four days were a very spiritual journey. I also encountered many other spirits in the other places as well, but they were happy spirits. One such spirit that I encountered in the Temple of Mount Kurama was a famous samurai warrior named Yoshitsune Myamoto, who lived and grew up there for a time in the 1100’s. He followed us for several days and stayed with me the whole time I was in Enryaku-ji Monastary. He told me he would go with me to make sure I was safe, so I always felt safe with him around. He is also the one I asked to help me each time I got lost. This place however, was quite different and the spirits I encountered were not happy spirits at all. Most seemed solemn and some even angry. I am accustomed these types of spirits and neighborhoods in my culture but have not had much experience with them in Japan. Again, I look forward to returning!
**If you enjoyed this post, I plan to take a spiritual retreat to Japan in summer 2014 and this is one of the places that we will visit! Make sure to check out my photos of Enryakuji on Facebook. It is a beautiful, mystical, haunted place for sure!!