Koyasan, a holy mountain, is the centre of the Shingon Buddhism sect, japanese Esoteric Buddhism. It is where the Buddhist priest Kobo Daishi (formerly known as Kukai) founded a monastic center.
It is therefore a holy pilgrimage destination, and home to more than a hundred temples, including many offering lodging.
The town is quite spread out, with the Daimon at the west end and the Okunoin cemetery at the east end.
As the place is quite far up, it is cooler than down the mountain. It got pretty cold at night in April, and it is most certainly cooler up there in the summer months.
Okunoin Cemetery & Dobo Daishi Gobyo Mausoleum
At the eastern limit of the town lays the Okunoin cemetery, the biggest in Japan. Surrounded by several-hundred-year-old cedar trees are hundred-of-thousands tombs for people of all classes, common to military or samuraïs.
The place might be holy to the point that we spotted school groups coming to visit on a field trip.
At the end of the cemetery is Kukai’s Mausoleum, inside which two lanterns are believed to have burned without interruption for more than 1000 years. Several other rooms are open to worshippers, don’t miss the hidden lower level lantern room pictured above.
Not many pictures from the mausoleum itself, as out of respect, tourists aren’t supposed to take pictures.
We walked all accross the cemetery from the town entrance all the way to the mausoleum, and came back by bus. I’d suggest doing the same, as taking the bus all the way to the end will have you skip the cemetery, which would be a big mistake.
Danjo Garan Temple Complex
Back in the center of town is the temple complex of Danjo Garan. It is the first place where Kukai erected a temple in the area. You will see the Chumon gate, the magnificent red great stupa Konpon Daito, as well as several houses and other niceties.
Another main attraction in Koyasan is Shokubo, or temple lodging. Who wouldn’t love to sleep in a temple and live the actual monk experience?!
You’ll have guessed it, don’t get your hopes too high. The experience is very nice, but still intended to please to your comfort. Temples cater to all tastes and budgets, from ‘normal’ to luxurious. We had an onsen in our temple, the Fukuchi-in!
Most often, you’ll have to dine where you are staying, as the city restaurants close around 6pm. We were offered (for an extra charge, evidently) a beautiful kaiseki dinner in our room. Lucky for us, our room opened entirely on the inner rock garden, a great view to read your current book with a cup of local tea.
Part of the experience is to attend the early morning ceremony at the private temple. Brace yourself for a 6am wake-up call.
Booking is here:
Or, we actually booked our temple on the more than famous book**g.com. But again, we splurged on that one, Y40 000 for two people, dinner included.
Getting there & around
Koyasan is located south of Kansai, about 3 hours away by public transport from Osaka or Kyoto. To get there, take the train from Shin-Imamiya station in Osaka (the circle line will take you there from Shin-Osaka’s shinkansen station) towards Gokurakubashi. You’ll probably have to change trains in Hashimoto, no worries, you’ll just go accross the platform and the train will be waiting for you.
Once in Gokurakubashi, take the cable car, which will, again, most certainly be up and ready to greet you upon arrival. From the top station, take the bus to the city center. Many, (overwhelmingly many) people will be around to assist you. Tell them where you’re staying at, and they’ll tell you where to stop and provide you with maps, etc…
In Koyasan, three bus lines tour around the city’s main sites, will, from one end of the city to another. The place is not so big that you can walk from one end to the other, but the bus comes in handy when it’s time to come back and you don’t feel like walking anymore.
As for the transport tickets, we got a two-day pass in Shin-Imamiya, Y3400, including train and bus fares, plus different discounts.