Image of: Stone lanterns and torii gates of Mount Koya temple

Visit Koyasan Temple – The City of the Dead

This post was last updated on June 9th, 2020 at 07:34 pm


Damage and restorations

Since September 20, 2018, trains have been running to Koyasan again after the typhoon damaged it in early September. Although the trains and the cable car are active again, there is damage.

Also, keep in mind that the carts of the cable car are planned to be replaced this winter. As a result, the cable car will be out of service from November 26, 2018 to the end of February 2019. Replacement buses will be running during this time.

 

Koyasan or Koya-san is a mountain south of Osaka. The mountain is 995 meters high and houses one of the most important sights of Japan; the Koya-san monastery complex. The Koya-san monastery complex is the “headquarters” of Shingon Buddhism, an important stream within Japanese Buddhism. In addition to the Koya-san monastery complex, there are another 120 temples that are worth visiting!

 

Koya-san Temple, the City of the Dead

The Koya-san temple was founded in 816 by the monk Kobo Daishi. He was also the founder of the Shingo cult. When he died in 835, he was buried in the grounds of the Koya-san temple.

 

This created a large cemetery which is also called “The Koya-san’s City of the Dead“.

 

Koyasan is also one of the best places to experience an overnight stay in a temple accommodation (Shukubo). You will get a taste of the lifestyle of a monk, the vegetarian kitchen, and you can attend the Morning Prayer.

 

There are about fifty temples that offer this service to both pilgrims and visitors.

 

TIP – You can buy a joint ticket for 2,000 Yen ($18.25) to visit the entire complex.

 

Image of: Koyasan forest in the fall
Koyasan forest looks really beautiful in the autumn

 

Spend the Night in a Temple Near Koyasan

In addition to culture in the sense of 120 temples, you will find beautiful nature on Koyasan Mountain. The biggest reason that Koyasan is so popular, however, is mainly because it is possible to spend the night in 53 of the 120 temples. This allows visitors to catch a glimpse of the special and tradition-filled Japanese religious life.

 

If you are going to spend the night here, you must be an early bird. The monks who live here expect that you participate in the morning meditation or the Morning Prayer. An absolute must that no doubt leaves a unique impression on you!

 

What does it cost?

An overnight stay costs between 9,000 and 10,000 yen ($82 – $91) per person per night including breakfast and dinner. Most temples only accept cash so make sure you bring enough cash with you.

 

Temples often offer traditional Japanese rooms with tatami floors, sliding doors (fusuma) and toilets and sinks. Bedding is included in the form of futons so you can lie on the tatami floor at night.

 

TIP – An overnight stay costs between 9,000 and 10,000 yen ($82 – $91).

 

Image of: Road to Danjo Garan Temple in Mt. Koya in Wakayama
The Road to the Danjo Garan Temple in Mt. Koya

 

What to do at Koyasan?

After you have participated in the morning meditation or the Morning Prayer you can sit down with a vegetarian breakfast and then marvel at the beautiful surroundings. The temple(s) are in the middle of a breathtaking forest.

 

A visit to the temple(s), the overnight stay and the beautiful surroundings make Koyasan one of the most beautiful places in Japan.

 

How to Make a Reservation

Making a reservation is often fairly easy. We recommend booking in advance for the high season and avoiding the weekend. These are quite busy periods and there is a good chance that many temples will be full.

 

TIP – Reservations can be made at Japanese Guest Houses or Japanican.

 

The Most Beautiful Temples of Koyasan

At Koyasan there is more to do than sleep. The area is perfect for a nice walk, but ultimately it is all about the temples that you find here. And there are quite a few. Here are some of the most beautiful temples in Koyasan.

 

1. The Okunoin temple

Okunoin is the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi (also known as Kukai), the founder of Shingon Buddhism and one of the most respected persons in the religious history of Japan.

 

It is believed that Kobo Daishi did not die but is in eternal meditation while waiting for Miroku Nyorai (Maitreya), the Buddha of the future. Okunoin is one of the most sacred places in Japan and a popular place of pilgrimage.

 

TIP – The temple is open from 6:00 am to 5:30 pm and admission is free.

 

Image of: Tombstones covered in moss at the Okunoin cemetery
Tombstones covered in moss at the Okunoin cemetery

 

2. Kongobuji temple

This temple was built in 1593 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi to commemorate the death of his mother. It was later merged with a nearby temple and reorganized into the main temple of Shingon Buddhism.

 

Kongobuji is in the center of Koyasan and is one of the most beautiful temples here.

 

TIP – The temple is open from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm and admission is 500 yen ($4.55).

 

3. The Garan temple

According to legend, Kobo Daishi threw his sankosho out of China. Once back in Japan, he looked for a place to establish his new religion and found his sankosho in the branches of a pine tree on Koyasan.

 

Here he decided to build his new temple. This became the central temple complex of the Garan temple. The pine is still there.

 

TIP – The temple is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and admission is free.

 

Image: Pathway to Koyasan temples
Even just walking towards the Koyasan temples is already a great experience

 

The Most Beautiful Hikes in Koyasan

Koyasan is a popular pilgrimage destination and the entire area is linked by a network of pilgrim routes. While most visitors visit the mountain by cable car, there are also pilgrim routes to the top of the mountain. Here are some of the best routes to take!

 

1. The Koyasan Choishi Michi route

The original Koyasan route is the Koyasan Choishi Michi route, which starts at the Kudoyama Station on the Nankai Koya line. The path is marked by stone signposts (choishi) that stand along the path every few hundred meters so that pilgrims can find their way.

 

The markings are numbered (in kanji) in descending order with number one in Koyasan, so try to pay attention!

 

TIP – The entire Choishi Michi track takes about 24 kilometers and takes seven hours to walk.

 

Image of: Beautiful view of the Koyasan mountains in the fall
Beautiful view of the Koyasan mountains in the fall

 

2. The Fudozaka Trail

If you don’t have 7 hours, the Fudozaka Trail is a better option. The Fudozaka Trail goes to Koyasan from Gokurakubashi Station, the largest station on the Koyasan cable car. The steep, paved path is 2.5 kilometers long and takes about an hour to walk.

 

3. The Kohechi Trail

If you have a lot of time and really want to have a big challenge you can walk the Kohechi Trail. A challenging pilgrim route and part of the Kumano Kodo network, which connects Koyasan with the sacred shrines of Kumano. Keep in mind that it is a long and remote mountainous route!

 

TIP – This hike takes a week and having a guide is not a luxury.

 

Image: Taking the cablecar to Koyasan
Taking the cable car to Koyasan, a great experience!

 

How to Get to Koyasan

You can visit Koyasan by booking a day trip from Nara, Kyoto or Osaka. However, we recommend that you choose an overnight stay in one of the temples. This is a great and unique experience and it also saves you a lot of travel.

There are two options to get to this temple; travel via Osaka or directly from Nara to Koyasan.

 

Directly from Nara to Koyasan

This is the slowest option. You take a JR train from JR Nara Station on the Wakayama line towards Hashimoto Station (2 hours minutes, 1140 yen). Some go direct and some make stops. At Hashimoto Station, you transfer to the Nankai Railways towards Gokurakubashi (45 minutes, 440 yen).

 

At Gokurakubashi you have to go to the cable car that takes you to Koyasan. There you take a bus to the city center.

 

TIP – The JR Pass is valid between Nara and Hashimoto. After that, you have to pay the rest yourself.

 

To Koyasan Via Osaka

This is the fastest way to travel to Koyasan (via Osaka). From Nara, you step on the Kintetsu Nara line towards Namba Station (40 minutes by express train, 560 yen) or the JR Yamatoji line towards Shin-Imamiya Station (35 minutes, 560 yen).

 

At Namba or Shin-Imamiya Station you change to the Nankai Koya line towards Gokurakubashi Station. Fast trains go directly to Gokurakubashi (80 minutes, 1650 yen) and otherwise an express train (100 minutes, 870 yen).

 

From Gokurakubashi you get on the cable car and bus again to get to Koyasan.

 

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