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Koyasan Overview

  • In the early-9th century a pious Buddhist named Kukai—posthumously given the title Kobo Daishi—returned from a trip to China carrying wisdom that had passed to the temples and monasteries around the Tang Dynasty capital, Chang’an. Imperial decree granted him Koyasan, located in the mountains of Wakayama Prefecture.

    This is admittedly an oversimple comparison, placing side by side two very different traditions, but Koyasan can perhaps be thought of as being to Kobo Daishi’s Shingon Buddhism what Vatican City is to Catholicism: sacred sites of worship, relics of the holy men of the tradition, stunning architecture, and administrative offices. Its stunning setting, nestled in a high mountain valley, gives the place an otherworldly atmosphere.

    Over the millennia since its founding, Koyasan welcomed millions of pilgrims. The ancient trails that the pilgrims used still see traffic, although modern trails offer a less challenging climb. A wide variety of trails exist, some part of a network of routes that form the Kumano Kodo trails. The majority of visitors, though, choose to ride the cable car from Gokurakubashi Station. The cost is 390 yen and the trip up the mountain takes about five minutes.

    The temple complex at Koyasan is anchored by Kongobuji Head Temple. The temple’s stunning interior is partially open to visitors, including a gallery of painted fusuma panels. Running alongside the temple is among the largest Zen gardens in the world. Nearby is the Danjogaran Sacred Complex and its vermillion Great Stupa. Within the stupa are portraits of Shingon Buddhism’s distinguished patriarchs, including Kobo Daishi.

    At the white stone Gobyobashi Bridge, pilgrims perform ablutions before crossing the threshold of the most sacred sites on the mountain: Okunoin Cemetery, which contains the early remains of the great master and those that came after him.

    For those trying to wrap their head around concepts like Esoteric Buddhism, the Mandala of the Two Realms, and the Mahavairocana Sutra, the Daishi Kyokai is the best place to start. There are numerous texts in English, as well as English-speaking devotees. If one is looking to accrue some merit, there is also a staff-led program where visitors can trace Buddhist sutras.

    For those with an interest in Shingon Buddhism or the history of the religion in early Japan—or those simply looking to experience the beautiful setting of the temple or embark on one of the hikes to the mountain valley, a visit to Koyasan is a wonderful experience.

    The easiest way to reach the mountain is from Osaka, where the Nankai Electric Railway's Koya Line begins its journey at Namba Station and travels south to Gokurakubashi. From Gokurakubashi Station, visitors can take the cable car on to the temple.

    Mt. Koya
    Address
    Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan
    Phone
    Gokurakubashi
    Address
    Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan
    Phone
    Address
    和歌山県伊都郡高野町高野山152
    Phone
    0736562011
    Danjo Garan Temple
    Address
    Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan 152
    Phone
    0736562011
    Okunoin Temple
    Address
    Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan
    Phone
    0736562011
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