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.

Facility Name
Mt. Koya
Address
Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan
Introduction
Mt. Koya is sacred ground in Japanese Buddhism that was first utilized by the famed monk Kukai in the Heian period. The entirety of Mt. Koya is regarded as a single temple—the Kongobu-ji Temple—and the mountain is dotted with temples in 117 locations. A veritable mountain-top mecca 900 meters above sea level, over 30 percent of the population of people living on the mountain are priests. Of particular note is the Danjogaran, a temple first built when Kukai opened his main dojo for his esoteric Shingon teachings. The temple grounds contain 19 buildings, including the Konpon Daito tower and gorgeous main sanctuary.
Information Sources:
NAVITIME JAPAN
Facility Name
Gokurakubashi
Address
Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan
Information Sources:
NAVITIME JAPAN
Facility Name
Kongobuji Temple
Address
Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan 132
Phone
0736562011
Introduction
The head temple of the Koyasan Shingon sect of Buddhism, the temple is the nexus of worship on Mt. Koya and sacred ground dedicated to the esoteric Shingon teachings of the great priest Kukai. Religious matters relating to the entire holy mountain are conducted here. Particular points of note include the Kano and Unkoku school folding screen paintings in the temple’s great hinoki bark thatched main building, as well as the Banryutei, one of the largest rock garden’s in Japan. The rock garden represents a male and female dragon floating in a sea of white clouds (represented by white pebbles) protecting the inner temple. In autumn, the garden is illuminated, and evening visits are permitted.
Information Sources:
NAVITIME JAPAN
Facility Name
Danjo Garan Temple
Address
Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan 152
Phone
0736562011
Hours
[Galleries] 8:30-17:00 ()
Closed
open everyday
Fees
Admission feeFree (200 yen each for Kinto/Nemoto big tower)
Parking Lot
Available
Introduction
Together with the Okunoin, one of the two most sacred sites on holy Mt. Koya. It is also the first site where the famed monk Kukai began building in order to erect his main dojo for his esoteric Shingon teachings. The temple is comprised of 19 buildings, including the Konpon Daito tower, the symbol of the temple; the main temple hall, and Goeido hall. The main temple hall, located in the center of the grounds, is the central temple nave of Mt. Koya and almost all of the most important ceremonies on the mountain are conducted here. The temple’s principle object of worship is a figure of Bhaisajyaguru; this statue is a hidden image and is not displayed to the general public.
Information Sources:
NAVITIME JAPAN
Facility Name
Koyasan Okunoin
Address
Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan 550
Phone
0736562002
Information Sources:
NAVITIME JAPAN

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PLACES IN THIS ARTICLE

  • dummy image

    Gokurakubashi

    Station
    Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan
  • dummy image

    Koyasan Okunoin

    Temple (Kannon/Fudo Myoo)
    Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan 550
  • Mt. Koya image

    Mt. Koya

    Temple (Kannon/Fudo Myoo)
    Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan
  • Kongobuji Temple image

    Kongobuji Temple

    Temple (Kannon/Fudo Myoo)
    Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan 132
  • Danjo Garan Temple image

    Danjo Garan Temple

    Temple (Kannon/Fudo Myoo)
    Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan 152
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