Where to Go in Koyasan

In the early 9th century, a young man by the name of Kukai (his posthumous title: Kobo Daishi) took the lengthy voyage to China and the equally treacherous overland voyage from coastal Fujian to the glorious capital of Chang'an. Several years after he returned to Japan, with cases loaded with Buddhist texts, he was appointed the head of Todai-ji, the main temple of Nara. As Kukai's name and teachings spread, he established a retreat on Koyasan in Wakayama. Visiting the mountain and its temples today, one follows in the footsteps of the countless pilgrims and curious travelers that have made their way to the mountain over the millenia that followed.

Kongobuji Head Temple

Kongobuji Head Temple
Kongobuji Head Temple

Kongobuji Head Temple is the main temple in Koyasan, and the head temple of the Shingon Buddhist belief that Kukai propagated in Japan. This is one of the most revered sites in Japanese Buddhism and is visited by devotees and pilgrims in the tens of thousands on high holidays. Before entering, take in the temple’s surroundings, including the botanical garden, stunning in all four seasons. The dry Zen garden that runs alongside the temple is one of the finest—and possibly the largest—in the world.

Kongobuji Head Temple

Admission is to the temple is 500 yen and tours are available. Having a guide helps to illuminate the historical background of the many artifacts collected in the temple, including the sliding fusuma panels.

Danjogaran Sacred Complex

Danjogaran Sacred Complex
Danjogaran Sacred Complex

Close to Kongobuji, Danjogaran Sacred Complex is another of Koyasan’s major sites. It is dominated by the Great Stupa, painted a color somewhere between vibrant cinnabar and the Hugger Orange that graces late-1960s Camaros. The stupa design originates in India but this one recalls the Tang Dynasty pagodas of Chang’an. Inside the stupa, there are relics of Kobo Daishi, as well as his Chinese teacher.

Daishi Kyokai

Daishi Kyokai
Daishi Kyokai

Daishi Kyokai serves as the administrative center of Shingon Buddhism—a facile comparison: Shingon Buddhism’s equivalent of Vatican City. In the administration building itself, visitors can practice shakyo: an opaque sheet of paper is placed over Buddhist sutras and the text is traced. The practice is a way of earning merit, and to take the extra step, the finished work can be brought to Okunoin Cemetery to receive a blessing before it is mailed to the pilgrim.

Tokugawake Reidai

Tokugawake Reidai
Tokugawake Reidai

Tokugawake Reidai, or the Mausolea of the Tokugawas, are twin mausoleum temples built by noblemen of the Tokugawa shogunate hoping to accrue merit from their proximity to the mountain’s temples and relics. The stunning traditional architecture of the mausoleums is among the finest among the mountain’s buildings.

Nyonindo and Kosugimyojin Shrine

Nyonindo and Kosugimyojin Shrine
Nyonindo and Kosugimyojin Shrine

Nyonindo, literally “women's hall” is the last remaining women’s hall of worship, dating from a time when female pilgrims were forbidden entry to the holiest precincts of the temple mount. Not far from the Nyonindo and the Otake Jizo statue, the Kosugimyojin Shrine venerates a pious woman and her devotion to the teachings of Kobo Daishi.

Okunoin Cemetery

Okunoin Cemetery
Okunoin Cemetery

Okunoin Cemetery is the resting place of Kobo Daishi. Before crossing Gobyobashi Bridge into the cemetery, visitors are reminded that photographs are not allowed, a reminder that this is one of the most sacred of all the revered sites on Koyasan.

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
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 Daishikyokai Temple sutra copying and precept instruction
Address
Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan 347
Phone
0736562015
Hours
[Sutra] Reception Hours 8:30-15:00
[Lecture] Receive 10 minutes each Hours 1st time 9:00-and every 1 Hours and last seventh 16:00-(12:00-none)
Closed
open everyday
Fees
[Sacrifice dedication fee] 1000yen
[Lecture and enthusiasm] 500 yen offering
Parking Lot
Available
Credit Card
Not available
Introduction
Visitors to sacred Mt. Koya can engage in a variety of esoteric Shingon practices, such as copying sutras and being instructed in the precepts of Buddhism. Sutra copying can be conducted after learning how it is performed. First, participants rinse their mouths, after which they light incense and perform a ceremony before copying the Heart Sutra. Sutra copying costs 1,000 yen and may be dedicated to someone. Being instructed in the precepts requires a 500-yen entry fee. During the instruction in the sutras, visitors listen to the 10 Bodhisattva Precepts in a pitch dark temple hall. Both sutra copying and instruction in the precepts may be participated in with a same-day reservation.
Information Sources:
NAVITIME JAPAN
Facility Name
Tokugawa-ke Reidai
Address
Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan 682
Phone
0736562011
Introduction
Toshogu Shrine which enshrines Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo shogunate, and his son Tokugawa Hidetada, the second shogun. It used to be on the premises of Daitokuin, but in the Meiji period, Daitokuin merged with another temple and only this reidai was left behind. Facing the mausoleum, Ieyasu is on right side building while Hidetada is on the left. The structure was designed in hitoe hogyo-zukuri style and is 6.5 meters in both length and width, respectively, while the interior is lavishly decorated in lacquer and gold leaf.
Information Sources:
NAVITIME JAPAN
Facility Name
Nyonindo
Address
Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan 709
Phone
0736563508
Closed
open everyday
Fees
[Admission fee to worship] In the precinct
Credit Card
Not available
Introduction
This is a “sanrojo” (prayer space) near Fudozakaguchi, one of the seven gates of Mt. Koya. It used to house women who would visit the mountain to pray before 1872, when women weren’t allowed on the mountain. There used to be similar facilities at all the gates, but this is currently the only one that remains.
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

    Koyasan Okunoin

    Travel/Sightseeing
    Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan 550
  • Mt. Koya image

    Mt. Koya

    Travel/Sightseeing
    Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan
  • Kongobuji Temple image

    Kongobuji Temple

    Travel/Sightseeing
    Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan 132
  • Danjo Garan Temple image

    Danjo Garan Temple

    Travel/Sightseeing
    Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan 152
  • Tokugawa-ke Reidai image

    Tokugawa-ke Reidai

    Travel/Sightseeing
    Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan 682
  • Koyasan Daishikyokai Temple sutra copying and precept instruction image

    Koyasan Daishikyokai Temple sutra copying and precept instruction

    Travel/Sightseeing
    Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan 347
  • Nyonindo image

    Nyonindo

    Travel/Sightseeing
    Wakayama Pref. Itogunkouyachou Kouyasan 709
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