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Mount Koya

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Temple roofs in Mt. KoyaTemple roofs in Mt. Koya
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Temple roofs in Mt. Koya

Mount Kōya (高野山 Kōya-san) is a mountain in Wakayama prefecture to the south of Osaka, Japan, primarily known as the headquarters of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism.

mt Travel Guide :

Mount Koya

Understand

First settled in 819 by the monk K?kai as a retreat far away from the courtly intrigues of Kyoto, Mt. Koya is located in a 800m-high valley amid the 8 peaks of the mountain. The original monastery has grown into the town of Koya, featuring a university dedicated to religious studies and over 100 temples, many of which offer lodging to pilgrims.

In 2004, UNESCO designated Mt. Koya as a World Heritage Site.

Mount Koya

Get in

Mount Koya

By train

The mountain is accessible primarily by the Nankai Electric Railway from Namba Station in Osaka, which connects to Gokurakubashi at the base of the mountain. Koya limited expresses take 80 minutes and cost ¥1610, while ordinary expresses are half price at ¥850 and take only 10 minutes longer at 90 minutes. The final half of the trip is a slow climb up into the mountains and extremely scenic in good weather.

A cable car from Gokurakubashi then whisks visitors to the top in 5 minutes for ¥360. From the cable car station you'll have to take a bus to town (5-15 minutes depending on your destination). Train, cable car and bus schedules are synchronized so this works better than it may sound.

Mount Koya

By car

If you have your own set of wheels, you can also head east towards Ise or south to Ryujin OnsenRyujin Onsen and southern Wakayama. Both roads are small and there is no public transportation, but daring souls might try hitching.

Mount Koya

By foot

Before the train and cable car connection, which was built in the early 20th century, the only way to reach Mt. Koya was via the ancient pilgrim trail called the Ch?ishi-michi' (???) which is still maintained and marked with stone pillars every ch? (about 108 meters) - these have given the trail its name. It begins in the town of Kudoyama (???), which is a stop on the train line to Mt. Koya, at the Jison temple (???). The trail is about 22km long, ascends about 700 meters (most of this in the first and last quarters) and can be walked in about 7 hours plus resting time, offering a very rewarding hiking experience.

Mount Koya

See

The mountain is home to the following famous sites:

  • To the east of town is Oku-no-In (???), the mausoleum of Kukai, lit by thousands of lanterns. According to tradition, the lights have been lit since Kukai's death over 1000 years ago.
  • The mausoleum is surrounded by an atmospheric and immense graveyard, set among giant cedar trees with winding paths throughput. Particularly interesting are the many fanciful gravestones, including giant spaceships and cups erected respectively by an astronautical and coffee company, and a monument erected by a pesticide company to commemorate all its insect victims.
  • The Garan (??) is a temple complex designed by Kukai on the western side of town. In its center is the Konpon Daitō (????) pagoda, which according to Shingon doctrine represents the central point of a mandala covering not only Mt. Koya but all of Japan.
  • Kongōbu-ji Temple (????) is the sprawling yet atmospheric headquarters of the Shingon sect, with a stone garden that outclasses many of Kyoto's best. Entry ¥500, including a rice cracker and a cup of tea.
Mount Koya

Eat

All temple lodgings on Mt. Koya offer shōjin ryori, purely vegetarian food intended for monks. People who equate vegetarian food with blandness will be surprised - in their hundreds of years of experience with vegetarian cooking, the monks have invented amazingly tasty dishes.

A local speciality is Kōya-dōfu, prepared by freeze-drying and then reconstituting tofu, which manages to be even more tasteless than the original.

For those unwilling to eat vegetarian, a number of restaurants offer regular Japanese and Chinese cuisine.

Mount Koya

Sleep

Mount Koya

Budget

  • Koyasan Youth Hostel, tel. 0736-56-2009, 1 (http://www2.ocn.ne.jp/~koyasan/indexe.html). A tiny youth hostel with only 13 beds, where you can stay for ¥3,360 per night if you have an IYHF membership card (¥1,000 surcharge otherwise).
Mount Koya

Mid-range

About half of the over 120 temples in town offer lodging for pilgrims, known as shukubō in Japanese. Prices vary between ¥7,000 and ¥10,000 per night and include two meals. You will be offered the opportunity to join in the morning prayer session, a hypnotic experience involving sutra chanting, incense and gongs. Outside the main season, you can just show up at the Koya cable car station and book from there, but generally reservations are preferred. A full list is available here (http://www.shukubo.jp/eng/05_syukubo.html), but note that not all temples are set up to handle visitors who don't speak Japanese.

  • Daienin (???), tel. 0736-56-2009, 2 (http://www.rose.sannet.ne.jp/dai-en-in/). A fairly typical temple, centrally located (walking distance to both ends of town) and run by a friendly bunch of monks.
Mount Koya

Get out

Many of the pilgrims visiting Mount Koya are on their way to start the 88 Temple Pilgrimage on the island of Shikoku.

Mount Koya

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