Surely if you are reading these lines it is because you are planning a stay in Koyasan. This small and remote town has been what most surprised us in our 14-day trip in Japan. Especially because you live a unique experience that you will not be able to experience anywhere else in the world. Then we tell you what we learned from Koyasan, how to get there and our experience in the Ryokan or Shukubo of the Buddhist monks.
Visit & stay in Koyasan, Japan
Koyasan or the Mt. Koya is located in the Wayakama prefecture, south of Osaka. At approximately 900 meters above sea level. So that it is quite cool, especially at night. The town is small, you can visit it perfectly on foot. There are about 3 km from north to south and 6 kilometers from east to west. Supposedly the Koyasan mountain has a topography that resembles that of an eight-petalled lotus flower.
It was in Koyasan where the great Buddhist monk Kobo Daishi Kukai established a center of Buddhist study and practice over 12 centuries ago. The desire of Kobo Daishi was that it was as far as possible from the distractions of the cities. And, in this way, focus on the practice of Buddhism. Faith in Kobo Daishi has lasted for many years, attracting Koyasan pilgrims for more than a thousand years. In addition, in 2004, Koyasan was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
How to get yo Koyasan. World Heritage Ticket
If you want to get to Koyasan with your JR Pass it will not be possible, since the train company that makes this trip does not belong to JR. The closest JR Pass city in Japan is Osaka. Here you must take the Loop Line to the Shin-Imamiya station. This way you can make the most of your JR Pass. Once at Shin-Imamiya you should go to the counter of the Nankai Electric Railway company and buy your round-trip tickets. The price of the ticket including train journey + cable car + bus from Koyasan station to the town is around € 23 per person. The trip from Osaka is around 4 hours, but the road is very beautiful and the final destination as well.
If you are planing to stay in Koyasan, make sure that the Nankai vendor books you the unlimited bus ticket within the town of Koyasan and to get to the station for 2 days. Please, when you arrive to Mt. Koya also check with the hotel the bus schedule to return to the station the next day, since there is not much bus frequency. This way you will avoid waiting 1 hour at the stop.
Stay in Koyasan. Sleep in a Shukubo or Buddhist temple
What is a Shukubo? A Shukubo is a kind of Ryokan or traditional Japanese accommodation, but with the difference that in a Shukubo you will experience Buddhist practices closely. Also, in a Shukubo you can try the vegan cuisine of the monks. Our stay in Koyasan was at the Shukubo Jokiin on half board (dinner and breakfast). There are more than 50 Shukubos in Koyasan and the truth is that the experience in the Jokiin was very good. In addition, it is located near the bus stop and the temples.
The dinner is taken to your room between 5:30 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. and at 10:00 p.m. the doors of the temple are closed. There is no nightlife in Koyasan, so it is better for you to go to bed early in order to see the morning prays. The dinner was delicious and there was plenty to eat. However, as it is served to early, at 22:30 we were hungry again and we could not leave anymore. Therefore, take something to eat to your room. There’s a Wall Mart nearby. We luckily had some food in the suitcase to “survive”.
In the same way, if you want to see how they pray in the Jokiin temple, at 6:00 in the morning you can attend their ceremony. This unique experience takes 30 minutes. Breakfast is at 7:30 in a common room with the other guests. Also quite abundant. As for the bed, you should know that it is on the floor, that is, an authentic tatami. Do not worry, it’s super comfortable. Check here all the shukubos and Koyasan places to stay.
Buddhist vegetarian cuisine (Shojin Ryori)
In the Buddhist religion, killing a conscious life is immoral, which is why they are vegetarians. The Shojin Ryori or vegetarian Buddhist cuisine has its origins in China, but the Japanese monks have adapted it over the years. According to the Buddhist teachings, the Shojin Ryori is 100% vegetarian and is based on 5 flavors, 5 types of cooking and 5 colors. That is, all your meals should include a grilled dish, a fried dish, a vinegar dish, a tofu dish and a soup dish. In the Jokiin you can taste this original kitchen, but a bit better elaborated.
Also, inside your room you will find a yukata or traditional Japanese kimono. Supposedly it is to put it to go to take a bath to its thermal waters or to be in your room as a pijama. Of course, in the public bathrooms women go on one side and men on the other. As far as you can read, there are all totally unique experiences, and probably the most memorable over the years.
The treatment in general at this Koyasan “hotel” was very good. The facilities were clean and in good condition. As for the bedrooms, they are private, but the bathroom is shared (very clean and hardly coincided with anyone). In the rooms there is good WIFI connection, heating and air conditioning. As a welcome gift you have in your room some local sweets and tea. Also, you should know the walls are made of paper. Take plugs if you have trouble sleeping anywhere and mask for light if you do not plan to get up to see the prayers.
What to see and do in Koyasan or Mt. Koya
In Koyasan you should visit the following places:
1. Visit the Okunoin cemetery (World Heritage).
Access is free and from the hotel to the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi is approximately 1 hour and a half walk each way. However, you can also use the bus service included in the Nankai ticket. The Okunoin cemetery and the sacred area extends about 2 kilometers. It is a unique place in the world, surrounded by centenary cedars and no more than 200,000 memorial tombstones.
2. Mausoleum Kobo Daishi Gobyo and Torodo (Hall of the Lanterns)
The Mausoleum is the center of Koyasan Buddhism. The environment is spectacular and difficult to express with words. As it is not allowed to take pictures, we let you discover it for yourself. Next to it is the hall of lanterns, a prayer chapel in front of the mausoleum.
3. Visit the main temples
In Koyasan there are 117 temples. Here you must visit the Danjo Garan complex and the Great Konpon Daito Pagoda. Both a few meters from the Jokiin temple. Be careful, it closes at 4:30 p.m. and you have to pay 200 yen to enter.
4ª. Daimon, sunsets and trails
Passing the Great Pagoda in the opposite direction back to the hotel, about 100 meters along the road we will arrive at Daimon, the main gate of Koyasan. From here you can see a beautiful sunset and discover the Koyasan trails. The gate itself is beautiful and remains illuminated at night. When we were on the adjoining trails, we saw caution warnings for the presence of bears!
Finally, we consider this is everything you should visit in Koyasan. If you have any questions, you can leave us a comment, we will be happy to help you. Finally, if you still do not have your travel insurance, take advantage of the 5% discount that IATI gives you for being our reader. You only have to book through the following photo.