On the train From Namba, Osaka to Gokurakubashi, Wakayama
View from the cablecar from Gokurakubashi up the mountain to Koyasan
Details from the temples
The ancient cedar wood forest & Okunoin temple graveyard
Mount Kōya (sometimes refer to as Koyasan) makes a perfect day trip from Osaka taking around 1 1/2 hours – 2 hours depending on your connections and if you get the limited express or express train. I used the Koyasan World Heritage Ticket which covered the round trip from Namba station in Osaka to Gokurakubashi on an express train, then the cable car from Gokurabubashi up to Koyasan and then finally unlimited bus travel on Mt. Koya. The pass is both good value and convenient, it is nice to not have to worry about buying the correct individual tickets.
The UNESCO world heritage site was first settled in 819 and is primarily known as the headquarters of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. The original monastery has grown into the mountain town of Koya with a university and 120 temples, some of which offer lodgings to tourist so you can experience authentic buddhist temple life. I’ve been told by locals the mountain is very important to the Japanese people and that most wish to the visit the mountain at least once in their lifetime.
Mt. Koya is one of my favourite memories of time spent in Japan. Enjoying my short time there so much that I use the word ‘only’ before saying I’ve been twice as it is somewhere I could visit countless more times. The mountain town is breathtaking and you feel privileged to watch the monks go about their day. I intend my third visit to include spending the night in a buddhist temple which has be so far prevented from both my previous visits being only in winter months (I don’t think I’m cut out for a temple stay in -2 degrees).
Having visited Koyasan in the middle of winter when it is low tourist season allowed us to feel like we were the only visitors to this beautiful and sacred mountain. In particular the last time I visited it was almost devoid of tourist and I don’t remember seeing another tourist once we left the bus stop in the middle of town. I’ve been told the mountain gets quite busy in the warmer months on the weekends which is something to consider, perhaps visiting when it was so quiet allowed for a more intimate experience. Although if you do visit in winter remember to take appropriate clothing and footwear, both time I have visited Mt. Koya has had large snowfall.
My most remarkable experience on Mt. Koya is walking alone through the ancient cedar forest which covers the two kilometer cobblestone pathway to the Okunoin mausoleum. Along the pathway is over 200,000 gravestones and monuments dedicated to historic figures, children, war heroes, business leaders, and even pets.