From Mie Guidebook
Mount Kōya (高野山 kōya san) refers to a mountain in Wakayama Prefecture that houses the headquarters of Shingon Buddhism, founded in 816 by the monk Kūkai (空海), more commonly known as Kōbō Daishi (弘法大師). It is considered a major holy site within Japan and is a popular destination for pilgrims as well as regular tourists.
Mt. Kōya has been designated part of a vast World Heritage Site which also includes Mie's own Kumano Kodō.
Getting There from Mie
There are two main routes to Koya-san, depending on where you are departing from.
From Mie, you can either travel via Yamato-Takada (Nara-ken) or Osaka (Namba station). It may be faster to travel through Namba (Osaka) station than to go through Yamato-Takada, depending on which type of trains you take and where in Mie you are travelling from.
- From Ise-Nakagawa, take an Osaka bound train to Yamato-Takada using Kintetsu (takes about 1hr25mins on an express).
- At Yamato-Takada, you'll need to jump off the train and exit the Kintetsu station, and walk about 10mins to the nearby Takada JR station. The signage is pretty lousy here, so it's probably easiest to ask someone to point you in the right direction.
- Jump on a train to Hashimoto (橋本).
- When you get to Hashimoto, you need to change to the Nankai line (different part of the station)
- Board a Nankai line train bound for Gokurakubashi (極楽橋).
- When you arrive at Gokurakubashi catch the cable car to Kōyasan Station (高野山).
- Exit the station and board a bus into town. You aren't allowed to walk from the station into town (presumably due to the winding roads and volume of bus traffic), so everyone travelling via public transport, must board a bus.
- From Matsusaka, this option (using express or local) trains, will cost you about ￥2690 and take about 4 hours from Matsusaka station to Koya-san station.
- The bus ride into town will take 5-10mins, and cost ¥280~¥400, depending on which temple you stay at.
- Make your way to Namba Station (Osaka).
- At Namba Station, head to the Nankai Line terminal.
- From here you can catch a train to Gokurakubashi (極楽橋) Station, which is where you will catch the cable car to the top of the mountain. Some trains run the entire way whereas others will only run to Hashimoto (橋本) and then require you to switch. The last few stations of the route wind their way up a steep mountain path and the train goes very slow – there is an amazing view out the right-side windows along this part.
- At Gokurakubashi, catch a cable car (they hook up nicely with the arriving trains) and this will take you up to Kōyasan (高野山) Station.
- From here, buses will take you into town. Most of the buses run to Oku-no-in via the main drag through town which houses many of the temples visitors stay at.
All-in-all, allow about two hours and ¥1600 from the Nankai platform at Namba to your temple of choice
- The Namba~Gokurakubashi train route will take about 95 min and cost ¥850
- The cable car will take 6 min and cost ¥380
- The bus ride into town will take about 5 min and cost ¥280~¥400 depending on where your temple is
Getting around Town
Nankai runs buses around town, most of which run the route between the cable car station and Oku-no-in via the center of town.
Aside from the compulsory bus ride from the cable car station into town, it's not necessary to use the buses to get around town. Koya-san is a pretty compact town, and it should be easy enough for most people to get around on foot.
There is tourist information at the cable car station, as well as another office downtown. Both provide plenty of information and maps for visitors. The town is pretty well signposted in both Japanese and English.
Things to See
The many temples throughout town offer beautiful views in basically any season. Autumn is considered the most spectacular, and since Mt. Kōya is far less crowded than Kyoto it is an ideal place to take in the fall colors. The peak time is generally the first weekend of November. Winter, spring, and summer scenes are quite impressive as well – the mountain is truly blessed with gorgeous natural scenery, making it a great place to go when you want to get away from the grind and give your mind some respite.
In addition to just the scenery and temple gardens, there are a few specific places to see:
- Oku-no-in (奥の院)
- Mausoleum of Kūkai, adorned with 1000 lanterns. It is a remarkable and unique sight. Most of the buses departing from the cable car head to the entrance of to Oku-no-in, which gives you a chance to partially walk through the...
- Mt. Kōya is home to Japan's single largest grave yard. Though it stretches on for many kilometers, you can walk through part of it on your way into Oku-no-in. The graves radiate out from Kūkai's mausoleum and include many of western Japan's most famous historical figures and families. A newer section also has company-related graves and some very decorative tomb stones.
- Kongōbu-ji (金剛峯寺)
- This temple serves as the official head temple of the Shingon sect, but is partially open to tourists as well. It has the largest rock garden in western Japan. In addition, there are eight rooms which are all full of beautifully-drawn sliding doors which illustrate the eight steps Kūkai took that led him to found Koya-san. The drawings cover the many sliding doors in each room like a giant mural, painting majestic scenes of nature as well as ancient China; they are more impressive than the standard decorative sliding door. Tea and a snack are available as well. Located very near the middle of town, much closer to the cable car station than Oku-no-in. Entry: ¥500
- Kompon Daitō (根本大塔)
- Serves as the primary symbol of Koyasan, seen on the cover of basically every tourism brochure – it is much bigger in real life than it looks in pictures. According to Shingon doctrine, Mt. Kōya is at the center of a mandala made up of eight points, and it is said that the Kompon Daitō is the exact center of all eight points.
An overnight stay on Mt. Koya, referred to as shukubō (宿坊), entails sleeping in the guest quarters of one of the actual Buddhist temples within the town. Guests receive a small tatami room, monk-style dinner, monk-style breakfast, and there is generally a bath available within the temple as well. Visitors are also able to attend a Buddhist religious service in the morning (early morning, ~6:00am), and depending on the temple other services may available including special paper and ink pens for transcribing Buddhist sutras.
Other than the religious services, the experience is fairly similar to staying in an onsen hotel, except the room will be smaller, the bath won't be natural, and no meat or fish will be served with meals. Though price will vary from temple to temple, expect to pay at least ¥10000 per person.
If going on your own, you can "shop around" for a temple online but as there are so many it can be hard to really narrow them down. Here are a few personal recommendations:
- Fukuchi-in (福智院)
- This temple is beautiful in any season and is impressive on the inside – it's exactly what you are hoping for when you hear "stay overnight at a temple". Rooms are small but private, the food is very tasty, the gardens are spectacular, and it is home to the only certified natural onsen of any of the Mt. Kōya temples. It is located behind Kongobuji, near the entrance into town from the cable car, away from the town's main drag.
- Rengejō-in (蓮華定院)
- Popular temple for large JET and ex-pat group trips.
Food and Drink
Food is a big part of the Mt. Kōya experience. Drinking – not so much – you are of course going to meditate after all? Right?
Buddhist Monk Cuisine
Eating the shōjin ryōri (精進料理), vegetarian food for Buddhist monks, is one of the highlights of a visit to Mount Koya.
The many temples located within the town offer these meals to tourists; though the style is similar, each temple has its own unique recipes. Ingredients are fresh, with all temples changing their menu either every season or every month. Guests who stay overnight at a temple will receive a kaiseki-style dinner and breakfast comprised entirely of these foods, and as is the case with all kaiseki food, there will be many small plates presented in a colourful and beautiful manner. The Mt. Kōya tofu (koya-dofu), available with these meals, is typically used in the meals.
Even if you aren't vegetarian, you will likely find yourself enjoying this food for its high quality and delicious test.
Strict vegetarians should note that the food may not be 100% vegetarian. According to the websites for both temples at which I've stayed (Rengejo-in [蓮華定院] and Ekô-in [恵光院]) the meals might have fish or fish broth in them. They can make it purely vegetarian without too much hassle, but check with the temple when you make your booking, just to be safe.
- Kumano Kodō
- The famed old pilgrimage path historically stretched from Mount Kōya to Mie's own Ise Grand Shrine.
- The prefecture's capital city is nearby, with its castle, ramen, and feline station master.
- Beaches, onsen, and the world's best panda zoo outside China
- Serves as the gateway to Koyasan
|Kantō||Tokyo • Yokohama|
|Central Japan||Gifu • Kanazawa • Magome Pass • Matsumoto • Nagano • Nagoya|
|Kansai||Himeji • Kobe • Kyoto • Mie • Mount Kōya • Nara • Osaka • Wakayama|
|Western Japan||Aso • Beppu • Hiroshima • Nagasaki • Okayama • Tokushima • Tottori|
|Top • About Mie • Life in Mie • Travel Guides • Learning • Teaching • JET Arrivals • Calendar • Returners • FAQ • SAQ • Help|