Visiting Koya-san

visiting koyasan

A delayed post about our trip to Koyasan, Wakayama with our friends. It’s pretty heavy on pictures, which we hope makes up for it.

Even before we had arrived in Japan, we had organised to meet up with Megumis friends, and take a trip to Koyasan / Mount Kōya ( 高野山 ). Koyasan is located at the north end of Wakayama prefecture. It takes around 2 ½ hours to get there from Namba station in Osaka, on the Nakai-Koya line. The ticket to Koyasan includes the funicular (it’s not a cable car!) ride from Gokurakubashi station to Koyasan station. At Koyasan station we picked up day passes for the bus that runs from the station to and around all of Koyasan. They cost ¥830 and come with a lot of coupons for the local shops.

Koyasan is a huge temple settlement which was established by the Japanese munk Kōbō-Daishi (Kūkai) in 819. After we had lunch at one of the local cafes, we started our walk towards the KoboDaishi Gobyo Mausoleum.

the path to the kobodaishi gobyo mausoleum

The path (Sando) to the mausoleum goes through a cedar forest with trees that are well over 100 years old. More than 200,000 tombs can be seen scattered around the trees, making it the largest graveyard in all of Japan. Some of Japans most famous samurai are buried here, as well as people who lived in Koyasan or were affiliated with Shingon Bhuddism.


This is the tomb of a famous kabuki actor and his family. The god O-Shaka-sama watches over them.


Walking through the forest was such an interesting experience. If you’re really interested in the history of Koyasan, we recommend going as part of a guided tour. If you don’t have time for that, there’s also a self-guided audio tour available.

O-Jizo-sama is the most popular buddah in Japan. He stayed in this world to help people, especially children. That’s why you will often see these statues wearing bibs.

It is believed that if you put make-up on this O-Jizo-Sama, your make-up skills will improve.

After about an hour of walking (we took our time) we arrived at the KaboDaishi Gobyo Mausoleum. This is considered a holy place, and thus photography is not permitted.

Just past a bridge that marks the entry to the mausoleum grounds there is a sort of small pagoda. There’s a window that is just big enough to fit your arm. Inside there is a large smooth rock. It is said that if it feels heavy to lift the stone, you’re living a sinful life. If it feels light, you’re pure. Inside and around the mausoleum there’s a layer of smoke from the burning insence. It’s easy to feel that this is a special place, whether you are buddhist or not.

Once out of the mausoleum, our friend Ai took the chance to have a monk pray for her life to be rid of bad luck.

praying monk

After a short walk to the nearest bus stop, we catch a ride back into town. From there we walk over to the Kongobu-ji Head Temple. There’s more than 4000 temples of Shingon Buddhism in the world, and this is the main one. Naturally we paid the admission fee of ¥500 to have a look. It includes a rock garden, beautiful painted sliding doors and a free lecture about the history of the temple… and tea!

We took some time to rest and enjoy our cup of tea before we moved on to the last stop of our trip to Koyasan, the Danjo Garan Complex. This is the spot where Kōbō-Daishi first built a temple at Koysan.

Kōbō-Daishi was given permission to built at Koyasan by Emperor Saga in 816, the Kon-do Hall was built in 819 by Kōbō-Daishi himself. Over its 1200 year history it has been rebuilt 7 times, last in 1932.

Kon-do Hall

The main attraction of the Danjo garan Comples is the Konpon Daito Pagoda. Kōbō-Daishi had plans to built two large two-story pagodas on either side of the Kon-do Hall, of which the Konpon Daito would be 48.5m high. Because of it’s enourmous size, the Konpon Daito was only finished in 876, 40 years after Kōbō-Daishi passed away. It has since been rebuilt 5 times, last in 1937.

Konpon Daito Pagoda

Past the Kon-Do Hall there’s the  Sanno-in Shrine, Myo Shrine, Kajaku-do Hall, Juntei-do Hall and the Chu-mon Gate. Not entirely sure when they were all built. but the Chu-mon Gate was rebuilt in 2015 for the 1200th anniversary of Koyasan. It also perished during the devestating fire that ravaged Koyasan in 1843.

Going to Koyasan should definitely be on your list if you’re in the Kansai area. Whether you’re Buddhist or not, it’s a really spectacular place to visit. From the arcitecture to the history and culture. It does takes a bit of time to get there, so make sure to get an early start. We didn’t actually catch the train until around 11am at Namba station. And by the time we had finished our trip around Koyasan it was about to get dark. A few hours more would have been nice.

The gang in front of Chu-mon Gate

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