by

One of my top recommended places for those of you planning a trip to Japan, Mt. Koya (AKA Koyasan) is a must see and must go-to in my book. Whether you’re looking to get away from it all, relax, or just be amazed, Mt. Koya is pretty much the most perfect place ever. I certainly wouldn’t mind living here, despite the fact that the internet in the middle of nowhere Japan is probably only three or four times as fast as my current cable internet.

All that being said, of course one of the places I visited for TofuguTV trip was Koyasan. While it’s not weird, crazy, or a mix of the two, I couldn’t just not go here, right? Here’s a short episode all about that that trip, as well as some of the history on Koyasan itself. The Gakuranman was also along for the ride.

Mt. Koya is located in Wakayama Prefecture. Most people access it via the Osaka area. It’s a couple-hour train / cable-car / bus ride to get here, but totally worth it in my book.


View Larger Map

The first person to settle here was the monk known as Kukai (also known as Kobo Daishi). He was the founder of Shingon Buddhism and decided to make this the main headquarters for his religion. Why? Because it was in a 800m high valley amid the lotus shaped terrain of the eight mountain peaks surrounding it. There are currently 120 temples, a pagoda that represents the central point of a Mandala that both covers Koya and Japan, the head temple of Koyasan Shingon Buddhism, and Japan’s largest graveyard. Oh, and did I mention that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site? I think it’s deserving.

There are a few reasons why people come here. Maybe you’re visiting a grave. Maybe you’re just here for the scenery. Or, perhaps you’re here to stay the night in some monastery lodging. Most of you will be doing the third one (and if you’re not, I highly recommend it). You will stay in traditional Japanese-style lodging, eat incredible meals (Shojin Ryori style), and possibly even get to participate in one of the temple’s ceremonies.

koya fire ceremonyFire Ceremony, very early in the morning

koya shojin ryori food
Shojin Ryori food (best vegan food you’ll ever eat)

For me, though, it’s all about the graveyard. I’m no ghost hunter or anything, in fact it’s really the opposite. I’ve never been to a graveyard that felt so… good. Like, there’s happiness everywhere. It doesn’t feel like you’re surrounded by the remains of tens of thousands of dead people, that’s for sure.

koya grave

I think a big part is the discovery of everything, though. A lot of the graveyard is super old. Moss is growing on everything, and many of the tombstones are falling apart. That’s all part of the beauty of it, though. Things are disappearing, changing, and then getting added to again. It’s a nonstop rotation of taking and giving that makes this place so interesting. No matter how many times you go you’ll always discover something new (either because it is new or because you just didn’t notice it before… did I mention this place is huge?).

koya statue

koya statue

koya statue

koya hole

koya row

koya stitch

Don’t forget the Buddhist Deity known as Stitch too… Crazy thing is, he was there the first time I visited Koya (2005) as well as the second time (2010). I was surprised I could find him again, not to mention that he was there at all in the first place.

So, I know a lot of you have been to Koyasan before. What was your favorite part? What would you recommend that people do when they’re there? Even if you’re not into all this nature/Buddhism/graveyard stuff, at least visit the most accessible bathroom in all of Japan…

koya acccessible bathroomWhat is that man doing to that other man????

Check out the official Koya site for more information on visiting and having an awesome time.

  • http://twitter.com/sushimanster Clifford

    Haha, so why is the statues wearing hats?

  • linguarum

    Accessible bathroom picture: Isn’t it obvious? He’s giving the other man a belly button massage.

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    It looks to me like that guy is drop-kicking the other guy in the groin. Not cool, guy.

  • ジョサイア

    If you go to mt koya in japan you can clearly see the remains of extraterrestrial life, Such as this blue figure…I’m not saying it was aliens but..

  • ジョサイア

    Chinese needle therapy…In japan… :/

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    Kicking needles into people sounds a bit excessive.

  • http://twitter.com/mwoutisseth Martin Woutisseth

    Did you stop to Muryoko in temple ? I think could recognize the fire ceremony to that place. I been several times in that place in Japan and I still feel to know nothing about that place.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1037403194 Dharma Mauricio

    Of course he is giving birth to the other man’s baby! Silly you…

  • http://www.facebook.com/dennmart Dennis Martinez

    My day-trip to Koya-san was one of the most awesome days I spent in Japan. Definitely worth going there. I’m looking forward to going again, this time staying overnight.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dennmart Dennis Martinez

    Not sure if the statues at Okunoin are the same, but in other places I visited, like Zōjō-ji in Tokyo, I was told the statues are decorated with clothes (and sometime toys, if the statue is for an unborn child or someone who passed away as a child) by the family of those who have passed because they believe this provides them comfort in the after-life.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/YAMAstudios Jon Walmsley

    I’m going here in January as part of a two week trip to Japan, I’m very much looking forward to it, I’ll look out for his holiness Stich whilst I’m there! By the way, what’s the name of the cable car station? I couldn’t really make it out exaclty in the video.

  • http://twitter.com/SactoMan81 Raymond Chuang

    For those who want to know, Nankai Electric Railway has an express train that goes from its station at the Namba section of Osaka all the way to foot of Koyasan. I believe special tourist packages are available that includes the ticket on this train, the ticket on the cable car up to Koyasan and one night of overnight lodging.

    Besides Koyasan, you can also visit the temples at Yoshino, perhaps the most famous “sakura” blossom place in Japan. Yoshino can be directly accessed by a Kintetsu train from the Osaka Abenobashi Station, which is located also in the Namba section of Osaka.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Gokuraku-bashi station

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/YAMAstudios Jon Walmsley

    Thanks.

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    I went to Mt. Koya last year in November with a friend who was in Japan on a business trip. She was fascinated – and so was I!

    I’ve been to many places in Japan, but Mt. Koya (and especially the huge graveyeard) are magical!

    I highly recommend going in early November as the beautiful autumn colors are out then!

    If somebody is in Kyoto or Osaka and sad that they were too early for the autumn leaves, Mt. Koya is their best bet. It’s quite high up in the mountains, thus colder! :)

    Here’s my travel report from that time: http://zoomingjapan.com/travel/mount-koya-travel-report/

    One experience I still want to have is what you guys did and stay overnight, eat monk food!

    What I did is writing / copying sutra: shakyo (写経). Great experience!

  • http://gakuranman.com Gakuranman

    Great to finally see these shots! I look forward to watching the video later. Hard to believe it’s been two years already since we met up!

    P.S. Now operating on gakuran.com, but you can still call me venerable ;).

  • Andrea Williams

    Koya-san is a special place for me, too. I’ve been several times, stayed overnight in different places. Okunoin is amazing. I’ve spent hours wandering or just sitting quietly up in the trees.

    The last time I went to Koya-san, I was staying at the temple located closest to the Okunioin entrance. I decided to take a late night walk by lantern light. A short distance into the cemetery, I found my path blocked by a very large three-legged white dog. It just looked at me and did not yield the path. I am not superstitious but I decided that this was a bad omen if ever there was such a thing so I turned back and went to bed.

    A few of my pics: http://www.flickr.com/photos/greentea/tags/%E9%AB%98%E9%87%8E%E5%B1%B1/

  • OB1

    I would love this as I love nature! Great post and very informative!

  • http://www.tofugu.com/ Hashi

    In my mind, “Venerable Gakuranman” is your full name.

  • ジョサイア

    ITS THE WAY OF THE NINJA! :O

  • Sophie

    I took a day trip to Koyasan in November. I just about killed myself on some steps. T_T It was worth it though.

  • domo

    which temple did you stay overnight in?

  • http://www.greentea.tk/ Andrea

    Shojoshin-in – 清浄心院 – http://www.shohjohshinin.jp/