It is well known that Japan is full of ravishing places to discover and rediscover, many of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Do you want to visit one of them while in Japan? Are you looking for a one-day trip around Osaka? Then consider adding Mt. Koya to your list, located in the Wakayama Prefecture to the south of Osaka.
The ways to experience Mt. Koya
Mt. Koya (Kōyasan, 高野山) has one particularity that is not so common in Japan: it is the home of a few temples where you can spend the night. It is a place that serves as a refuge to purify the mind and spirit as you get an opportunity to experience the monks’ lifestyle and cuisine. You also have a chance to participate in their meditation rituals and prayers. If that is not your plan, or if you missed the opportunity to spend the night there, you can still have an enjoyable experience by exploring various points of interest on a single day visit.
Getting there & around
It will not take you more than two hours to get there from Osaka, and the journey alone is totally worth it. From Osaka, you hop on the Nankai-Koya Line, straight to Wakayama Prefecture. Arriving at the right station, a small local train will take you up the hills. If you go there during summer, you will be amazed at how the small villages eventually get replaced by the beautiful green landscapes that are present everywhere you lay your eyes on. After getting off at the last station, you continue to the cable car that will take you further up to your destination. See the end of the article for detailed access information.
The good news is you won’t have any trouble finding your way on this World Heritage site. A bus service is ready to take you around whenever you get off the cable car.
You could make a round trip by bus, but my suggestion is to take the bus to the very last stop on the opposite side of the road, to the Okunoin-mae bus stop. That’s also the closest stop to the widely known cemetery, the Okunoin (奥之院) cemetery.
The Okunoin cemetery
Maybe visiting a cemetery isn’t part of anybody’s traveling plans but trust me on this: it’s absolutely mesmerizing. Explore the vast historic cemetery while walking through the graves beautifully framed in the forest and discover the small temples and sacred rooms along the way. Walk until you reach the Kobo Daishi (弘法大師) mausoleum, where lies one of the most important religious figures of Japan. Embrace the peace while you learn the facts, legends and curiosities written on the multiple information plates you’ll find along the way.
Main road through the central temple complex
After going all the way back to Okunoin’s bus stop, it is not difficult to continue your journey on foot.
Walking almost in a straight line along the main road, on both sides you will find ryokan (traditional Japanese inns), hiking trails, shrines, mausoleums and museums that you can easily enter. Mt. Koya’s central temple complex, Danjo Garan (壇上伽藍), is emblematic, and it is believed to be one of the roots of Buddhism in Japan.
According to the legend, Kobo Daishi threw a religious instrument called sankosho (三鈷杵) to the eastern sky from a port in China upon finishing his studies in Buddhism. Back in Japan, he was searching for a perfect location to base his propagation in, when he found the sankosho hanging on a pine tree in the mountains of Koya. He thus decided to consecrate Mt. Koya as a holy site and a pinnacle of Buddhism.
Mt. Koya Information
132 Koyasan, Koya-cho, Ito-gun, Wakayama Prefecture 648-0294
From Osaka’s Namba Station, take the Nankai-Koya Line to Gokurakubashi Station. Depending on the hour of the day, you might have to change platforms at Hashimoto Station.
Once you arrive at Gokurakubashi Station, take the cable car up to the mountain. The cable car will take you to Koya-san Station in about 5 minutes. There you can easily find the bus stop to go closer into the area. You will have to take the bus for at least one stop, since there is no pedestrian walk between the Koya-san stop and the second stop, Nyonindo.
There is also the Nankai Limited Express Line, with fewer stops between Namba Station and Gokurakubashi Station, but in my opinion it is not worth it, especially if you are travelling with a low budget. For ¥1,260, the other option won’t take you more than 10 – 20 minutes to get there and you can save up to ¥780 you could use for a souvenir, lunch, or a nice treat somewhere.
Don’t miss this chance to visit one of UNESCO World Heritage sites!