Mount Koya in Wakayama prefecture is considered to be the most sacred place in a Japanese Buddhism sect called Shingon Buddhism where more than 100 Buddhism temples stand beautifully and proudly. This both historical and religious town hidden by high mountains was first settled by the Founder of Shingon Buddhism, called Kukai, 1,200 years ago. Since then, Mount Koya has prospered as the home of Shingon Buddhism attracting both pilgrims and tourists for its sacredness and beauty.
The home of one of the most important sects of Japanese Buddhism and is designated as a world heritage site. It is also a part of sacred sites and pilgrimage routes in the Kii mountain range. Follow the footsteps of Kukai, his fellow monks, and ancient pilgrims to learn and experience the spirit of Shingon Buddhism at its home. Mount Koya consists of many historical sites and buildings, some of which are designated as world heritage sites. Here are the sites to see in Mount Koya you cannot miss.
#1. Danjo Garan
Danjo Garan is the center of Mount Koya which was the very first place the monk Kukai established in Mount Koya. This place, one of the most sacred places along with Oku no in, consists of 19 buildings.
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Danjo Garan – Konpon Daito&Kondo
Hours: 8:30am ~ 5:00pm
Fee: 200 yen / Each (Konpon Daito&Kondo)
Bus stop info: Daito Guchi Bus map
Website: Koyasan Shukubo Association
This pagoda was built as a symbol of Shingon Buddhism. Painted in Rich red and gold, the gorgeous interior of this pagoda represents the world of Mandara Kukai taught.
Kondo is the very heart of Mount Koya where important rituals are held. First built by Kukai, and after many renovations, today’s building was built as the 7th Kondo in 1932.
#2. Oku no In
This is another of the most sacred sites of Mount Koya. Oku no in has Kobo-Daishi Gobyo (mausoleum of Kukai) and is often the highlight of a Mount Koya visit. It is one of your most spiritual experiences in Japan.
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Visitors walk a 2 km path way called Sando from Oku no mae bus stop/parking lot to get to Kobo-Daishi Gobyo (mausoleum of Kukai). Along Sando are old pine trees and graves of hundreds and thousands religious individuals who wished to be close to the respected monk.
Gobyo no hashi
Photo Credit: koyasan.or.jp
The end of the Sando path way leads to Gobyo no hashi. On the other side of the bridge is the most sacred site of Mount Koya. Visitors must remove hats and straighten up clothes before crossing the bridge to show respect. The use of cameras is not allowed after this point.
Torodo (lantern hall) welcomes visitors just before entering into Kobo-Daishi Gobyo to prepare them for the coming solemn visit to Kukai’s mausoleum with hundreds of thousands of lanterns. One of the lanterns has kept its fire burning over 1,000 years.
The main gate of Mount Koya is an example of classic architecture built in 1705. It is 25.1 m high and has massive statures of nio guardian gods.
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#4. Kongobu-ji Temple
The headquarter of Shingon Buddhism is famous for its stone garden and stunning paintings. The main building was first built in 1863 and other buildings were added in later years. The stone garden of Kongobu-ji temple is called Banryu-tei and is the largest stone garden in Japan. The refined arrangement of stones represents a pair of dragons facing each other in a sea of cloud.
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Hours: 8:30am ~ 5:00pm
Fees: adult 500 yen, child 200 yen
Bus stop: Kongobu-ji mae Bus map
Website: Koyasan Shigon Buddhism
#5. Reihokan Museum
Photo Credit: koyasan.or.jp
Reihokan museum has a wonderful collection of cultural items, historical assets, and archives which have been collected since the beginning of Mount Koya. Many of them are national treasures of Japan and important pieces that inherit the legacy of the Mount Koya.
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Hours: 8:30am ~ 5:00/5:30pm
Fees: adult: 600 yen, high school/collage student: 350 yen, middle school student/children: 250 yen
Bus stop: Reihokan mae
Photo Credit: Booking.com（ブッキング・ドットコム）
shukubo (Temple lodging) is an experience where you can stay at a temple. It started as an accommodation for pilgrims who visited scared sites, and now it’s open to anyone who would like to be immersed in the world of Buddhism. There are about 50 temples which serve as shukubo Mount Koya.
When you stay at a shukubo, you can’t miss out on shojin-ryori. It’s a branch of Japanese food which was invented and perfected in temples by monks who weren’t allowed to eat meat. Instead they used many vegetables and other ingredients from nature. Its sophisticated and delicate savor is almost a form of art.
Each shukubo is a unique experience. Some are famous for beautiful gardens and some are famous for paintings. But every shukubo is a perfect place to have an authentic experience to learn the way and spirit of Buddhism. If you are interested in staying at a shukubo, check out this list of shukubo temples.