On my search for special accommodation in Japan, I found out, you could actually stay in a Buddhist temple and merge in with the monks in a settlement called Koyasan. The town is in the Wakayama prefecture district on a mountain called Koya. The highest peak of Mt. Koya is 800 meters.
The monk Kobo Daishi Kukai started a settlement in 816. Nowadays it is still the center of the Shinbone Buddhism. Since 2004 this settlement is on the list of UNESCO heritage and there are over 100 temples and shrines to visit.
A quarter to 10 and our flight from Amsterdam arrived safely in Osaka airport (Kansai international airport). Before our trip to Japan started, I was kind of worried about our arrival time in Osaka airport. Would we be delayed? Or would we manage to get the direct bus to Koyasan?
As our flight was 15 minutes early, it would give us more time to catch the direct bus to Koyasan. The bus departs only one time a day at 11.30 A.M.
After we got a stamp in our passport, we still had time to get some Japanese money and have a quick bite before we could enter the bus. We arrived in Koyasan around 1.15 P.M. at the bus stop of Okunoin. Unfortunately, we had kind of jet lag and both didn’t read the map right. We thought we could walk to our accommodation temple Kongo Sanmaiin. With our backpacks on our back we started, what turned out to be a 2 km walk. It was kind of heavy to carry the backpack around and it only had a weight of 8,5 kg.
Today was Sunday and it was very busy with day trippers from either Osaka or Kyoto. But as soon as we arrived at Kongo Sanmaiin temple it was peaceful and quiet. Our room was traditional with futon beds on the floor. To my surprise we had our own toilet. The bathroom would be communal with men and woman separate onsen. This is a local bath with thermal water.
We both were tired, but I really wanted to walk around and see something of the town. The sun was setting too, so the sunlight would be gone soon. I started walking on my own, my husband just wanted to relax. With limited daylight left, I only could manage to see one sight.
I walked back to the sacred place Okunoin. This is the site of Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum. To get to the Mausoleum you can follow a 2 kilometer long footpath passes through a cemetery. There are over 200.000 gravestones. The tombstones and statues were overgrown by moss and vines. As the day almost ended, I had some spare some sunlight. The cemetery felt serene, peaceful and calm, even with the loads of tourists.
When I came back right before the sunset, I decided to go take a refreshing dip in the temple onsen. Onsen is a Japanese hot spring and it is usually communal but separate men and woman. First you wash yourself at the showers on a low stool. Then you soak in the hot water. It was lovely!
Early evening we had dinner at the temple, which was at a set time of 5.30 PM. We had our dinner at a communal place together with other guests. The seating was traditional on the floor. And the food was vegetarian. The food was okay, but not as what I expected. And I found out, I don’t like tofu.
When we finished dinner, I laid down on the futon bed and fell asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow. In the morning my alarm clock was set at 6.15 to attend the morning prayers of the monks. This 45 minute prayer was really interesting. The temple was well decorated and the smell of incense was really intense. I think this was really special to attend!
For me Koyasan was a great way to start my trip to Japan. But I would recommend people to avoid the crowds of the weekend.
Me and my husband Timo traveled to Japan in the second week of November. For the Autumn leave colors we were right on time. We still managed to see some colorful leaves, while some trees lost their leaves already.
The forest around the cemetery has a lot of pinewood trees so those are green year round. I think it was the best season to travel!
- Direct bus from Kansai international airport. The bus leaves at 11.30 A.M. and it usually takes about 1.5 hours. You can get of at 2 stops. From the stop Okunoin you can get a bus in town.
Cost: 2000 Yen.
- From Osaka Namba station you can get a train to Hashimoto. You need to switch trains to Gokurakubashi and from there you can get a special train to Koyasan. As this station is up the hill of Mount Koya, you need to get bus down to the town. It took us about 1.45 minutes in reverse direction, but we had everything connected and we didn’t have to wait too long on buses and trains.
- Bus KIX Osaka international airport to Koyasan: 2000 Yen.
- Bus Koyasan to Koyasan train station: 290 Yen.
- Train from Koyasan train station to Osaka Namba station: 1280 Yen.
I booked Kongo Sanmaiin temple via Jalan.net. The room cost 20.000 Yen per night including dinner and breakfast for 2 persons. Our room had a private toilet, which I think was a nice addition.