Koyasan was founded by Kobo Daishi (also known as Kukai), a man considered something of a saint across Japan for his contribution to religion, and a genius for his artistic nature, engineering and other accomplishments. He is without a doubt one of the most influential people in Japan’s religious and cultural history, and is also a central figure in the history of Kyoto.
Kobo Daishi founded Koyasan in 806 after spending 2 years learning about Buddhism in Chang-an, the capital of T’ang China at the time, and a city that became the very model for the design of Kyoto. In this short time, Kobo Daishi mastered the teachings of orthodox Esoteric Buddhism, and became the 8th patriarch of this sect before bringing these teachings to Japan.
As Kyoto was the capital of Japan at the time (it had been from 794), Kobo Daishi brought these teachings back to the city, where he set up his temple and the Shingon sect in the city’s mountains (current Jingoji). In order to distance the religion from the influence of the court and politics, as well as the Tendai sect (based at Hieizan mountain at Enryakuji temple, on Kyoto’s east), which was the most influential Buddhist sect at the time, Kobo Daishi set up the home of the Shingon sect on Koyasan mountain.
Koyasan, approximately 100 km south of Osaka in Wakayama Prefecture, was chosen as it sits amongst eight mountains that are said to represent a lotus, and also offered a space, useful for the building of this city of temples and temple lodgings. Kongobuji Temple is the first temples built at this time, the headquarters of the sect, which is now at the top of 4,000 temples across Japan. The Koyasan area has since become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Main Places for Sightseeing
Apart from Kongobuji Temple, the most important buildings of Koyasan are the Kondo hall, next to which stands the giant vermilion Konpon Daito Pagoda.
Perhaps the most sacred, and certainly the most atmospheric, is the nationally famous Okunoin, home to the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi and a surrounding cemetery full of figures central to Japan’s ancient history, as well as a plethora of tombs for Japanese companies, presidents and others of a distinctively contemporary nature. You will find tombs for coffee companies, pilots, car companies, pest control companies and more, all with fantastic stone-head designs. There are said to be over 200,000 gravestones in the area.
The cemetery’s paths wind through a forest of giant cedar trees, and are often covered in a blanket of mist, adding an eerie atmosphere to this sacred place. The cemetery can be entered from Ichinohashi bridge (before crossing you should bow to show respect), which leads to a 2 km walk to the mausoleum, or the shorter route from the Okuno-in bus stop.
These paths head towards the Gobyonohashi bridge, which crosses the stream separating the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi from the rest of Okunoin. This area is the most sacred part of Okunoin, and visitors should bow before they cross the bridge. Photography, food and drink are also banned from this point.
Access: You can get a Nankai train from the Osaka Namba station, which takes about 1 hour 40 minutes to 2 hours (850Y on an express or rapid express train). As there are only about 4 trains a day, it is worthwhile checking the timetable in advance. Getting Around: There is a one-day bus pass, which makes travel around the area quite easy (800Y).
Shukubo Lodgings: This is an excellent opportunity for people interested in trying Buddhist temple lodgings, some of which include early morning meditation and prayer, and have Buddhist vegetarian cuisine. Check the following site for more information:
Price: For 2780Y, the Koyasan World Heritage Ticket covers the round trip from Osaka to Koyasan, the bus around Koyasan and discount access to sightseeing places. It is highly recommended for people who want to have a one-day trip. While Okunoin is free to enter, many of the other temples and other sights cost from about 200-500Y to enter.
There is also a combination ticket for entry to many of the main sites of Koyasan for 1,500Y.
See the Koyasan homepage for further information:
As well as the following site for more details: