I returned today from the most amazing trip to Mt. Koya (Koyasan) in the mountains of Wakayama prefecture. It was about 2 hours from my home, with multiple train transfers, but it was by far my favorite trip since I’ve been in Japan!
I found Koyasan on the japan-guide.com web site, an incredibly helpful Japan travel site in English. This site informed me on many of the details I would need to know to make this journey and I was glad to have found it! One of the most important things it told me was that there are no hotels on the mountain – instead you stay in Buddhist temples with the monks. This sounded amazing to me! We opted to stay in the Shojoshin-in which backed to the large cemetery (more about that later). The cost for 4 people was 67,200 yen per night. This was pretty expensive but it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and it was worth the money we spent. The hotel provided traditional Japanese style rooms, vegetarian breakfast and lunch as well as participation in the morning meditation ceremony.
Our temple backed to the Okunoin Cemetary which lead to the Okunoin Temple where Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism is enshrined. The cemetery is over 2 km long and and has 200,000 tombstones.
The path was surrounded by cedar trees which were huge and reminded me of the redwoods on the west coast in the States.
At the end of the cemetery is Gokusho Offering Hall which has several statues. At the time I didn’t know who the statues were but this site says they are “Jizo, a popular Bodhisattva that looks after children, travelers, and the souls of the deceased.” There was a sign in English that said to pour water on the statues to pray for the deceased, so I took this opportunity to connect with my brother who passed away and to pray for the other people who had family members who had passed.
The temple at the end of the trek is regarded as a highly sacred place. Photography is prohibited so I don’t have any photos to show you but this web site offers additional information. We crossed a stone bridge and immediately started seeing signs that read, “Please remove your hat. No Photography. No Drinking.” You approach the Torodo Hall which is a large structure for worship. Behind the hall is Kobo Daishi’s Mausoleum, the place of his ‘eternal meditation.’ There were devotees all over both the main hall and the mausoleum praying, chanting and sitting in silence. It was amazing to see so many people who believed in something so strongly.
There is plenty to see in Koyasan, but Okunoin Temple and cemetery were my favorite. As I stated before, there is plenty of additional information on this web site and I would highly recommend this trip to anyone visiting this region of Japan. It is not only visually beautiful, but you will carry the spiritual beauty with you once you depart.