Get spiritual at the 1,200-year-old center of Shingon Buddhism
For pilgrims trekking the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Route, the glow of the lanterns of sacred Koyasan are sure to be a welcome sight after traveling such a long way. This light belonged to the shukubo, monastic lodgings for weary travelers. Today Koyasan’s numerous shukubo provide the same service for modern train-riding pilgrims, offering an experience unique to the sacred sites associated with Japanese Buddhism through services unchanged through the centuries.
Lodging at a traditional temple via a shukubo experience
Morning prayer performed by monks
Trying Ajikan, Shingon Buddhist meditation
Koyasan’s traditional shojin ryori Buddhist cuisine
Koyasan is a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site
There are 51 lodges offering shukubo experiences
A rare retreat
Spending a night in Koyasan’s traditional shukubo offers an experience of Shingon Buddhist monastic life. Shingon is a form of esoteric Buddhism that originated in southern India and was introduced to japan from China in the early 9th century. Koyasan is home to Kongobu-ji, the head temple of Shingon Buddhism, and Okunoin, the mausoleum of the sect’s founder Kobo Daishi. To stay at Koyasan is to spend the night in a holy place.
More than just lodging
Experiencing Buddhist practices and activities during your stay will help you understand monastic life more deeply. Many temples offer ajikan experiences led by monks. This art of meditation is particular to Shingon Buddhism. For those looking to reset their inner balance, try walking meditation through the well-kept halls and gardens. Visitors can also experience sutra copying, or shakyo, where you write over faintly printed Chinese characters. There is also the morning ritual of Otsutome, where visitors can join monks chanting sutras in the main hall, with the aroma of incense wafting in the air.
The original soul food
The vegetarian Buddhist cuisine known as shojin ryori is popular at Koyasan’s shukubo. Each meal is free of meat, fish, green onion, garlic, and other stimulants. The delicate dishes incorporate seasonal ingredients intended to nourish both body and soul. Vegan-friendly shojin ryori is also available.
Ready to reserve?
Reservations can be made through the official website of the Koyasan Tourist Association and Koyasan Shukubo Association. As Shingon Buddhism’s holiest ground and part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, Koyasan is quite popular. Make sure to book well in advance.
Koyasan, located in Wakayama Prefecture, is a spiritual haven with a rich history dating back over 1,200 years. It is the center of Shingon Buddhism, one of Japan’s major Buddhist sects. The town is nestled in the forested mountains of the Kii Peninsula, offering a serene and peaceful atmosphere for visitors seeking spiritual enlightenment.
To reach Koyasan, pilgrims and tourists alike must embark on a journey through the mountainous forests of Wakayama. The most convenient starting point is Osaka’s Namba Station, where travelers can take the Nankai Koya Line and transfer to the cable car at Gokurakubashi Station. Alternatively, one can take a train from Wakayama Station to a station midway on the Nakai Koya Line.
Upon arriving in Koyasan, visitors are greeted by the enchanting sight of lantern-lit streets and traditional wooden buildings. The town is home to numerous temples and shrines, each with its own unique history and significance. One of the must-visit sites is Kongobu-ji, the head temple of Shingon Buddhism. This majestic temple complex features beautiful gardens, stunning architecture, and intricate Buddhist artwork.
Another highlight of Koyasan is Okunoin, the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism. This sacred site is considered one of the most important in Japan and is surrounded by a vast cemetery with over 200,000 tombstones. Walking through the forested path leading to Okunoin, visitors can immerse themselves in a tranquil and spiritual atmosphere.
For those seeking a deeper spiritual experience, staying at a shukubo, a traditional temple lodging, is highly recommended. These accommodations offer a unique opportunity to experience the daily life of Buddhist monks and participate in various religious activities. Guests can join morning prayers, engage in Buddhist meditation, and savor the exquisite shojin ryori, a vegetarian cuisine prepared by the monks.
Shojin ryori is a fundamental part of the Buddhist practice, emphasizing mindfulness and gratitude towards all living beings. The meals consist of seasonal vegetables, tofu, and other plant-based ingredients, skillfully prepared to create a harmonious balance of flavors and textures. Each dish is meticulously crafted to nourish the body and promote overall well-being.
During their stay, guests can also explore the surrounding natural beauty of Koyasan. The town is surrounded by lush forests and picturesque hiking trails, offering opportunities for peaceful walks and contemplation. The crisp mountain air and the soothing sounds of nature create an ideal environment for meditation and self-reflection.
In addition to its spiritual significance, Koyasan is also known for its cultural heritage. The town hosts various festivals and events throughout the year, showcasing traditional arts, music, and performances. One of the most famous events is the Lantern Festival, held in autumn, where the streets of Koyasan are adorned with thousands of lanterns, creating a magical and ethereal ambiance.
Visiting Koyasan is not only a journey of the body but also a journey of the soul. The ancient temples, the serene natural surroundings, and the warm hospitality of the monks create an immersive and transformative experience. Whether you are seeking spiritual enlightenment, cultural immersion, or simply a peaceful retreat from the bustling modern world, Koyasan offers a sanctuary for the mind, body, and spirit.
Address And Maps Location:
Koya-san, Koya, Wakayama-ken