Koyasan Sacred Mountain in Japan

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Mount Koyasan was founded by the revered monk Kukai (774-835), also known as Kobo Daishi, in 816 and serves as the headquarters of the Koyasan Shingon sect, which he founded. Since its designation as part of a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004, the number of foreign visitors has increased to more than 50,000 annually.
According to officials at Kongobuji temple, the main temple of the Koyasan Shingon sect, the mountainous town of Koya, which has a population of just 3,300 residents, expects to host 300,000 visitors during the 50-day service, called “Daihoe.”
To commemorate the anniversary, the temple has refurbished the hinoki cypress bark roofing of the Okunoin Gobyo mausoleum of Kukai for the first time in 22 years. It also reconstructed a gate, which was destroyed in a fire about 170 years ago, at Danjogaran, the center of the Koyasan monastery.
The austere heart of Japanese Buddhism beats loudly at Koyasan, a monastic complex that lies two hours by train south of Osaka. Koyasan marked its 1,200th anniversary in 2015.
On the Mount Koya you will find more than hundreds of temples and approximately half of them provide rooms for people to stay, they are called Shukubo. It is also a great opportunity for you to try traditional Japanese rooms, and also to eat the Buddhism vegetarian cuisine called Shojin. Another reason to go to Koya-San is because it offers sacred sites and pilgrimage routes recognized as a world heritage by the UNESCO. Below are the two of the most and heartily recommended Shukubo.
One of the best sights Koyasan has to offer is the old graveyard in the middle of a thick cedar forest – the Oku-no-in (or ”the inner yard”). You can take a short, 10-minute bus ride from the center of Koyasan (Senjuinbashi bus stop) to the bus stop of Okunoin-mae. When you enter the Oku-no-in and see all the moss covered, crooked tombstones all over each other and the narrow paths leading directly to the thick, dark forest, you’ll feel like you just stepped through a time portal into the Feudal Japan. Visit the Todoro Hall (Hall of Lamps) and be mesmerized by its more than 10000 lanterns, eternally lit. Behind the Todoro Hall, about 1 km away from the bus stop, stands the mausoleum of Kōbō-Daishi (Gobyo). It’s said that if you ask him for a salvation, you shall have it. You’ve come this far, so why not?
But whatever you do, don’t miss a walk in the Oku-no-in at night! When the darkness descends it’s a whole another world. The only, eerily dim lights come from the old stone lanterns here and there. The shadows are dancing and will make your imagination go overload. Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, here you will start believing. At least you’ll start feeling odd and looking over your shoulder, just in case. If you like long, peaceful walks in the graveyards, you will love to walk in Oku-no-in. It’s a graveyard like no other, a world of its own.
As far as ancient forests and sacred mountains go, Koyasan is easily up there with the world’s best.Every pagoda and gate is stunning, particularly the 20 structures at Danjo Garan, often described as the second most sacred site in Koyasan.Another beautiful site is Banryutei, Japan’s largest rock garden.Located in the inner courtyard of Kongobuji temple, it was completed in 1984 to commemorate the 1,150th anniversary of Kobo Daishi’s ascent into eternal meditation.But the pinnacle of any journey to Koyasan is incredible Okunoin, the most revered site of them all.After crossing the Ichinohashi (first bridge), I’m ready to head down the two-kilometer cobblestone walkway to the Okunoin mausoleum and its Torodo Hall, filled with more than 10,000 lanterns.The walk is filled with more than 200,000 gravestones, monuments and memorials (no bodies are buried here), all sharing space with Shinto torii gates, side paths and thick forests of massive trees that tower over the trail and filter the morning sun.You could walk back and forth through that forest 100 times and still spot something you didn’t notice before.There are monuments to historic figures, war heroes, royalty, business leaders, children and pets.Some of the little human statues wear bibs, others tiny hats.
The 88 Temple pilgrimage on Shikoku is Japan’s most famous pilgrimage route. The circuit encompasses the entire island through 88 temples as well as an optional 20 ‘unnumbered’ temples. Many of the temples on this pilgrimage route are said to have been founded or restored by the renowned Buddhist monk and scholar Kukai (774-835), better known by his posthumous title Kobo Daishi. Among his many achievements he is said to have created the simplified Japanese ‘kana’ syllabary, (a simplified form of the written Japanese language). He is also credited with bringing the tantric teachings of esoteric Buddhism from China and developing it into the uniquely Japanese Shingon sect, founding their headquarters on Mount Koya (Koyasan) near Osaka.First references to the Shikoku pilgrimage can be found in Japanese documents from the 12th century, although neither the established route nor specific temples are mentioned. The 88 Temple pilgrimage route as it is known today is believed to have become established some time during the 16th or 17th centuries.
While most modern-day pilgrims (an estimated 100,000 yearly) travel by tour bus, often only to specific temples, a small but significant minority of Japanese and non-Japanese still set out the old fashioned way on foot, a journey which takes about six weeks to complete. These pilgrims, known in Japanese as ‘o-henro-sama’ can be seen at the temples and along the roadsides of Shikoku clad in a white jacket bearing the characters ‘Dogyo Futari’ (meaning ‘two travelling together’), the companion here being the spirit of Kobo Daishi.
To make the locality more accommodating for foreign travelers, the town has installed English guide plates and Western-style toilets, as well as Wi-Fi connecting spots.
“Here in Mount Koyasan, foreigners who want a genuine Japanese experience can stay at claustral temples deep in the mountains, get an up-close look at authentic religious ceremonies and experience sutra copying, meditation and other Buddhist practices,” Chahara said. “It is the strongest appeal of the area, which Kyoto, Nara or any other sightseeing spots in Japan cannot offer.”