Mount Koya: Don't miss the chance to stay overnight in a Buddhist temple in Japan


Solemn prayers resound deep in the mountains of Wakayama. At the top of Mount Koya, an isolated Buddhist retreat has been in quiet operation since it was established in the 9th century by Kobo-Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism and an important religious figure in Japan.

Shielded by ancient cedar forests and literally elevated above the worries of modern society, Koyasan remains a Buddhist sanctuary devoted to serious study and contemplation—while also inviting complete novices to experience an overnight stay and morning prayer at one of its elegant temples.

Danjo Garan was the original temple complex built by Kobo-Daishi when he returned from studying esoteric Buddhism in China. As you walk around, you’ll spot assemblies of robed monks diligently weaving through the multiple halls and pagodas. In nearby Kongobuji, you can check out the largest rock garden in Japan.

Head east, bow before crossing the Ichinohashi Bridge, and you’ll enter sacred Okunoin cemetery. Kobo-Daishi’s mausoleum is located deep in the forest, and to reach it you’ll have to cross two kilometers of the 300,000 tombstones of people who wished to receive salvation from the spiritual leader in death.

The cool mountain forest is often engulfed by mist, lending a strange and mystical atmosphere to the gravestones, Jizo statues, and stone lanterns lining the path, all of it overgrown with moss.

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© GaijinPot Travel

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It's terrible.

There's nothing to do.

It's really expensive.

There's no nightlife.

The service is slow.

They hardly speak any English.

There's no choice in food.

There's no drinking.

It's hard to get to.

There's nothing to take a selfie of you (because it's Buddhist and the self does not exist).

They even make you sleep on the floor like a teenage sleep over and get up at 5am if you want to see any action.

It's all bald guys in pyjamas but without any kung fu.

Please don't do there.

Stay in Tokyo.

Stay in Yokosuka.

Stay in Kadena.

Go somewhere else.

(The last thing Koya-san needs is being overrun by gaijin wearing toilet slippers).

On a serious note, for the "esoteric" Buddhist sect, the monks seem to know very little about the actual symbolism and meaning of it all ... unless they are keeping it a big secret.

You're more likely to catch them going 'down the hill' for a steak and a beer.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Not sure about Koya-san, but when I first got off the boat 12 years ago, the local international association fixed me up with a home-stay at a nearby Nichiren temple and I had a blast.

The monk drove a new Benz SUV, chain smoked Camels, wore a Rolex Oyster, and constantly answered his new (at the time) iPhone with '今は忙しいよ。 でも、たったの5万円.'

He took me to pachinko, a hostess club, and Korean barbecue.

After, he showed me his amazing personal (not the temple's) collection of Buddhist art and statuary while downing a brandy nightcap.

Kukai, eat your heart out.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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