Mount Koya

Mount Koya, Wakayama Prefecture ー As most of us are bunkering down at home to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, I decided now would be the perfect time to catch up on all my missed blog posts. Throughout the next couple of weeks I will try to post some updates on life in Japan, covering some small day trips and touching a little bit on university life (for those of you thinking about the MEXT scholarship).

Last September (I’ve really been slacking…) I took a quick day trip south of Osaka to Mount Koya (or Koyasan). Mount Koya is about 2.5 hours outside of Osaka and is accessible by train (there are a number of train passes available to cut travel costs). Thankfully the route doesn’t require a lot of changes, so you can sit back and read a book while taking in the beautiful scenery outside the window. A kind elderly woman sitting next to me on the train even provided some snacks along the way – an added bonus!

Mount Koya is the centre of Shingon Buddhism and the small town is rich in history and stunning architecture. All of the small blue squares on the map above are temples – as you can tell from the map, there is no shortage of things to see.

I started by walking through the Oku-no-in cemetery and made my way towards the Kobo Daishi Mausoleum. The cemetery is home to about 200,000 tombstones and runs for over 2km. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, you can’t help but feel the spiritual nature of the temple grounds.

At the end of the long path through the cemetery, there are number of buildings, one of which is the mausoleum that hosts the founder of Shingon Buddhism, Kobo Daishi. The temple itself is one of the most significant religious landmarks in Japan and draws pilgrims from not only all over the country, but all over the world every year.

After walking through the temple grounds, it was time to grab some lunch. Unfortunately, the trip was planned last-minute so I didn’t have a chance to make a reservation at a temple or restaurant that serves shojin ryori (traditional vegetarian cuisine served at temples), but if you have a chance to go to Mount Koya, I highly recommend trying it! The local tourist website has a list of recommended restaurants for visitors.

With a full stomach, I made my way to the other end of town, toward the Daimon Gate, ducking into temples along the way. I later learned that I had done the pilgrimage in reverse (and only a small part of it at that). There is a 24km trail that runs up the mountain and ends at the very impressive, two story gate. Nevertheless, it was wonderful getting to learn more about the history of Buddhism in Japan and take in all of the amazing architecture that has been preserved for hundreds of years.

Stay tuned for more updates throughout the next couple of weeks and let me know if there is anything you would like me to write about. Thanks for reading!

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