Koyasan, Japan is a small sleepy town in Wakayama Prefecture, south of Osaka. Actually, the name Koya-san actually refers to Mount Koya, however, the name is now also used for this stunning region of the temples. It is home to about 600 monks and is the center of Shingon Buddhism. Many consider this little-known place to be the spiritual center of Japan. And not without reason. Koyasan has a unique spiritual atmosphere, especially if you walk in the early morning hours through the beautiful nature of this small town. Many use their time in Koyasan for a temple stay, which is a unique experience for many Japanese fans and travelers.
Here’s what you need to know for your trip to Koyasan, along with the best things to do in Koyasan, practical travel tips, and photos that will make you want to jump right on the next plane to Japan.
What to find out in this post
How to get to Koyasan?
The easiest way is to travel to Koyasan is from Osaka.
From Osaka, you can take a train from Namba train station to Gokurakubashi several times a day. From there, the cable car continues to Koyasan, which is about 800 meters above sea level. It is advisable to buy the Koyasanticket at the Namba station for 2860 Yen (about 23 Euros), which includes round-trip and a bus flat on site.
Where to stay in Koyasan
In many temples, guests can spend the night during Koyasan Temple Stays and try one of the yummy vegetarian dishes prepared by the monks. It is an incredible experience that gives you the opportunity to get to know the daily life of the monks and to watch over their everyday life for a day.
A popular temple to stay in is the Sukukubo Eko-In Temple. This is a more than 1,000-year-old temple where you can join the monks in Buddhist morning ritual, fire ritual or meditation. The temple is well located and is in close proximity to other major Buddhist temples.
Another option is to stay at the Kokuu Guesthouse. Since this option was far cheaper, we opted for this. It was also a good chance to try out the capsules beds that are so famous in Japan. (There are also normal rooms available if you prefer that) The capsule beds were not too bad. (Except for the loud snoring woman in the capsule next door). On the contrary, the beds were much more comfortable than expected and you had more space than you would imagine having at a capsule hotel.
There are of course many more places to stay in Koyasan for all budgets and many more temples that offer overnight stays.
Best time to visit Koyasan
Every season has its advantages and disadvantages. Thus, a visit to Mount Koya can be an incredible experience in every season.
Spring in Koyasan
In the spring, the entire Wakayama prefecture blossoms in bloom – especially the cherry blossom time (Sakura) offers unique impressions of nature.
Summer in Koyasan
While it gets very hot in the whole country during the summer, the Koyasan at about 800 meters offers a nice cooling off from the summer heat. The huge trees provide additional shade. Therefore, Koyasan is also a wonderful summer destination.
Fall in Koyasan
Who does not love when the leaves are slowly turning and the woods appear in colorful autumn colors? If you’re an autumn fan, you should also experience Koyasan in the fall.
Winter in Koyasan
The atmosphere of Koyasan changes during the winter from mystical to some sort of fairytale landscape. The surrounding onsen (thermal springs) of Wakayama Prefecture are all the more inviting at this time of the year.
The Morning Ceremony of the Monks
Whether you spend the night in the temple or inn, everyone can attend the morning ritual at Okunoin Temple. This unique experience takes place every morning from 06-07 am. But you are not obligated to stay the entire hour. If you are staying near the door, you can leave the building at any time and unnoticed. The condition is that you behave quietly and don’t disturb the ceremony in any way. Should be common sense, though. Don’t you think?
We listened to the praying of the monks for a total of half an hour. Then we decided to have a look around the lantern hall (Torodo) next door. While you can still listen to the monk singing in the background, you go through a hall without artificial light with several rows full of bright lanterns. Simply magical! However, since this temple is one of the holiest places in Japan, photography is prohibited here.
The Okunoin Cemetery of Koya-San
In Koyasan you can find the largest cemetery in Japan. And this graveyard is absolutely impressive. Surrounded by huge trees you will find all kinds of tombstones and statues. Especially at night and in the early morning hours, a walk through the cemetery is totally recommended.
There are hardly any people, except a few monks, and there is a pleasant silence, interrupted only by the quaking of the frogs and the twittering of the birds. For us, it truly was a totally magical experience. We were absolutely thrilled.
Small tip: Bring a jacket with you. It can be a bit chilly here especially in the early morning hours.
The Mount Koya Temples
In addition to the giant cemetery, you will find in Koyasan also a lot of temples. Get a map and pick out some temples you want to visit, or just take a walk through the village. You’ll probably pass by a lot of temples that catch your attention.
Just do not be surprised since most of the temples close their gates at 4 pm. And many temples also charge an entry fee.
Alternatively, you can go hiking on the ancient pilgrimage path to discover the tranquility and unique nature of this region.
Make sure to also read our following guides in order to find the best places to visit in Japan.
- Your Ultimate Japan Itinerary 14 Days
- Osaka Itinerary 2 days
- Top 5 Temples in Kyoto
- One week in Tokyo
- Things you should know before visiting Japan
- Japan Travel Cost for Japan on a Budget
- Magome & Tsumago – Hiking in the Japanese Alps