It was day 2 of our weekend trip to Koyasan and it was pouring when we woke up. It was a little disheartening to see how much it was raining coupled with the fact that we had tiny umbrellas (and I decided to not bring a warm sweater…). We packed up our belongings, took a deep breath, and took the train back up to Koyasan.
Five minutes walking outside and we were soaked; our jeans and socks were soaked. We headed to our first stop of the day: Okunoin Temple. This is where the founder of Shingon Buddhism, Kobo Daishi, is enshrined. The temple itself is the most important and holiest place in Koyasan.
On the way to the temple is a graveyard of religious followers and important figures in Japanese history. Companies also sponsor grave sites, dedicating them to people (or even insects. There’s a grave that a termite company dedicated to all the termites they kill.) that may have lost their lives at the expense of the company.
The weather made this graveyard creepier that it already is. The rain, tall forest trees, and overcast sky gave the graveyard an eerie atmosphere. I’m not sure why, but my friends and I were a little scared. Although it was creepy, the whole area was so beautiful.
This is the entrance to the temple, where you wash and purify your hands. Okunoin Temple is the last stop on the 88 Temple Pilgrimage with goes around Shikoku and to Koyasan.
Because this is the most sacred part in all of Koyasan and the resting place of one of the most important religious figures in Japanese history, you are unable to take pictures beyond this bridge. You can see a glimpse of the temple between the trees in the back. The temple was beautiful. The inside was dark, with a red and gold interior. People were praying towards Kobo Daishi’s shrine.
This is one of the most unique places I’ve ever visited. It was strange and calming to walk through the graveyard amongst the tall trees and to enter such a holy and important place. It’s amazing how much history is up on that mountain.
Koyasan in Wakayama Prefecture is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.
During spring break, my friends and I took a weekend trip to Koyasan, a World Heritage Site and the center of Shingon Buddhism. Kobo Daishi, Shingon Buddhism’s founder, built Koyasan as his place of worship. Kobo Daishi is entombed at Okunoin Temple, where people believe he’s resting in eternal mediation.
Koyasan is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever traveled to and I was in awe everywhere we went. Nature, religion, and serenity transcends on this mountain town.
Koyasan can be accessed from Osaka on the Nankai Railway. You can purchase a 2 Day pass at Osaka-Namba station for ~$26.00, which covers the train fares from Osaka to Koyasan and back, the cable car, unlimited bus rides, as well as discounts at some of the sites in Koyasan. It’s a great money saver if you’re going to be staying in or around Koyasan and plan on visiting for two days.
We got into Koyasan around 3:30 pm, which only gave us an hour and a half to look around before many of the sites closed. I didn’t realize Koyasan was also a town with 4,000 residents. I thought the whole area would be temples and shrines, but was pleasantly surprised by the cute town that awaited to be explored. I also used the nicest public restroom I have ever seen in that town.
Our first stop was at the Garan, the main temple complex. I loved walking around the temples, nestled amongst the trees. There was something different about this place. It was almost as if I could feel all the history and significance in the air. I wanted to soak in all the history this place had to offer.
Next, we walked to Daimon, the gate that those walking the pilgrimage trails passed under to enter Koyasan. Those trails are still open to hikers, those who want to approach Koyasan the traditional way.
And of course, I have to have a picture of food. Finding food was really difficult for us this trip. We found out on the second day that we were looking in all the wrong areas. We ate dinner outside of Koyasan in the city of Hashimoto. Even finding food there was really difficult. It seems that every store was closed and the people at the train station had trouble telling us of a restaurant that was open (it was only 7pm on a Saturday night!). Note that: Wakayama is a countryside prefecture. The further you go from Osaka, the more country it becomes.
If you ever find yourself in the Kansai region of Japan (and you should), consider putting Koyasan on your itinerary. It’s such a beautiful and historical part of Japan, which displays many of the Japanese ways of simplicity, nature, and tranquility. Although I did not have the opportunity this time, you can also stay overnight in a temple and experience a monk’s life, eating the same foods and waking up at 3am to pray. I hope that I can travel back there one day and be able to stay in one of those temples.
Ise Jingu is Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrine and it is located in my home prefecture, Mie. The majority of Mie is countryside with its biggest industries being fishing and agriculture. It is really exciting (and a bit confusing) to know that the holiest shrine in all of Japan is within an hour of where I live. This shrine is a bit out of the way from Kyoto and Tokyo for those who were making the pilgrimage in between those two cities.
My friend and I had planned this day trip a few months in advance and the day we picked happened to be the day after Japan’s largest snowstorm in a very long time (I’ve heard 10 years and 100 years… I’m not sure which one is correct. Then a few weeks later, we had an even bigger snow storm…). Parts of the shrines were closed off due to the snow, so we weren’t able to explore the entire grounds. It may not look like a lot of snow, but this prefecture usually doesn’t see that much snow. I think people were confused on what to do…
If you want to be more “traditional,” you should start from the Outer Shrine (Geku) and walk to the Inner Shrine (Naiku), as part of the pilgrimage experience. But if you’re like us and many other people, you can take a bus in between the two shrines. We started at the outer shrine, which was closed when we got there since they were clearing snow from the path. We decided to eat lunch while we were waiting and went to a soba restaurant.
Geku is dedicated to Toyouke, the goddess of food, clothing, and housing. Cameras aren’t allowed in the main shrine area, but you can catch a glimpse of the torii (gate) leading to the shrine itself, through the white curtain. Unfortunately, due to the snow, people weren’t allowed to walk through the torii and into the shrine.
Like the outer shrine, you are unable to take pictures of the shrine itself, but it was simple, yet beautiful. I learned that these two shrines are purely Japanese architecture, built from no outside influence, showing the Japanese style of simplicity and serenity.
Right next to the inner shrine is, Oharaimachi, a road of traditional buildings with many stores and restaurants. We loved walking around here looking at all the food and souvenirs.
I would recommend Ise Jingu to anyone is in the area, since it’s an important landmark in Japanese history and Shintoism. Unfortunately, it’s a little out of the way for travelers who hit up the major cities and attractions. For being the most sacred shrine in Japan, it’s not well known. I didn’t know about this shrine until I emailed one of my professors (who did a lot of research in Japan) and he told me about it.
The outer shrine is located, in Ise, Mie Prefecture, about a 5-10 minute walk from Ise-shi Station, on the JR and Kintetsu Lines. It is free to enter the shrines.