Mount Koya

Japanese spirituality at its best

By Alena Eckelmann    - 3 min read

Hidden away on a mountain plain that is surrounded by intensely forested 1,000 meter peaks, seemingly far away from the hustle and bustle of Japan’s cities, lies Mt. Koya, also called Koyasan.

This is the place where Buddhist monk Kukai, founder of the Shingon branch of Japanese Buddhism, established a mountain monastery in early 800.

Over 1,200 years later and Koyasan is still a thriving religious center. Located 2hr by train from Osaka, it is one of Japan’s Shangri-la not to be missed.

Devoted followers of Shingon Buddhism come on a pilgrimage or for religious training in one of Koyasan’s over 100 temples or at Koyasan’s very own university.

However, the spiritual atmosphere of this place attracts an eclectic crowd of people, Japanese and foreigners alike, who come to enjoy an overnight stay at a shukubo (temple lodging) and to soak up the mystical atmosphere of Koyasan’s two most sacred places, the Okunoin (“Inner Sanctuary”), a huge graveyard that is also home to Kukai’s last resting place, and the Danjo Garan (“Sacred Precinct”), a large compound of temples, halls and pagodas.

Although Koyasan is located within easy reach of Osaka, and a visit to this mountain monastery can be done as a day-trip, we highly recommend staying overnight in one of the temple lodgings where you will experience the monks’ warm hospitality.

They will invite you to attend some of their Buddhist prayer and meditation sessions, which are a rare chance to catch a glimpse into the monks’ daily prayer routine and into the practices of Shingon Buddhism, a branch of esoteric Buddhism.

The monks will also prepare some delicious monks’ food for you to enjoy as evening meal and for breakfast. Forget toast and coffee for once but start your day with some magic Buddhist chanting to warm your soul and a healthy special vegetarian diet to fill your belly.

If you need one more reason to schedule Koyasan in on your trip to Japan, then you might be interested to know that since 2004 Koyasan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, together with two other sites also located on the Kii Peninsula.

The UNESCO designated these sites as “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range”. Whatever you come for, you will find a special place that touches your heart and makes you come back time and again for a retreat from busy city life.

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Alena Eckelmann

Alena Eckelmann @alena.eckelmann

Born East of the Wall and South of Berlin, I am celebrating my 15th year anniversary in Japan in May 2020, the country that I call home now. I lived in crazy Tokyo for 6 years and since 2011 I call the beautiful Kii Peninsula (Kumano, Koyasan and Yoshinoyama) my home.I have been a JapanTravel Partner since the conception of the platform in 2011! In Tokyo I worked in market research at AIP Corporation and in business education at JMEC. For the last 10 years I have been a guide for foreign visitors at Venture Japan, on top of being a Freelance Writer and a Business Researcher.  Apart from work, I trained at the Yoshinkan Aikido Dojo and at the Oedo Sukeroku Taiko Dojo for several years each, and I ran the 1st Tokyo Marathon and enjoyed cycling around Tokyo. During the last 10 years I am working with local authorities to improve their hospitality to foreign visitors and I have participated in many monitors as a media representative.  My current interest is in Japanese nature and spirituality. I love spending time in the forest and mountains, and I love visiting temples and shrines.   I am a licensed guide for the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails  and for Koyasan, the Buddhist monastery, in addition to being a practitioner and licensed guide for Forest Therapy (Shinrin Therapy).  As a guide for walking tours, I have taken visitors to walk the Kumano Kodo trails, the Nakasendo trail and the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage trail.  Being grounded during this COVID-19 crisis, I enjoy gardening, baking bread in my new Japanese bread-maker and going for walks around 'my' village.  Take care, keep well, stay safe! 

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