AsiaJapanKoyasan

My best day in Japan.

Koyasan Travel Blog

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On the way to Koyasan.
Oh, happy, happy day. OK, I will tell you all about it.

Woke up early -- before 6 -- in anticipation of an early departure to today's destination: Koyasan. Koyasan, listed on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sights, is a monastic center at the top of Mount Koya with a whole bunch of temples and sights to see. According to information we could find, it would take somewhere between 90 minutes and 3 hours to reach our destination (it was close to 3 hours all said and done).

Despite best intentions, we found ourselves on the 8:19 Nankai train... a later start than we had planned. The train took about an hour, and dropped us at Hashimoto, where we boarded a local train that stopped at every single little station until we got to Gokurakubashi station (say that five times fast!).
Cable car to Kayosan. It's hard to photograph an incline (but it was steep!).
From there, we took a thrillingly steep cable car to Koyasan station, which was also a bus terminal. But we were not done yet! We boarded a bus and rode to the end of the line: Okunoin-mae. (Tip: All fares were included in the Koyasan package ticket we somehow stumbled onto at Namba station. The total cost, round trip, was about $56 USD for both of us. Ask at the Nankai desk for the "excursion" ticket.)

Our plan was to visit Okunoin, a memorial park and cemetery. The Fodor's description was enticing, but even so, did not do this place justice. It is a 1.5-mile paved walk through an ancient cedar forest that is also a cemetery. The trees are so big, and so breathtaking, photos can not capture their enormity and words won't do them justice. This type of old-growth forest has sadly become rare in the world. Clustered amidst the trees, the mausoleums and grave markers ranged from incredibly old to fairly new.
Little Bodhisattva in the Okunoin cemetery.
Moss clung to everything, lending a spooky air to the place and dampening the acoustics.

Along the way, we saw many statues outfitted with red bibs and little hats. [This prompted a subsequent Google search for "Buddhist bibs on statues" and I learned these little guys are called "Jizo Bodhisattvas" and represent the souls of miscarried, stillborn or aborted children. Apparently there are fears that these children are unable to cross the mythical Sanzu river because they have not lived long enough to accumulate the required number of good deeds. The deity Jizo, however, saves these little souls (perhaps by hiding them in his robes...this is not exactly clear) and is therefore much beloved.] I took about approximately one million photos.

There were some large tour groups along the way, but much of the time we felt we had the place almost to ourselves.
Big trees, small humans.
We marveled at it all, and arrived at the Torodo (Hall of Lanterns) way too fast -- I could have walked for hours in the forest.  We had to cross a small arched bridge to get to Torodo. After this point, no photography was allowed (this caused me actual physical pain as well as emotional angst :^). We then walked along the path to the hall, amazed again by the dark trees and oldness of everything. Incense hung in the air. It was incredible and felt ancient and sacred.

We were shy about going into the Torodo, but mimicked everyone else so as not to make a big offensive blunder. Inside there were thousands of softly glowing lanterns stacked on shelves and hanging everywhere. It was dim and moody, with some monks picturesquely tending several flames (Fodors said that one of the flames has been perpetually lit since 1016!).
So beautiful.
  Other monks were selling some little souvenirs that I couldn't figure out. We tiptoed around in awe.

Back outside, we continued on the path. There was a pyramid of old looking Bodhisattvas that we wondered about. There was a rest stop along the way and Buddhist pilgrims were having their books stamped (one down, 87 to go!) .

The path finally spilled us out of the wonder and onto a regular street near the town. Just in time for lunch! I wanted to try shojin ryori, a multi-course vegetarian meal prepared by monks. I inquired in the tourist office and was told to go to Hanabishi, down the street. Although the food was not prepared by monks, it was sensational, and I will write a review soon.

We wanted to take the 2:30 train back to Osaka, so we started to walk back to the bus station.
From the side.
It was like walking through a small town area in the Rockies - wonderful, woodsy fragrance, fresh crisp air. There were even chunks of unmelted snow in the woods! It was a great walk. Then the sidewalk ran out, so we grabbed the bus and arrived in time to get the front seat in the cable car.

Can the perfect day get even better? Why yes it can! Back in Osaka, we decided to try the vegetarian restaurant that had been closed on Monday: Maman Terrace. We both had a fantastic meal! (I will write a review soon.)

So, my advice is to skip Kyoto and go to Koyasan. It was my best day in Japan.
skippyed says:
Sounds like a lovely place :-)
Posted on: Mar 27, 2010
azsalsa says:
I love cemeteries (yeah, okay I'm a bit weird)and this one reminds me a bit of the one on the island of Oahu in Hawaii....only this one is much more awesome! I want to go!
Posted on: Feb 05, 2009
abuglio says:
Wow, what a review. I too am embarrassed that I never made to Koyasan, though I made it to the Pig and Whistle on multiple occasions!
Posted on: Apr 10, 2008
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On the way to Koyasan.
On the way to Koyasan.
Cable car to Kayosan. Its hard to…
Cable car to Kayosan. It's hard t…
Little Bodhisattva in the Okunoin …
Little Bodhisattva in the Okunoin…
Big trees, small humans.
Big trees, small humans.
So beautiful.
So beautiful.
From the side.
From the side.
Steve and some big trees.
Steve and some big trees.
Okunoin cemetery.
Okunoin cemetery.
Jizo Bodhisattva at Okunoin cemete…
Jizo Bodhisattva at Okunoin cemet…
Jizo Bodhisattva at Okunoin cemete…
Jizo Bodhisattva at Okunoin cemet…
Jizo Bodhisattva at Okunoin cemete…
Jizo Bodhisattva at Okunoin cemet…
Me and something really old at Oku…
Me and something really old at Ok…
Mossy memorials at Okunoin cemetery
Mossy memorials at Okunoin cemetery
River near the Hall of Lanterns.
River near the Hall of Lanterns.
Pyramid of Bodhisattvas?
Pyramid of Bodhisattvas?
The beginning of the path to Okuno…
The beginning of the path to Okun…
Perhaps an astronaut is buried her…
Perhaps an astronaut is buried he…
The beginning of the path to Okuno…
The beginning of the path to Okun…
Big trees, little people.
Big trees, little people.
Ancient cedar in the Okunoin cemet…
Ancient cedar in the Okunoin ceme…
In the Okunoin cemetery.
In the Okunoin cemetery.
Mossy memorials in the Okunoin cem…
Mossy memorials in the Okunoin ce…
Mossy memorials at Okunoin cemetery
Mossy memorials at Okunoin cemetery
In the Okunoin cemetery.
In the Okunoin cemetery.
The Okunoin cemetery.
The Okunoin cemetery.
Thousands of cedar trees. One smal…
Thousands of cedar trees. One sma…
Kind of a rasta Bodhisattva.
Kind of a rasta Bodhisattva.
Postal box in Koyasan.
Postal box in Koyasan.
The womens route in Koyasan, from…
The women's route in Koyasan, fro…
Big, Texas style toast!
Big, Texas style toast!
The long ride home.
The long ride home.
Koyasan Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
Where the locals eat beautiful food in Koyansan.
Hanabishi was recommended to me at the tourist information office as a good place to get Shojin Ryori, which is a multi-course vegetarian meal that us… read entire review
Koyasan
photo by: yasuyo