Kōyasan, or Mt. Kōya, is a sacred mountainous area north of Wakayama Prefecture surrounded by peaks about 1,000 meters above sea level. Having received a three-star rating in the “Michelin Green Guide Japan”, it remains an enigma to most of us. For more than 1200 years, this irreplaceable sacred settlement has enchanted people in Japan and around the world. As part of the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range (紀伊山地の霊場と参詣道), many of the temples in the mountain are world heritage listed.
In 816, the Emperor Saga (嵯峨天皇) allowed a revered monk – Kūkai (空海), also known as Kōbōdaishi (弘法大師), to build temples for the training regime for Zen and Shingon Buddhism (真言宗) at Kōyasan. Gradually, the settlement gained the reputation of a “holy” site. Currently, it boasts 120 temples, with around half of them providing accommodation to pilgrims. In 2004, Kōyasan, together with numerous pilgrimage routes and temples in Nara, Wakayama, and Mie Prefectures, became World Heritage-listed as part of the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes of the Kii Mountain Range.
If you are excited to visit this World Heritage site which has amazed many, read on and find out how to get there and the attractions in Kōyasan!
HERE is a map of Kōyasan that you can refer to. For a more colorful map but in Japanese, you can refer to HERE.
- Daimon Gate (大門)
- Kadohama Goma Tofu Sōhonpo (角濱ごまとうふ総本舗)
- Danjō Garan (壇上伽藍)
- Kōyasan Reihōkan Museum (高野山霊宝館)
- Kōyasan Daishikyokai (大師教会)
- Kōyasan Kongōbuji (高野山真言宗総本山金剛峯寺)
- Ichijōin (一乗院)
- Kongō Sanmai-in (金剛三昧院)
- Chūōshokudō Sanbō (中央食堂 さんぼう)
- Karukaya-dō Mitsugon-in (苅萱堂 密厳院)
- Ekōin Temple (恵光院)
- Okunoin (奥之院)
- Tokugawa Clan Mausoleum (徳川家霊台)
- Rengejōin Temple (蓮華定院)
- Nyonindō (女人堂)
How to Get to Kōyasan
One of the easiest ways to get to Kōyasan is by taking Nankai Electric Railway (南海電鉄)’s Nankai-Kōya Line (南海高野線) from Nankai’s Hashimoto Station (橋本駅) in Osaka. From Namba (難波), taking the express train (急行), you will be at Hashimoto Station in approximately 50-minutes.
From Hashimoto Station, direct train services connect Osaka to Kōyasan. If you have time, we would recommend taking the sightseeing train – Kōya Hanatetsudō Tenkū (こうや花鉄道 天空). For those who are in a hurry, catch the Limited Express – Kōya (特急 こうや).
Note: When you get to Hashimoto Station, the green Tenkū sightseeing train (the left train in the photo) and the white Limited Express Kōya (the right train in the photo) might be on the platforms at the same time. Please check carefully which one you board.
About Sightseeing Train – Kōya Hanatetsudō Tenkū (こうや花鉄道 天空)
Tenkū is the sightseeing train that runs between Hashimoto Station and Gokurakubashi Station (極楽橋駅). Carrying the customers up the mountain while passing through 24 tunnels, you will be standing at an altitude of 443 meters above sea level upon stepping out of the train!
Unlike most sightseeing trains in Japan, Tenkū, which consists of only four carriages, has half of the carriages dedicated to tourists. So if you want to enjoy the wide space, the big windows, and the relaxing atmosphere of the sightseeing carriages, make sure you reserve your seats in advance.
Sure it will cost a bit extra, but it will be worth every penny!
To board the sightseeing train Tenkū, a reservation is required by 5 pm the day before. Currently, this can only be done by calling the Tenkū Reservation Center (天空予約センター) at +81-120-151519 from 9 am to 5 pm.
Tip: If you don’t speak Japanese, the staff at your accommodation should be able to make the reservation on your behalf (^_-)-☆.
Important: Reservations cannot be canceled once made.
If the train isn’t booked out, it is possible to make the reservation on the day. But best not to risk it.
For more information about the timetable or the cost, please refer to the official website HERE and translate the webpage to English (with, for example, Google Chrome’s translation function to the right of the address bar).
Discounted Kōyasan Transportation Deals
Here are a few transportation deals that you can consider.
- If you are staying overnight at Kōyasan, consider the Nankai Koyasan World Heritage Ticket (高野山・世界遺産きっぷ)
- The ticket is valid for 2 days and includes the return trip from the station of purchase to Kōyasan Station (including Nankai Cable Line)
- One-way limited express ticket for the trip from Hashimoto Station to Gokurakubashi Station (極楽橋駅)
- 2-Day Bus Pass to tour around Kōyasan on Nankai Rinkan Bus (南海りんかんバス)
- Discounted admission fees to Kongōbuji Temple (金剛峯寺), Kondō (金堂), Konpondaitō (根本大塔), and Reihō-kan (霊宝館)
- Getting 10% off at some souvenir shops in Kōyasan
- For more information, please refer to the official website HERE and translate the webpage to English by Google Chrome.
- Note: it doesn’t include the seat reservation fee for the sightseeing train Tenkū.
- For those who are planning a day trip to Kōyasan and will be using Hankyū (阪急), the Kōyasan 1-Day Ticket (高野山1dayチケット) may suit you better
- The ticket gives you unlimited rides on Hankyū trains (阪急電車), Osaka Subways (大阪地下鉄), Nankai trains (南海電鉄) between Namba and Kōyasan Station, and Nankai Rinkan Bus (南海りんかんバス)
- For more information, please refer to the official website HERE. Again, translate to English if you don’t read Japanese. Their English webpage doesn’t have this deal at the time when this article is written
- Hanshin (阪神) also has a similar deal. Please refer to the Discount Plus Tickets on the top menu on the official website HERE
Tip: If you are getting the Nankai Kōyasan World Heritage Ticket, board the Kōya Hanatetsudō Tenkū on the way back instead, so you get to utilize the limited express ticket included in the deal.
Boarding the Sightseeing Train – Kōya Hanatetsudō Tenkū
Whether you are making a reservation in advance or are planning to get your train ticket on the day, please head to the Tenkū’s designated ticket booth when you get to Hashimoto Station. You will need to pay the seat reservation fee at the booth to get your seat reservation ticket. The booth is just at the platform, but if unsure, check with the station staff.
Important: The reservation ticket exchange and purchase time last thirty minutes, ending ten minutes before the train’s departure time. Please don’t be late.
The sightseeing train Tenkū also has an “Observation Deck (展望デッキ)”. The carriage walls of this observation deck are partly built with glass. The top of the wall isn’t covered, allowing the wind to blow through.
The best time to be at the Observation Deck is after the train passes Shimokosawa Station (下古沢駅). The scenery from there onward is a wide view of the steep mountainous area that paints the carriage window green (or orange and red in autumn)!
When the red arch bridge – Gokuraku Bridge (極楽橋) next to the Gokurakubashi Station (極楽橋駅) becomes visible, it is the time to say goodbye to Tenkū.
This bridge used to be called Fudō Bridge (不動橋) up until the Meiji period (1868 – 1912). On one side of the bridge, there is a statue of Jizō (地蔵) for people to pay their respect.
Nankai Cable Line (高野山ケーブル)
When you are ready, head to the cable car station on the other side of Gokurakubashi Station (極楽橋駅)’s concourse.
The cable car will climb up 328 meters in just 5 minutes to Kōyasan Station (高野山駅). The total distance traveled is only 0.8 km making it a steeper hill than those scaled by the trains on Kōya Line (高野線).
328 meters is roughly the same height as Tokyo Tower, so it is going to be an exciting short journey to the entrance of the many temples up in Kōyasan!
Because there are schools up in the mountain, you might find yourself standing among students if you are catching the earlier services. One of the benefits of being a student there is they get to experience the thrill of boarding the Nankai Cable Line every day (≧▽≦).
Before you head to the boarding platform, remember to get your ticket first!
- 380 yen for adults
- 190 yen for children
Tip: On the way up, sit on the left side of the car for the views going down the cliff!
From Kōyasan Station (高野山駅), you can take Nankai Bus to the attractions scattered in this Sacred land in the Sky (天空の聖地)!
Nankai Rinkan Bus (南海りんかんバス)
As you can imagine, Kōyasan covers a wide area with attractions dispersed throughout the region. So unless you enjoy hiking, taking the Nankai Rinkan Bus is a better option to travel between the temples in Kōyasan.
The official website HERE has everything you need to know about Nankai Rinkan Bus. If you didn’t get one of the transportation deals we mentioned earlier, check out the ticket section on the webpage for a One-Day Bus Pass. And please refer to HERE for a bus map of the Rinkan Bus.
Kōya-Ryūjin Skyline (高野龍神スカイライン)
If you are driving your way up to Kōyasan, the 42.7 km Kōya-Ryūjin Skyline will be very scenic from late October to early November as the beech primitive forests show off their autumn colors.
The road that connects Ryūjin Onsen (龍神温泉) to Kōyasan and then the summit (at an altitude of around 1,300 meters) is the mountain road that represents the Kansai region.
From the observatory, as well as the lookouts along the road, you can see the overwhelming autumn colors of the Kii Mountains, which unfold like a Ukiyo-e painting.
From late November, the trees at the higher altitude will be covered by rime, giving you another fantastic scene to enjoy!
Daimon Gate (大門)
After you get off the cable car, you might be tempted to start strolling the region. But first, let’s board the bus to get to the main gate of Kōyasan – Daimon!
The gate, formally known as Kongōbuji Daimon (金剛峯寺 大門), was rebuilt in 1705 and has a height of 25.1 meters. The spectacular bright vermilion wooden double gate is the largest in Japan. As per usual, on the two sides of the entrance, you will find two Nio Statues (金剛力士像). These two statues are said to be the second-largest Nio Statues in Japan.
Beyond the gate that separates the rest of the world from the sanctuary are the training sites built by Kūkai.
Beyond the gate that separates the rest of the world from the sanctuary are the training sites built by Kūkai.
In front of the Daimon, there is a lookout. If the weather is good, you can see the Kitan Strait (紀淡海峡) and even the Awaji Island beyond it!
Tip: You can also end your trip to Kōyasan here by seeing the sunset from the observatory. The sunset scenery is one of the 100 Best Sunsets in Japan (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.
How to Get to Daimon Gate
- To get to Daimon, from Kōyasan Station (高野山駅前), take buses bound for Daimon-Minami Chūshajō (大門南駐車場) and get off at Daimon (大門)
- If you are driving, there are two free car parks close to the gate
- Otasuke Jizō-mae Car Park (お助け地蔵前駐車場)
- The capacity of 32 cars
- A 4-minute walk to Daimon
- Daimon-Minami Car Park (大門南駐車場)
- The capacity of 200 cars
- A 7-minute walk to Daimon
- Otasuke Jizō-mae Car Park (お助け地蔵前駐車場)
Kadohama Goma Tofu Sōhonpo (角濱ごまとうふ総本舗)
A great place to enjoy the vegetarian Shōjin Ryōri (精進料理), referring to monastic cuisine, is Kadohama Goma Tofu Sōhonpo.
The tofu shop serving Kōyasan’s main temple – Kongōbuji, has some of the most delicious sesame tofu! On top of that, they even have matcha tofu and sesame tofu tempura!
On the way out, you can also grab a few of their soybean products for you to enjoy throughout the day (^_-)-☆.
Kadohama Goma Tofu Sōhonpo’s Business Hours and Access Information
- The shop/restaurant is just a 3 to 5-minute walk from Daimon
- The shop is open from 9:30 am to 5 pm
- Lunch hours are from 11 am to 3 pm
- If you are coming from other parts of Kōyasan, instead of getting off at Daimon, get off the bus at Atao-mae (愛宕前)
Danjō Garan (壇上伽藍)
In 816, the Emperor Saga (嵯峨天皇) gave the land of Kōyasan to Kōbō Daishi (弘法大師) to build temples as part of Shingon Buddhism (真言宗)’s monastery. He devoted all his energy to building the towers and halls on a high ground that are now together known as Danjō Garan.
Danjō Garan was built to express the world depicted in the Womb Realm Mandala (胎蔵曼荼羅). Kōbō Daishi intended for this site, now a World Heritage, to be the basis of esoteric Buddhist studies.
To find out more information about each of the 19 attractions on the high ground, please refer to our article on Danjō Garan!
Kōyasan Reihōkan Museum (高野山霊宝館)
Kōyasan Reihōkan Museum is somewhat of a treasure chamber for Kōyasan. Many of the sacred relics, Buddha images, statues, and other cultural assets, are now centrally protected in the museum.
Whilst not all of the items collected by the museum are on display, it is still the best place to visit in Kōyasan if you are interested in cultural properties other than historic buildings.
For more information, please refer to their official website HERE.
Kōyasan Daishikyokai (大師教会)
Constructed as a part of the 1,100th anniversary of Kōyasan’s founding, Kōyasan Daishikyokai is a facility that promotes Shingon Buddhism.
What you can learn from the workshops and study sessions held here are the teaching of Shingo Buddhism, its hymns, and ritual dance.
At Kōyasan Daishikyokai, you can find a colored version of Kōbō Daishi’s 1:1 life-size scale statue, the 26 paintings that together tell the story of Kōbō Daishi’s life, and a model of Kōbō Daishi’s Sankosho (三鈷杵) which signaled Kōyasan as the right place for Buddhism’s training ground.
At the back of the lecture hall – Daikōdō (大講堂), there is an Ordination Hall (授戒堂) where you can learn from a high-ranked monk the ten precepts which can be practiced in your daily life to become a better person and reduce your worries.
For more information, please refer to the Sutra section of the official webpage HERE.
Kōyasan Kongōbuji (高野山真言宗総本山金剛峯寺)
Kōyasan Kongōbuji opposite Danjō Garan is the headquarters of the Shingon sect in Japan. This temple boasts a large precinct and houses many lavishly designed buildings.
Besides the gorgeous paintings on fusuma doors and Buddha statues, Kongōbuji is best known for its Banryūtei Garden. This is the largest rock garden in Japan, and it will surely be a highlight of your visit.
For more information about all the must-sees in the temple, please refer to our Kongōbuji article!
Ichijōin ( 一乗院)
Ichijōin is another temple where you can stay overnight. This temple, renowned for its mouthwatering vegetarian Shōjin Ryōri provides an accommodation experience closer to a ryokan in Japan.
Although the accommodation cost is at the higher end, it is one of the temples with the highest satisfaction rate among its guests. It is also one of the few places to enjoy dinner and breakfast in your room.
The best thing is probably that all their rooms are divided by walls instead of paper sliding doors. So even if you visit Kōyasan during the peak season, you should be able to get a good night of sleep without being woken up by your noisy neighbor.
Ichijōin is one of the main sub-temples of Kongōbuji. It has a long history dating all the way back to the Heian period (794 – 1185).
Apart from the food, it is also famous for its large public bath. The selling point here is that the bathwater is sourced from the springs of Kōyasan. Just like a ryokan, towels and amenities are also there for you to use.
The Must-Sees in Ichijōin
The magnificent main hall was rebuilt in 1933. To enter the main hall to see the splendid and majestic furnishings, your only option is to get up early to join in on the morning chanting.
During your free time, take a walk to the gorgeous strolling garden and other parts of the temple to see the unique paintings on the fusuma doors and the mandala in smaller halls.
The strolling garden is, for most visitors, the highlight of their time at Ichijōin. The arrangement of the stones is said to be based on the ancient legend that says, “Mt. Horai (蓬莱山) is home to immortal hermits”. That small island in the middle of the garden represents the turtle in the legend. And the greeneries on top represent Mt. Horai.
If you are short on time, head to Jōdan no Ma (上段の間) for the paintings on the fusuma doors which are the work of the famous painter Kano Tansai (狩野 探斎). This room which used to host the feudal lords back in the Sengoku and the Edo period also has the Mandara scroll changed according to the season.
For more information on a schedule of a night at Ichijōin, please refer to the photos on their official website HERE.
Kongō Sanmai-in (金剛三昧院)
Kongō Sanmai-in, located off the main road of Kōyasan, is one of the best temples in the sacred mountain. With multiple important national cultural properties and national treasures stored in the precinct, it is surely a spot that shouldn’t be overlooked!
For more information, please refer to our article on Kongō Sanmai-in (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.
Chūōshokudō Sanbō (中央食堂 さんぼう)
Very close to the bus stop – Senjuin-bashi, there is another Shōjin Ryōri restaurant that we recommend. This restaurant which has been passed through four generations, is known for its mouthwatering vegetarian menu at a relatively low price. The dishes that you will be enjoying at Chūōshokudō Sanbō are going to be so delicious that you won’t mind having them every day (≧▽≦).
All dishes on their menu come with English descriptions. If you are unsure which set menu to go for, how about the Vegetarian Lunch Box – Shōjin Hanako Bentō (精進花籠弁当)? As you can see in the photo, not only is the lunch box nicely presented in a floral-shaped container, all their signatory dishes are on the plate!
Of course, there are other cheaper but equally tasty options for you to choose from if you find this option too expensive (^_-)-☆.
Chūōshokudō Sanbō’s Business Hours and Access Information
- The restaurant is open from 11 am to 4 pm or until they are sold out
- It is just a 1-minute walk from the bus stop – Senjuin-bashi (千手院橋)
Karukaya-dō Mitsugon-in (苅萱堂 密厳院)
As you walk towards Okunoin, you will most likely walk past Karukaya-dō. The temple was founded by Kakuban Shōnin (覚鑁上人) as a training site for Mitsugon-in.
As Kakuban Shōnin became more famous and well-known, the number of his disciples increased as well. Naturally, as the numbers grew, differing opinions on practices and beliefs also grew. Eventually, those trained in Karukaya-dō later split from Mitsugon-in and formed their own sect.
As photography is not permitted inside Karukaya-dō, when you enter the worship hall, do remember to check for the 30 paintings hung on the wall (you will have to walk around the hall in an anti-clockwise direction). Together, they tell the story of Ishidōmaru (石童丸物語), a sad story of a young boy in search of his father occurred 800 years ago. It is a story that reminds us to treasure the time that we spend with our families and loved ones.
The Story of Ishidōmaru
The story started when a samurai called Katō Saemon’nojō Shige (加藤左衛門尉繁) in Kyūshū participated in a banquet held by Harada Tanemasa (原田 種正), the feudal lord of the province next to the province that Shige was from. As everyone was enjoying their food and watching live performances, a rampaging horse suddenly burst into the venue. Shige was the only one who didn’t run for his life and stop the horse. After that, Shige was praised for his courage and skills and since became the favorite of Harada, to the point that he gave Shige his blessing to marry his daughter. Years later, Shige took on another girl as his concubine, which then led to a tragic ending.
With two women sharing the one guy, it couldn’t be avoided that hatred would grow between them. One day, Shige witnessed the two ladies playing Japanese chess. At first glance, it seemed like everything was peaceful. However, when he took a closer look, he saw the long hair of the two women being transformed into snakes, biting each other.
Realizing that he was responsible for the feud, he later became a monk in Kōyasan and changed his name to Karukaya Dōshin (苅萱 道心).
With Shige’s leaving, his concubine returned to her hometown in Hyōgo Prefecture and gave birth to their son, Ishidōmaru. As time passed by, Ishidōmaru eventually turned 14. Hearing the rumors that Shige went to Kōyasan, he and his mother began their trip searching for Shige.
However, women were forbidden to enter Kōyasan at the time. So Ishidōmaru hiked up the mountain by himself, leaving his mother at the foot of Kōyasan. Unknowingly, Ishidōmaru ran into Karukaya Dōshin. Although Karukaya Dōshin recognized that Ishidōmaru was his son, he didn’t want to reveal his identity as he has chosen to devote his life to Buddhism. Instead, he told Ishidōmaru that his father haD passed away.
Disappointed by the news, Ishidōmaru went back down the mountain only to find that his mother had died. Without any family members around him, Ishidōmaru returned to his province but shockingly found that his sister had also passed away. With all his immediate family gone, he realized the world’s impermanence and headed back to Kōyasan to devote himself to Buddhism.
The monk who he chose to become his disciple was Karukaya Dōshin. During his 40 years of Buddhism training with his father, they made a Jizō statue together to pray for the world.
However, as time passed by, Karukaya Dōshin, realized he couldn’t follow Buddha’s teaching and treat his son like anyone else. So he decided to move to Zenkō-ji (善光寺) in Nagano for further training and then passed away.
How to Get to Karukaya-dō
- From Kōyasan Station, take bus services bound for Okunoin-mae (奥の院前) and get off at Karukayado-mae (苅萱堂前)
- From Kongōbuji, it is around a 10-minute walk
Ekōin Temple (恵光院)
A popular temple great for those who would love to stay closer to Okunoin is Ekōin. Not only is it just a short stroll to the entrance of Okunoin’s 2 km approach, but the Okunoin Nighttime Tour is also held by the temple almost every night!
And there is no need to worry about language barriers because tours are also held in English. Even if you plan to stay somewhere else, you can still book your spot HERE and discover the mysterious Okunoin with lit-up lanterns lined the approach (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.
The guestrooms at Ekōin are spacious and look just like those in a Japanese ryokan. A great view of their garden will also be available from your room.
If you check in before 4:30 pm, you can join the Ajikan Meditation for free to get a feel of how the monks in Kōyasan meditate.
For meals, you will be enjoying delicious Shōjin Ryōri in your room. You will be amazed by how delicious ordinary ingredients such as vegetables and tofu can taste.
Free WIFI is available at Ekōin. Also, there is a free coffee machine and tea server for your morning routine (^_-)-☆. As a souvenir, you can get an “ekoin” T-shirt!
The only con we can think of is that there aren’t any private bathrooms for those who aren’t comfortable bathing with others.
Tip: If that is the case, the public bath is most likely empty during the nighttime tour because almost everyone who stays at Ekōin would participate. Otherwise, the bath is open in the morning as well.
The Magical Morning Service at Ekōin
Morning chanting starts at 6:30 am. While it isn’t compulsory, it is highly recommended, especially for the Goma fire ritual that takes place straight after.
Hearing the Buddhist hymn with the sound of Taiko drums and having the fire burning in front of you, the morning service is definitely going to be an experience that you will remember!
For more information and to book, please refer to their website HERE.
The center of worship of Kōyasan has to be Okunoin, where Kōbōdaishi (弘法大師) fell into deep meditation (passed away). It is believed that the revered monk is still providing his helping hand to those who are in need while meditating.
On the 2 km approach to Okunoin, more than 200,000 tombstones and memorials of famous samurais sit beneath the cedar grove. It is also where most of Kōyasan’s 7 Wonders are located!
For more information, please refer to our article on Okunoin (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.
To visit Okunoin at night, you can join one of the Kōyasan Okunoin Night Tours. English tours are available as well! For more information, please refer to the official website HERE.
Important: It is a sacred area beyond the Gobyobashi Bridge in the photo. Photography there is prohibited.
Tokugawa Clan Mausoleum (徳川家霊台)
The feudal lords had supported the temples in Kōyasan up until the era changed to Meiji. If you are curious about how influential or powerful the Tokugawa shogunate was, head to the Tokugawa Clan Mausoleum. Built under the order of the third shōgun Tokugawa Iemitsu (德川家光) for his father and grandfather, the mausoleum took ten years before it was completed in 1643.
If you have been to Nikkō, the style might remind you of Nikkō Tōshō-gū (日光東照宮). Although not as lavish as the temple, the Tokugawa Clan Mausoleum was constructed in a way that imitated Nikkō Tōshō-gū.
On your right, you should be able to see the hall for Tokugawa Ieyasu (德川家康), the legendary samurai who started the Tokugawa shogunate. On your left is where you pay your respects to Ieyasu’s son, Tokugawa Hidetada (德川秀忠). Before 1888, there was another hall dedicated to the rest of the Tokugawa’s shōguns, but it was unfortunately lost due to a fire.
Both architectures are lavishly decorated with intricate and colorful engraving, with other decorations being made of gold.
The mausoleum is both a World Heritage and Japan’s Important Cultural Property.
Tokugawa Clan Mausoleum’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information
- The mausoleum is open from 8:30 to 5 pm
- The last admission is at 4:30 pm
- The admission fee is 200 yen for junior high school students and above
- From Kōyasan Station, take bus services bound for Okunoin-mae (奥の院前) and get off at Namikirifudo-mae (浪切不動前)
- From the bus stop, it is less than a 5-minute walk
- The bus trip takes around 10 minutes
Rengejōin Temple (蓮華定院)
For the Japanese history buff and admirers of Sanada Yukimura (真田 幸村), Rengejōin is the destination that you will want to visit when you come to Kōyasan. The temple has a deep connection with the Sanada Clan. The family crest which features six mon coins was the amount that the Japanese would use to pay for crossing the Sanzu River (三途の川) safely to reach the afterlife. The soldiers of the Sanada Clan would always carry six mon coins when they were off to the battlefield as it symbolizes that they are ready to die for glory.
Nowadays, Rengejōin is one of the most popular temples that pilgrims want to spend a night in.
For more information, please refer to our article on Rengejōin!
Lastly, while waiting for the bus heading back to Kōyasan Station, you can walk around the Nyonindō, where female pilgrims used to worship the Buddhas before they were allowed to proceed further into Kōyasan in 1905.
Kōyasan has a total of seven trailheads, each used to have a Nyonindō next to it. But other than this one at Fudōsaka (不動坂), the other Nyonindōs don’t exist anymore.
As the major attraction before Kōyasan Station, if this is your last stop, you can let the Buddha and the gods know you will be on your way home soon. Any last-minute prayers can also be done here.
If this is your first stop, you can walk from here to Kongōbuji Temple (金剛峯寺) (^_-)-☆.
Interesting fact: The Nyonindō has been determined to be existing around the same time or even before the Fudōdō (不動堂) in Kingōbuji Temple (金剛峯寺)! This fact was discovered after an examination of the old pillar of Nyonindō was completed, concluding that it was from the late Kamakura period.
At Nyonindō, you will also find the map of Nyoninmichi (女人道). The 7 km narrow and steep road that goes around the seven Kōyasan trailheads used to be a road the female pilgrims had to take to get a peek of the temples of Kōyasan. Thankfully, this is not the case anymore. Kōyasan nowadays treats both genders equally, just like the ideal world that the Buddha had described for us.
Below is how part of the Nyoninmichi looks and the view of Konpon Daitō (根本大塔) in Danjō Garan (壇上伽藍).
If you are interested in trekking the Nyoninmichi, you will find the small road close to the map.
The Reason why Females Were Forbidden to Enter Kōyasan
If you ever wondered why females were not allowed to enter Kōyasan, the explanation that makes the most sense is to eliminate the temptation of lust.
Those who just started practicing Buddhism can easily be distracted by the temptation in the world. To make it easier for the young monks to focus, most temples were built in the deep mountains to limit the amount of temptation out there.
If women were allowed to visit the temples, the monks’ attention could be easily diverted, especially if they were beautiful. On top of that, having female guests at the temple can make ordinary people doubt if something that shouldn’t be happening is happening behind closed doors.
The History of How Kōyasan Opened up to Women
What eventually led to Kōyasan’s open up was the Kyoto Expo (京都博覧会) held in 1872. Because of the international event, the Japanese Government ordered Kōyasan to abandon the rule of forbidding female entry, which Kōyasan rejected at the time.
Knowing the order and ignoring the voices of the objection, a woman named Sugano Ichino (菅野イチノ) broke the rule and moved in to live with her husband, who was living in Kōyasan in 1879. The next incident was when a couple sent by the Afforestation Bureau to work in Kōyasan had a child born in 1894.
In 1905, females were finally allowed to enter the sacred ground of Kōyasan.
Kosugimyo Shrine (小杉明神社)
On one side of Nyonindō, you will find a small worship hall. It is a shrine for a kind woman named Kosugi, said to be the founder of Nyonindō.
Kosugi, who experienced a turbulent life, heard about Kōbō Daishi in Kōyasan when she was planning to settle at Zenkōji Temple (善光寺) in Nagano. Admiring Kōbō Daishi, she made her way to Kōyasan but was stopped at Nyonindō. To her surprise, other women who were equally unfortunate or even experienced a worse life were praying there too.
Seeing the scene, she spent all her money to build a hall (the Nyonindō we have today) for the women who come to Kōyasan, serving them warm tea and food to help them recover from the weariness from the long travel!
Nyonindō’s Opening Hours and Access Information
- Nyonindō is open from 8:30 am to 5 pm
- From Kōyasan Station, take bus services bound for Okunoin-mae (奥の院前) or Daimonminami Chūshajō (大門南駐車場) and get off at Nyonindo (女人堂)
Discover Kudoyama at the Foot of Kōyasan
Your pilgrimage trip to Kōyasan won’t be complete if you don’t stop by Kudoyama Town at the foot of the mountain. The town that deeply connects with the famous samurai, Sanada Yukimura, has a couple of attractions you might want to visit.
For more information, please refer to our article on Kudoyama!