Hidden in the mountains, Mount Koya has become a top destination for both Japanese and foreign tourists in search of the tranquility in this secluded temple village. I know I have always dreamed of visiting Mount Koya. When I went to Japan the first time with my aunt I was living in Australia, I missed out on Mount Koya because of time restriction. I wanted to go so bad, the misty mountain seemed like a place where real magic lived. But unfortunately it was not meant to be.
Finally, after a three year wait I went back to Japan with my boyfriend and I made sure we went to Mount Koya. And I’m so happy we did. It was one of the most amazing things I have done to date. It’s one of those experience that stay with you for a lifetime, always on the surface of your nostalgia.
Home to more than 100 temples, Mount Koya is known for its Shukubo (temple lodging) where you are invited to experience what it’s like to live a monk’s lifestyle, including attending morning prayer and eating traditional vegetarian monks’ cuisine.
To me it was what I had been searching for since my first trip to Japan; tranquil temples hidden between the village paths and trees, gardens with koi fish and calming designs. It’s like being transported back in time when you reach the temple’s doors.
The journey to Mount Koya can be a long one, especially if you’re like me and only plan the journey the night before. Thinking we could train from Nara to Koyasan directly, we were miserable to find that we had to train back to Osaka, take the Osaka Namba line, transfer to the Nankai Line and then transfer to the Koyasan-Line, then take the tram up the mountain where you then wait for a bus to take you to your temple’s stop. A six hour journey all together. Much longer day dragging around a suitcase than the 2 hour journey google had told us it would be.
It was more than worth it though.
When we arrived I was more than happy to find the mountain village was still like the photos I have been fawning over for years, the tranquil atmosphere not ruined by hoards of noisy tourists like most sacred places have become. The eeriness you’d see in pictures was still very much true, especially when you walked the cemetery early after morning prayer while the fog was still heavy between the trees and tombstones.
It was magical and we were lucky to be mostly walking the twenty minute trail by ourselves till you got closer to the temples. If I could have I would have liked to spend more time on the mountain to fully enjoy what the village had to offer. But I was grateful that we made it to Koyasan with the amount of time we did.
A tip: be prepared for the morning prayer to be longer than you expect. Most prayers go on for about an hour starting at 6:00am.
Mount Koya is so worth the trip. I can’t recommend enough that you spend at least one night in the mountain village. I would have loved to have spent three 2 days on the mountain to really get a feel of the area. It’s all the more reason to go back tho!
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