Revered as a dwelling place of the gods since ancient times, Mount Koya rises mysteriously from the Kii peninsula. It’s a tranquil spot overlooking the Pacific ocean with an age-old feel, and surrounded as it is by dense forests of gigantic trees, waterfalls and scenic rivers, it’s a world away from bustling modern Japan.
Over time, nature worship gave way to Shintoism which in turn blended with Buddhist traditions to take the form of a sacred temple complex at the top of the mountain. At its heart is a 12-centuries old Buddhist monastic centre that’s still active today as the headquarters of the Koyasan sect of Shingon Buddhism. The complex is also home to the oldest existing esoteric pagoda and the vast, thickly forested Okunoin cemetery sheltering the mausolea of numerous famous Japanese such as the samurai ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi and memorials to soldiers killed in the Pacific War.
Koyasan is very much part of the living culture of Japan and it’s visited extensively each year by hikers and pilgrims alike who flock to traverse the ancient routes of Koyasan’s Choishi Stupa Route, Koya Sanzan Route and the Women Pilgrims Route which are now proudly on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
What to do
- Visit historic and sacred temples
- Sightsee by cyclo
- Experience a Buddhist ceremony
- Vist the Reihokan Museum, housing 21 National Treasures
- Tour the Okunoin cemetery