Koyasan in Wakayama Prefecture is a Buddhist holy land in Japan that Kukai or commonly known as Kobo Daishi opened as a place of training in the Heian period (794-1185). When Kobo Daishi was looking for land suitable for the training, he found a basin deep in trackless mountains about 1,000 meters above sea level. Its discovery dates back about 1,200 years ago. You can feel the passion of Kobo Daishi who found this place deep in the mountains off the beaten track, which in that age was not even found on a map.
Equal as a Holy Land of Japanese Buddhism to Koyasan is Hieizan near Kyoto where Enryakuji, a temple registered as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1994, is located. Both san and zan mean mountain in Japanese. But there are two major differences between Hieizan and Koyasan. One of them is the different denominations: Tiantai-school for Hieizan and Shingon-school for Koyasan. And the other is the existence of a town (people’s daily lives). In both mountains there are various halls for training and old temples, but while only temple officials such as monks live in Hieizan, Koyasan has not only temple officials, but also ordinary people other than monks living.
This holy place Koyasan was also registered as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 2004, and is a district that has received 3 Stars in the Michelin Green Guide, but please be sure to visit the “Okunoin (Inner Shrine),” “Danjo Garan” and “Kongobuji Temple,” and experience “accommodation in temple lodging.” Okunoin and Danjo Garan are said to be the two main sacred places in Koyasan.
Old and gigantic cedar trees stand on either side of the approach of about two kilometers from the entrance of Okunoin, and the tombstone of some Japanese imperial families and military leaders who won fame in ancient times as well as common people and company shrines stand along the long approach. At the very end of this path there is the mausoleum where Kobo Daishi rests, and this place exudes a profoundly dignified presence which never fails to attract pilgrims.
Danjo Garan is an area consisting of The Great Tower and various temples spotted around Koyasan, and particularly eye-catching as a symbol of the pursuit of knowledge is the Tower which has been refurbished over the course of about 70 years from the year 816 to become Japan’s first two-story pagoda. The current tower was refurbished in 1937.
Kongobuji Temple is the main temple of Danjo Garan where the head monk resides. There is Japan’s largest rock garden, “Banryūtei” on the premise.
Among the 117 temples of Koyasan, there are 52 temples which have pilgrim’s lodging where travelers can also stay. The temple lodging experience includes also taking part in training with ascetic monks through sutra chanting, hand-copying sutras, and a type of meditation “Ajikan” unique to the Shingon sect. During the stay, the meals are “Buddhist cuisine” made from vegetables and rice, completely vegetarian dishes.