Translated by Shinji Takaramura
Mount Koya - An Essential Guide To The Sacred Land In Wakayama
Written by Yumiko Delor
Mount Koya, located in Wakayama prefecture, is the center of the Shingon Buddhism. This article provides useful information on activities, events, and festivals you can enjoy on a trip to Mount Koya (Koyasan).
Mount Koya - Useful Sightseeing Information
Common Ticket for Visiting Temples
With this ticket, visitors are allowed entrance to the six fee-charged facilities such as Kongobuji and Kondo. It can be obtained at the Koyasan Shukubo Association information centers for just 1500 yen. If you pay the fees separately at each facility, the total will be 2200 yen, so this is the cheaper for those who want to visit all six spots.
A Five Language Audio Guide
An audio guide for Japanese, English, French, Chinese and Korean is available at Mount Koya. The rental offices are located in the Koyasan Shukubo Association at Chuo and Ichi-no-hashi, and it can be returned to the Shukubo Association at Chuo, Ichi-no-hashi and also Naka-no-Hashi. The charge is 500 yen per day, from 8:30 to 16:30. Those staying for the night can return the guide next morning.
A personal guide which requires a reservation in advance can also be arranged. The charge will differ according to the spots. For instance, the Okunoin tour takes about two hours, and the charge is 6000 yen. The Kongobuji tour will take about an hour, and the charge is 3000 yen. For further information, please ask the Shukubo Association.
Although there is a local bus service at Mount Koya, visitors can also tour the area using a Rent-a-cycle. Available from 8:30 to 17:00, the initial charge is 400 yen for one hour, and an additional fee of 100 yen will be charged for every 30 minutes afterwards. Please note that this service will be unavailable in case of rain or snow.
One Day Free Ticket
This unlimited ride ticket for buses can be used in the Mount Koya area, and comes with various discount privileges, such as 20 percent off on admission fees and 10 percent off at restaurants and souvenir shops. The price is 830 yen for adults, and 420 yen for children. Please note that this ticket can be bought only at the Koyasan Station bus office counter.
Otaiya Night Walk
Once a month on the 20th, a nighttime tour of the Okunoin will be held from 19:00. The residing monk will give a short lecture at the Torodo, and participants can experience the different atmosphere that night brings to the temple. The tour takes about two hours, and there is no charge. Reservations are not required; just go to Ichi-no-hashi, where the tour starts.
Unique Experiences at Mount Koya
There are various events at Mount Koya where the visitors can experience Buddhism for themselves.
Ajikan is a meditation method developed by Kobo Daishi that visitors can take lessons in at Kongobuji and Ekoin. The Kongobuji classes are held four times a day from Monday to Friday, starting from late April to late November. It is held at the Ajikan Dojo, which is usually closed to the public. The lesson takes about an hour, and costs 1000 yen. Please note that an admission fee will also be required.
The Ekoin classes are held from 16:30 every day. The lesson takes about thirty minutes, and the charge is 500 yen.
Goma Taki Ritual
In the Shingon Sect, which was founded by Kobo Daishi, goma taki, a a ritual of burning wood sticks called gomagi, is an important part of its religion. The temples of Muryokoin and Ekoin holds this ritual after the morning service every day.
Other temples also hold this service on fixed days. It is believed that the flames have a purifying effect.
There are various pilgrimage routes in Mount Koya. Cho-ishi-michi is a route with the three meters-high cho-ishi milposts (*2) set along the route. Nyonin-michi was a route for women, built in the times when women were not allowed to enter the mountain. These routes are components of the World Heritage Site titled "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range." By walking these routes, visitors can directly feel the natural environment of the sacred land.
*3 Cho-ishi: a milepost set along the pilgrimage route.
Seasonal Events at Mount Koya
There are various Buddhist rituals and events at Koyasan, and the following are the three famous festivals.
Koya Fire Festival
This is a goma taki ceremony officially titled "Saito Ogoma Ku," to celebrate the opening of the climbing season in spring at Mount Koya. It is held on the first Sunday of March every year, from 12:30. Monks and ascetics gather in the parking lot of Kongobuji, and the fire will be lit after the taiko (Japanese drum) performances and rituals.
Aoba Matsuri Festival
The official title of this ceremony is "Shuso Gotan-e." It is held to celebrate the birth of Kobo Daishi, the founder of the temple complex on Mount Koya, on June 15th.
Hoto Gyoretsu, a nebuta (huge lantern on floats) parade, is held on the night of June 14th. Another parade called Hanamido Togyo is held in the afternoon of the 15th, with traditional Japanese dance and taiko performances. Last minute participants are free to join in.
This is a memorial service for our ancestors, officially titled Manto Kuyo-e. It is held from 19:00 to 21:00 on August 13th, at Okunoin. Candles are placed along the approach, which is about two kilometers long, which creates a very mystical sight.
All the festivals draw a large crowd, so please bear this in mind if you are planning a trip during those events. If you have the chance to stay at Mount Koya, the experience will surely make for some amazing lasting memories.