Koyasan – Staying with monks on a sacred mountain

Spending a night or better two nights at a buddhist temple should be on the bucket list of everyone. It is without a doubt an amazing experience to be able to be part of their lives even if it is just a glimpse into their daily routines. From morning prayers and meditation to the temple food (delicious vegan breakfast & dinner), the lighting of incense and wishing for good fortune, the meditative art of shakyo (sutra copying).
Koyasan is the city that sits on top of mount Koya and is the birth place of Shingon Buddhism and it all surrounds the deity Jizo Buddhasavarttt and Kobo Daishi – a monk who founded the city with the first temple now named after him.

 

Main reasons to come here:
– Okunoin – Japans biggest and most beautiful graveyard/graveforest with over 200000 graves founded in 805AD. An eerie place but instead of being creepy it radiates a calmness that soothes the soul – I spent half the day here and visited the resting place of Kobo Daishi. To walk through the temple with more than 10000 lanterns is incredible.
– Monastery – The unique experience of staying at a temple with monks and sharing their lifestyle for a day (you don’t need to be religious to be part of it). My room was laid out with tatami floors and sliding doors (fusuma). The washroom/showers are shared and it is an experience in itself to visit them. Check out my article on bathing etiquette in Japan. I attended the morning prayers at 6:00 am and spent time walking around the garden and meditating.
– Temples – Beautiful temples with Japans biggest rock garden at the Kongobuji temple

– Temple food – Called Shojin Ryori – the cuisine that was invented by monks and here I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to try it out (half-board my friends!). The vegetarian dishes are simple and follow Buddhistic rules, in some countries they are more strict in other less. But they all do not allow the 5 Spices –  asafoetidashallot, mountain leek and allium chinense and garlic. The meals follow simple preparations, with expert attention to quality, wholesomeness and flavor.

Access:
Get to Osaka station in Osaka (either with the JR Line from Kyoto) or the metro
Get the world heritage ticket Koyasan because after this point your JR pass doesn’t get you further
the ticket is good for two days and gets you there and back and gets you around on the bus in Koyasan (including discounts on temple fees)
 
Route:
Osaka station – Shinimamiya station – (Hamato – train changes sometimes) – Gokurabashi – Koyasan station – Koyasan town
This sounds like a long haul but it is actually very easy thanks to the impeccable organization by the Japanese railway system.
Just make sure to leave your bulky luggage at Osaka station (700 yen for the biggest locker for a day) and only bring what you need for two days because 90% of all travelers come back to Osaka
Our choice of temple was Jokiin.
I would recommend to book ahead of time and book absolutely half-board for the unique taste of temple food.
This was one of my favorite moments during my whole stay in Japan and is unique worldwide.