Koyasan, Japan - Mt. Koya and Shojoshin-in
We spent an amazing 36 days in Japan! We did a lot of traveling, and we went back and forth between a lot of locations, cities, and districts. To make things easier to read and write, we have grouped everything in our travels into city locations and not exactly by time.
Mt. Koya, Koyasan is a spiritual place far away in the mountains about 3-4 hours south of Kyoto by train. There are no bullet trains to the mountain location and the trains make frequent stops along the way to pick up and drop off passengers, but like all things, the journey is half the experience.
The further away the trains go the smaller the cities get. Flat city plains turn into hills with small farms, and hills turn into mountains covered in grass and trees with housing and roads in between.
Sakura trees dot the hills and mountain sides. Sometimes strategically placed along the train rails, but sometimes they can be seen blossoming on a mountain side, a small flourishing pink tree among a sea of green forest.
The train conductors stand in uniforms to switch places at certain points on the journey. Watching them drive the trains is interesting, each one pointing out to the markings and signs in front of them, physically acknowledging the visual cues and commands.
Sometimes the trains open their doors to nothing.
Slowly more and more people get off, and fewer get on.
As you go deeper into the forest and farther away from civilization, you wonder if it will be the last stop.
Then train tracks finally come to an end...
the journey does not.
A cable car is needed to get to the top of Mount Koya. The cable car is no joke, about the size of a train caboose, and on a very steep incline. We found ourselves wondering how often the cables are tested, and tried not to think about what would occur if something was to go wrong on the way up.
The pictures don't really do the incline justice.
Koyasan is located 800 meters up in the mountain and surrounded by 8 peaks. It is the center of a geographical lotus flower and serves as a dedicated site for religious studies. The Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage starts and stops in Koyasan. Even after multiple trains and a cable car ride there is still further to go. Shuttle buses drive the remaining leg, a steep and curvy path up the mountain.
The buses drop you off in the small town area, and from there you can walk the remaining mile to your final destination or perhaps take a taxi, but good luck finding one.
In 2004, UNESCO, designated Mt. Koya as a World Heritage Site. 120 temples exist in Mt Koya and pilgrims, travelers, and tourist such as us can find a place to stay in some of them with advance arrangements.
We choose Shojoshin-in as the location for our overnight stay. Shojoshin-in is one of the oldest temples on Mt. Koya and is located next to the infamous Okunoin Cemetery.
While visiting Mt. Koya itself is an otherworldly experience, the grounds of the temples that the area hosts cannot be described in ways that truly clarify the beauty and tranquility they offer.
A small pond was beneath our room that we were free to sit at and feed the koi fish.
The main interiors were large and open, with no furniture and only kitchen tools and utensils were stacked against the walls.
The location is an active Buddhist Monk Temple, and the rules are strict. You must check in by 5 PM or you will be turned away. You are required to show up to morning ceremony the next morning at 6:30 and follow the times and schedules.
The rooms are large but bare, and the beds are laid out before your arrival. For Shojoshin-in there are very few options when it comes to rooms, and while we did have a private washroom with a sink, the bathroom and tub are shared with the guest on each floor.
The small table in the room also serves as a heater. Being up in the mountains this was an important and welcome feature.
Our washroom. The sign actually says "no hot water is served", but it was still a nice laugh.
The view from our rooms balcony.
The view from our rooms balcony.
Similar to Shigetsu at the Tenryuji Temple, Shojoshin-in serves Shojin Ryori for dinner, strictly vegetarian meals. The meals are delightful, full of flavor, color, and very satisfying.
Attendance at morning prayer is required at 6:30 am. The guests of the temple sit in the back while the monks perform their rituals which last an hour. Afterwards you are free to explore the otherwise closed off area.
Breakfast is served after morning prayer. It is a simple meal of rice, miso soup, and other vegetarian items.
A once in a life time experience that everyone should try. Mt Koya and Shojoshin-in should be on the list of places to travel to when making arrangements to visit Japan. While the journey is long, and far away from the city, it is full of amazing sites and experiences.