Koyasan Mt. Koya Buddhist Temple

Japan Day 3 And 4: Mount Koya’s Garan And Kobo Daishi Mausoleum

On our third day in Japan we visited the sites and temples of Koyasan. Koyasan (Mt. Koya) is the epicenter of Shingon Buddhism. You can visit the mausoleum where the founder of Shingon Buddhism, Kobo Daishi, is laid to rest in Koyasan as well.

Staying overnight at a Buddhist temple in Koyasan was one of my favorite moments from my Japan trip. Visiting the sites and temples of Koyasan was equally rewarding. Koyasan (Mt. Koya) is the epicenter of Shingon Buddhism. Kukai (Kobo Daishi) developed the secluded temple town of Koyasan back in the 9th century. Koyasan is surrounded by 8 mountain peaks, representing the 8 pedals of a lotus. The lotus is one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols in Buddhism and an important symbol in the religion.

Mount Koya's Garan And Kobo Daishi Mausoleum

I first found out about Koyasan when researching pilgrimages after I walked Camino de Santiago. Koyasan is the beginning and end point for the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. We didn’t get to do any hiking or explore the trail network in Koyasan, but I’m hoping to return soon.

Getting to Koyasan from Kyoto is no easy feat and took Julia and I a total of 4 hours on three trains, one cable car, and a bus. Using the JR rail pass, we took a shinkansen to Shin Osaka from Kyoto. From Shin Osaka, we took the local Osaka Loop train to Shin Imamiya. From Imamiya, we purchased a World Heritage pass that would grant us access the rest of the way. A direct train took us from Imamiya to the base of Koyasan, before we took a cable car up the mountain, and finally a bus to the center of Koyasan.

Koyasan Japan Nankai Railways
Nakai Train From Shin Imamiya
Koyasan Japan Nankai Railways
Cable Car From Train to Koyasan

When we finally arrived in the city center of Koyasan, the first thing we did was grab lunch. We found a great ramen place kitty corner to the tourist center. Koyasan has a great busline that takes you from one end of the mountain to the other. It’s also a very walkable area, with a paved sidewalk leading from one end to the other.

Koyasan Japan Travel Kondo
Downtown Koyasan
Koyasan Japan Travel Kondo

After lunch, Julia and I walked from the center of Koyasan to see the closeby Garan temple complex. The development of Garan began in 826 when Kobo Daishi decided it was the perfect place to center his religion. The are now more than 100 temples in Koyasan. Our first stop was at Kongobuji, the head temple in Shingon Buddhism.

Japan Kongobuji Garan Temples Kobo Daishi
Kongobuji Temple

From Kongobuji we continued on to Garan, the central temple complex of Koyasan. There are a number of small temples along the path through Garan as you first enter, but all eyes gravitate towards Kondo Hall and Konpon Daito Pagoda. Kondo Hall is a very important temple and is where important ceremonies are held. Fire has burned Koyasan many times, and these temples have burned with the mountain. Kondo Hall has been rebuilt many times, with the current building having been constructed in the early 1900’s. Next to Kondo Hall is the Konpon Daito Pagoda. This 45 meter tall pagoda features the cosmic Buddha Dainichi Nyorai. This pagoda also features a three dimensional mandala.

Japan Garan Koyasan Kobo Daishi Pagoda Kando
Japan Garan Koyasan Kobo Daishi Pagoda Kando
Daito Pagoda

After spending a half hour inside of the Daito Pagoda, Julia and I explored the rest of the Garan complex. The old temples set in the lush forest of Koyasan had a very magical feel to it. It was getting late and cold, and we had to make it to our temple by 5 oclock. We did a little more walking around Koyasan before deciding to head back to our temple for an evening of shojin ryori and the warm water of the onsen.


Japan Garan Koyasan Kobo Daishi Pagoda Kando
Torii Gate
Japan Garan Koyasan Kobo Daishi Pagoda Kando
Bridge Over Water

You can read about our overnight stay in a Koyasan Buddhist temple here.

An Overnight Stay At A Buddhist Temple In The Holy Land Of Koyasan

After a night spent at a Koyasan temple and a morning of prayer, Julia and I ventured out into the cold morning towards Okunoin Temple. You can take a bus to Okunoin Temple, but Julia and I decided to walk there through Okunoin’s cemetery. Okunoin Temple is the resting place of Kobo Daishi. It is said that Kobo Daishi did not die, but instead is suspended in an eternal state of meditation. Okunoin is the destination for many pilgrims in Japan and is considered to be one of the most sacred and revered sites in the entire country.

The path to Okunoin through the cemetary consists of three bridges, with the first bridge denoting the official entrance.

Okunoin Temple Kobo Daishi Garan Koyasan Japan
First Bridge
Okunoin Temple Kobo Daishi Garan Koyasan Japan
Towards Okunoin
Okunoin Temple Kobo Daishi Garan Koyasan Japan
Through The Forest

The Okunoin cemetary is the largest in Japan with over 200,000 grave sites. For those seeking salvation, being buried close to Koba Daishi was a desired place to rest after death.

Okunoin Temple Kobo Daishi Garan Koyasan Japan
Sacred Ground

After walking for nearly 2 kilometers through the Okunoin cemetery, we reached Gobyonohashi Bridge, the third and final bridge before Okunoin. From this point on, all food, drink, and photography are prohibited. Okunoin Hall has a presence that not quite possible to put into words. Entering the resting place of Kobo Daishi is an experience I’ll never forget.

Okunoin Temple Kobo Daishi Garan Koyasan Japan
Third And Final Bridge
Okunoin Temple Kobo Daishi Garan Koyasan Japan
Okunoin Temple From Afar
Okunoin Temple Kobo Daishi Garan Koyasan Japan
Lanterns Of Toro Hall

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Mount Koya's Garan And Kobo Daishi Mausoleum

I'm Drew, creator of Trail to Peak. Trail to Peak brings content to life on the web through breath-taking photography and captivating video. I launched Trail to Peak in 2014 with a goal to inspire readers to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. I have traveled to 19 countries, walked Camino de Santiago, hiked the John Muir Trail, trekked through the Andes of Peru, and am constantly seeking new adventures in my home state of California. Joining me on my weekly adventures is my partner, Julia, our son, Owen, and our two goldendoodles, Isla and Lilly.

12 comments on “Japan Day 3 And 4: Mount Koya’s Garan And Kobo Daishi Mausoleum

  1. Sounds like a wonderful experience! We are hoping to visit Japan next year and you have given us some good ideas for the trip!

  2. Terrific photos, thanks for sharing. My friends are in Japan at the moment for three weeks, I’m so envious! Looks so good.

  3. Fascinating! I love the cemetery with all the beautiful trees. The photo of the tombstones is great.

  4. Those temples and forests are stunning!

  5. Great pictures! I hope you had a good time!

  6. Britanica

    I am in love with the nature of this place! They preserve the trees and wildlife so well, you can just tell they respect it. When you respect nature, it flourishes! I have a question about the trains now… Are they as crowded as everyone seems to say? Or is that just the shuttles that are crowded?

    • It depends on the train. The main lines in Kyoto and Tokyo are packed, as are some of the local lines during work commuting hours. Most trains were empty midday though. The shinkansen green cars were always empty.

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