Three days in Osaka: Day 2 – Koya-san

On my second day, I did a day trip to Koya-san, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Koya-san is a large religious city established by the priest Kukai who brought Shingon Mikkyo (esoteric Buddhism) from China approximately 1200 years ago (2015 will be the 1200 year anniversary for the establishment of Koya-san). The site is approx. 850m above sea level and has over 120 temples. It is a common spot for tourists to experience a Buddhist’s lifestyle with many temples offering overnight stays. Some temples invite you to attend the morning meditation session and the majority include dinner and breakfast (vegetarian of course!).

Getting to Koyasan

Koyasan can be accessed by Nankai Railways (not covered by the JR Rail Pass) on the Nankai Koya Line. Go to Shin-Imamiya station with your JR Rail Pass then purchase a ticket to Koyasan (go to the ticket man because he will give you a brochure with bus timetables for Koyasan). There are some limited express trains (80 minutes) which depart 5 times a day, otherwise there are the rapid express trains which depart every 20 – 30 mins (100 minutes). You have to get off at Gokurakubashi station to then catch an extremely steep cable car ride up to the Koyasan site. There are regular buses that run through the Koyasan site so make sure you plan when you want to get back to the station because it gets dark quite quickly around 430pm during the winter.

What I found pretty interesting was that Gokurakubashi, written in kanji as 極楽橋, means ‘bridge to heaven’. Is Koyasan the heaven? Or is it the other way around?


I was only there for the afternoon but it was just enough time to walk through the Okunoin cemetary to the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi (the priest who founded the site). It’s the largest cemetary in Japan with over 200,000 tombstones lining the 2 kilometres up to the mausoleum. Some of these tombstones are of Japanese feudal figures and prominent monks who wanted to be close to Kobo Daishi in death in order to reach salvation.
Walking through the cedar trees (which are 200 – 600 years old, I might add), there was a slightly eerie atmosphere. There aren’t many people around and its dead quiet (except for the occasional snow falling from the trees) so it really does feel like you are isolated in a forest. Looking at the tombstones, the enormity of life really hit me; I just can’t comprehend how life would have been like for these people in those times.

Reflection well

The legend is that if a person looks into this well and does not see his or her reflection at the bottom, then the person will die in 3 years time. THANK GOD I SAW MY REFLECTION!

Termites need a tombstone too…

This next photo made me smile. I noticed a tombstone that said shiroari yasurakani nemure which means ‘termites rest in peace’. It was put up by a Japanese termite exterminator company in memory of all the termites they have killed. I thought this was so Japanese.