A poster promoting mask wearing when visiting shrines.

Walking in Mount Kōya

As with elsewhere in Japan at the moment places that would normally be heaving with tourists and a zillion selfie sticks are eerily quiet and much more pleasant to visit as a result. Mount Kōya (高野山) was no exception.

  • Saitō (West Pagoda) of the Danjōgaran, Mount Koya.
  • Woman walking in the rain, Mount Koya
  • Temple complex at Mount Kōya, Wakayama, Japan.

The main home of esoteric Buddhism in Japan, Mount Kōya has been photographed and documented hundreds of times so there are other places to look if you want to delve deeper into its history. It’s the kind of place where you need to immerse yourself for months or even years (decades perhaps?) if you want to fully understand it.

We stayed at a tiny hotel in Koyashita Station (高野下駅) in nearby Kudoyama (九度山) and originally planned to hike from there to Mount Kōya, but a relentless downpour all morning the day before put an end to any hiking plans we had. Instead we drove the 20kms of twisty mountain road, passing road work after road work in what felt like the middle of nowhere before being spat out into the main street of the village. Take the train and cable car if you can, or better still hike there on a nice day.

  • Mount Koya (Koyasan) in the distance. Viewed from Niukanshobu Shrine, Kudoyama.
  • Jison-in Shrine, Kudoyama, Wakayama.

Apparently it is quite common to visit Jison-in Temple (慈尊院) in Kudoyama beforehand where you can get a glimpse of the area that makes up Mount Kōya from a distance. So that’s what we did first. Historically women weren’t allowed to visit, so Jison-in temple was where many went to get a glimpse of the mountain range and basin that make up Mount Kōya.

  • Koyashita Station, Kudoyama, Wakayama.
  • Driving back from Mount Kōya through a mountain village. Wakayama, Japan.

I’d like to go again when the chance arises to do the hike we had planned and even walk some of the Kumano Kodō which connects Mount Kōya with Ise Grand Shrine and Kumano Sanzan on the eastern coasts of Wakayama and Mie prefectures.

But to do justice to the history and heritage of Mount Kōya you would need to visit numerous times in all seasons, over many many years.


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Lived in central Japan since 2001 and spend free days exploring.

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