Koya-san is the centre of Buddhist study and practice that was founded around 12 centuries ago by Buddhist monk Kobo Daiashi Kukai as a centre for Shingon Buddhist training. His wish was to establish a monastery deep in the mountains away from worldly distractions where monks could practice and pray for peace and the welfare of the people. Emperor Saga granted him use of the land in the year 816AD. The monks here believed that Kobo Daiashi Kukai had not passed away, but had entered an eternal state of meditation. Back in 1832 there were 1812 temples in Koya-san but due to fires and the fact that many smaller temples amalgamated in to larger one the number of official temples is 117.
We especially recommend a walk through the “Okunoin grave yard” to Kobo Daishi's Mausoleum (Gobyo), one of the most photogenic sites in all Japan. Surrounded by a thick forest of massive cedars, the area known as Okuno-in, or the Inner Sanctuary, is the setting for a vast cemetery that features the mausolea of numerous famous Japanese, including that of the samurai ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi (or Taiko Hideyoshi) as well as memorials to the spirits of soldiers killed in the Pacific War.
The journey to get to Koya-san is a long but interesting day of travel, as you take, bullet trains, local trains, and finally a cable car to Mt. Koya. The final part of the journey is in our opinion one of the very best train journeys in Japan! The scenery is stunning. You will arrive in Koya-san early afternoon when you will have time to visit some of the many temples and shrines.
Accommodation in Koya-san is in a "shukubu" (temple lodging). Originally these simple lodgings were for itinerant monks but their number started expanding for the ever growing number of visiting pilgrims. Today there are 52 out of the 117 temples that provide such lodgings. You will sleep on the floor on tatami mats on a simple but comfortable futon (pillows are not comfortable – you will need to make up your own from a rolled up piece of clothing) but the room are spacious and well equipped (telephone and TV!). Rooms do not have en suite facilities but there is a fabulous “Onsen” style bathing area where you can relax after dinner (separate sexes). The whole experience from the temple lodging, the atmospheric town, the amazing journey to get here and the great food make Koya-san the Oasis Travel favourite destination in the whole country!