Mt. Koya (Koyasan) is situated in the north of Wakayama Prefecture in Koya-cho, Ito-gun, which is an area of flat land surrounded by mountains more than 1,000m in height and is located approximately 800m above sea level. It is considered a sacred place in Japanese Buddhism, and in the 7th year of the Konin era (861 AD), Emperor Saga granted permission to the Buhddist monk Kukai (Kobo Daishi) to found a Zen dojo there. It is currently a religious capital centered around the Danjo Garan, the main dojo. The numerous temples there include the Koyasan Shingon Sect Main Temple Kongobu-ji (Koyasan is its honorific mountain prefix), the Daibon Zanho Juin and 117 other sub-temples, out of which about half provide lodging to pilgrims.
Major Facilities and Temples
- Danjo Garan -
This area comprises what is known as the main hall in a typical temple. It is a historical landmark of Japan and a world heritage site. It is the generic name for esoteric Buddhist temples built by Kukai (Kobo Daishi) as an envisagement of the Mandala and it is one of the two sacred sites of Mt. Koya (the other being the Okunoin mausoleum). The Kondo is the main temple hall of Mt. Koya, which itself is a temple in its entirety, and is the venue where major religious ceremonies are held. In addition, one can find the Daito Pagoda, Mieido (Great Portrait Hall), and the Fudodo are lined up in a row. The Fudodo has been designated as a National Treasure. Additionally, the “Trident Pine” which was allegedly where the Higyo Trident pestle, which was a legendary item of the Kobo Daishi, was hung. Also located in the Garan is the temple bell tower called the Koyashiro (common name).
- Okunoin Temple -
A Japanese historical landmark and world heritage site, it houses the Mausoleum of Kukai and the Toro-do (lantern hall). The exact number of tombstones has not been determined, however, there are said to be over 200,000 tombstones lining the graves along the approach to the mausoleum, which count among them those of the Imperial Household, court nobles, and feudal lords. Over 60 percent of the graves of the Sengoku Daimyo are located there. There are two entrances to the Okunoin Temple, namely the Ichinohashi entrance and the Nakanohashi entrance; worshippers officially enter from Ichinohashi entrance. The mausoleum is located approximately 2 kilometers away from Ichinohashi. On the path to the mausoleum one can find the “Miroku Stone”, which is known as one of the seven wonders of the mountain.
- Koyasan Shingon Sect Main Temple Kongobu-ji -
A Japanese historical landmark and world heritage site.
The main hall has been designated as an important tangible cultural property by Wakayama Prefecture. Kongobu-ji used to be the generic name referring to the whole of Mt. Koya, however, Seigan-ji and Kozan-ji (defunct temple) are currently called Kongobu-ji which were merged in the 2nd year of the Bunroku era (1593). The former Seigan-ji (Teihatsu-ji) was built by the directive of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the 2nd year of the Bunroku era (1593) and rebuilt in the 3rd year of the Bunkyu era (1863). The Buddhist memorial tablets of former emperors and the Chief Abbot of Mt. Koya Shingonsyu are enshrined within. It is comprised of the main hall, shrine annex, and the new shrine annex. At the shrine annex, Japanese tea ceremony is held for tourists. Ryurozu is painted on the fusuma (paper sliding door) at the Yanagi-no-ma (Willow Room), which is the room where Hidetsugu Toyotomi committed hara-kiri (ritual suicide). The type of water bucket placed on the roof used to fight fires used to be a sight one could see anywhere in the Mt. Koya area, however, this is currently the only place where this is still done. Also the “Banryutei” (2,340 m2) located on the Kongobu-ji Temple grounds is the largest stone garden in Japan.
- Daimon Gate -
The main gate for all of Mt. Koya. It was rebuilt in 1705, and has received the designation of Important Cultural Property & World Heritage Site.
- Daishikyokai -
Lecture hall built during the Taisho period. The hall is used for Jukai guidance, Zen meditation training, lectures, and as the Mugai School’s training dojo for its summer training camp.
Since Koyasan was founded by Kobo Daishi Kukai, it has been attracting many people including believers for 1200 years. It was registered as “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range” as a World Heritage Site.
The seven routes “Koya Nanakuchi Routes” serves as pilgrimage routes which leads to Koyasan are used by many people, and recently it is also popular as a hiking trail. We will introduce you the six of the World Heritage routes including “Koyasan Ishi Michi Trail” and “Kumano Kodo Kohechi Trail” as a day-trip walking course. Why don’t you enjoy walking through the ancient trail filled with nature and history?
After Kobo Daishi Kukai fell into the deep contemplation, people started worshipping more as the Daishi sect spread. The seven routes which lead to Koyasan began to be called Koya Nanakuchi. Nyonindo (Women’s Temple) were built by the entryway of each route for women to pray since women were not allowed to enter Koyasan until 1872. The trail connecting to the seven Nyonindo is called Koyasan Nyonindo. It is said that the women put their palms together in prayer towards the shrine of Daishi as they traveled along peaks of Hachiyorenge.
Please do not leave trash. Keep it nice and clean for everybody’s memory.
Do not damage or bring back plants from the trails.
Do not smoke or litter on the street.
Please be aware of wild animals and pay attention to the weather forecast during winter.
Please put a rubber cap on the tip (ferrule) of your trekking pole to prevent the trail from getting damaged and the soil from sliding.
Do not ride a bike or motorcycle except for the designated driveway.
There are areas without cell phone service. Please plan thoroughly in advance to be prepared to hike.
Kumano-Kodo is a collective term for pilgrimage roads leading to Kumano-Sanzan (Kumano-Hongu Shrine, Kumano-Hayatama-Taisha Shrine, and Kumano-Nachi-Taisha Shrine) and is also called the Kumano-Sankeimichi (Kumano Pilgrimage Route). It is located in the Kii Peninsula, the road crosses Mie prefecture, Nara prefecture, Wakayama prefecture, and the Osaka prefecture.
- Kumano-Kodo refers mainly to the following five paths. -
Kiiji Route (from Watanabe-no-tsu to Tanabe)
Kohechi (from Koya-san Mountain to Kumano-Sanzan, approximately 70 km)
Nakahechi (from Tanabe to Kumano-Sanzan)
Ohechi (from Tanabe to Kushimoto, Kushimoto to Kumano-Sanzan, approximately 120 km)
Ise-ji Route (Kumanokodo Road) (from Ise-Jingu Shrine to Kumano-Sanzan, approximately 160 km)
Many of these were designated as historical sites of the country as " Kumano-Sankeimichi " in 2000, and in 2004 were registered as World Heritage Sites of UNESCO as part of the "Holy Grounds and Pilgrimage Routes of the Kii Mountain Land" ("Historic Site and Cultural Landscape " among cultural heritages).
Another example where such a "road" was registered as a world heritage is the "Pilgrimage Route of Santiago de Compostela" (cultural heritage of Spain). Registration of the road as a world heritage itself is rare.
Characteristic of the remains of Kumano-Kodo are the stone pavement which was used for paving Daimonzaka in Nachisan, etc.
The stone pavement was used because the Kii Peninsula is an area with one of the highest amounts of precipitation in Japan.
Moreover, there are parts where the Ichirizuka (milestones) that were maintained by the Kishu clan in the Edo period still remain.
The area around Kumano was a place of nature worship, which also appears in the Nihon-Shoki. Kumano-Sanzan gathers the faith of people of all levels - from the emperor, nobility, and to the common people - and it is said that the Kamino-Goko of the Uda Monk-Emperor in 908 (7th year of the Engi period) was the first to worship in the imperial family.
It is said that the reason that pilgrimages to the Kumano-Sanzan became frequent was because of the Kumano-Goko of the Shirakawa Emperor in 1090. Because of this, Kumano-Moude came to be held among the aristocrats in Kyoto. It was worshipped by the Minamoto and Taira family, and Ippen and Mongaku, who were monks during the Heian and Kamakura periods, who are also believed to have made the pilgrimage there.
- Muromachi Period -
Kumano-Moude became popular among the aristocrats, as well as the samurai and the common people, and it is said that the crowds were so large, that they were referred to as the "Kumano-Moude of the ants".
The prosperity of Kumano-Sanzan reached its peak, and the Kumano-Sankeimichi was also developed into a wide road.
- Edo Period -
Along with Ise-Mairi (Ise Pilgrimage), it is said that Kumano-Moude was widely practiced by the commoner people. At one time, it is recorded that there was a case where 800 people stayed at an inn in the vicinity of Kumano in one day.
Niutsuhime Shrine is located in Kamiamano, Katsuragi, Ito district, Wakayama prefecture.
It is the grand head shrine of approximately 180 shrines which worship Niutsuhime in Japan.
It was designated as part of a World Heritage Site under the name “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range”.
Enshrined in the Amano basin in the northeastern part of Wakayama prefecture, northwest of Mt. Koya. It is told that when Kukai established Kongōbu-ji temple, Niutsuhime shrine contributed a sacred land. This shrine has been closely involved with Mount Koya since ancient times. There was a tradition to stop by Niutsuhime Shrine before visiting Mount Koya since there is a ridge called Kōyasan Chōishi-michi behind the shrine which is the front path leads to Mount Koya, and for that, Niutsuhime Shrine was considered the entrance of Mount Koya.
Niutsuhime Shrine has been strongly influenced by Mount Koya, there are a number of Buddhism origin historical remains and relics in the precincts.
The main figure of worship, a wooden seated statue of Maitreya is a National Treasure, and the temple also owns other Important Cultural Assets such as the Main Hall Maitreya Hall, which is a Unesco World Heritage site. The temple grounds are part of Koyasan Choishi-michi, a national historic site.
In the 7th year of Konin Era (816) when Kukai (Koubou Daishi) was granted with land in Koyasan by Emperor Saga, he built a temple complex as an entranceway to Mount Koya at the foot of Amabiki-yama here in Kudoyama - an important point on the pilgrimage road to Koyasan – installed an administrative office for governing the general affairs of the mountain, and made it into a place to stay at Koyasan and somewhere to train in ascetic practices while escaping the cold during winter.
Kukai’s elderly mother came from Tado County in Sanuki Province to see for herself the Koyasan that her son had built, but as at the time women were not permitted to enter Koyasan, she stayed in this administrative office at the foot of the mountain, and fervently worshipped the main figure of the Maitreya Bodhisattva. Nine times a month, without fail, Kukai descended the more than 20km mountain road (Koyasan Choishi-michi) to visit his mother at the administrative office, and so this area was named “Kudo-yama” – Nine Times Mountain.