Mount Koya is the name of mountains in Wakayama Prefecture to the south of Osaka. Also, Kōya-san is a modifying word for Kongobu-ji . There is no mountain officially called Koya-san in Japan. Mount Koya is the center of Shingon Buddhism, an important Buddhist sect which was introduced to Japan in 805 by Kobo Daishi (also known as Kukai), one of Japan’s most significant religious figures. Kobo Daishi began construction on the original Garan temple complex in 826 after wandering the country for years in search of a suitable place to center his religion. Mt. Koya is primarily known as the world headquarters of the Koyasan Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. Located in an 800 m high valley amid the eight peaks of the mountain (which was the reason this location was selected, in that the terrain is supposed to resemble a lotus plant), the original monastery has grown into the town of Koya, featuring a university dedicated to religious studies and 120 temples, many of which offer lodging to pilgrims.
In 2004, UNESCO designated Mt. Koya, along with two other locations on the Kii Peninsula, Yoshino and Omine; and Kumano Sanzan, as World Heritage Sites “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range”.
The complex includes a memorial hall and cemetery honoring Japanese who were imprisoned or executed for committing atrocities during World War II.
Places Not To Miss:
- Temple Lodging (Shukubo):
A shukubo is an accommodation that lets you feel the culture and history of Japan, including zazen, which calms your mind, Japanese gardens, which show seasonal beauty and Buddhist priests serve Shojin ryori for dinner and breakfast. It is a healthy and tasty vegetarian cuisine. Overnight guests are welcome in the morning ritual ceremony. Unlike hotels or Ryokans, Shukubo has an atmosphere distinct from the secular world, and the whole town of Koyasan is filled with a dignified ambience of temples.
- Okunoin Temple:
Known as a power spot, Okunoin Temple is where the founder of the Shingon sect, Kobo Daishi (the monk Kukai), performed the ultimate ascetic training in which he practiced austerity to the point of death. According to the tradition, Grand Master Kukai comes to this Ichi-no-hashi Bridge to greet you at your arrival and then later to see you off. For this reason, visitors bring their hands together and bow once toward this bridge as a form of prayer. Along the approach are more than 200,000 monuments including graves, prayer steles and memorials. The temple is also well known as the spot of the graves of famous, powerful feudal lords and samurai worriers who fought more than 500 years ago including the grave of Nobunaga Oda and the memorial pagodas of Shingen Takeda and Masamune Date. The remains and personal belongings of the deceased family members have been brought to the sanctuary of Mount Koya for generations by people praying for the rebirth of the deceased ones in the Pure Land.
The main hall for worship is called Torodo Hall meaning the Hall of Lanterns with more than 10000 lanterns donated by worshippers including Kishin, Emperor Shirakawa, the Emperor and Royal Family in the Showa period and Hinnyo-no-Itto, a poor woman cut and sold her black hair to dedicate to the temple. All of them remains always lit and together create a sacred shimmering space. There also 50000 tiny statues donated on the occasion of the 1150th anniversary in 1984. Kobo Daishi’s Mausoleum lies behind Torodo Hall for people coming to pray to Kodo Daishi.
- Kongobuji Temple:
Kongobu-ji is the ecclesiastic head temple of Koyasan Shingon Buddhism, located on Mount Koya. The temple was first constructed as Seigan-ji Temple in 1593 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi on the death of his mother, rebuilt in 1861, and given its present name in 1869. It contains many sliding screen doors painted by Kanō Tanyū (1602-1674) and members of Kyoto’s Kano school. The temple’s modern Banryutei rock garden is Japan’s largest (2340 square meters), with 140 granite stones arranged to suggest a pair of dragons emerging from clouds to protect the temple. As of 2013 the 412th abbot Yukei Matsunaga, who also acts as the supreme archbishop of the Koyasan Shingon sect, was incumbent.
Shichido garan is a Japanese Buddhist term indicating the seven halls composing the ideal Buddhist temple compound. This compound word is composed by the word shichido, literally meaning “seven halls”, and garan , meaning “temple”. The term is often shortened to just garan. Which seven halls the term refers to vary, and it is also pointed out that is possibly a misinterpretation of shitsudo, meaning a complete temple. The two most prominent buildings of the Garan are the Kondo Hall and the huge Konpon Daito Pagoda. The Kondo Hall is a large wooden temple hall where major ceremonies are held. Next to the Kondo Hall stands the vermilion Konpon Daito Pagoda, a 45 meter tall, two tiered, tahoto style pagoda.