Exploring Koyasan – Temples, Shrines, Okunoin Cemetery, and Lantern Hall

For me, Mt. Koya was the most beautiful place we visited during out Japan trip. It’s like we travelled through time! Every location we’ve been to has a story to tell and I’ll do my best to share those stories with you in this blog entry.

Let me share a short history about Koyasan first. Legend says that Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, threw his sankosho (a double ended, three pronged Buddhist ceremonial tool) from China towards Japan. And then, when he came back to Japan, he came across his sankosho stuck in the branches of a pine tree in Mt. Koya and that’s where he started the construction of Danjo Garan which is Koyasan’s central temple complex.

The Pine Tree

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This is the pine tree that was struck by Kobo Daishi with his sankosho. It is considered to be a very special pine tree because it is a big part of Koyasan’s history.

We mainly roamed around Danjo Garan which has around twenty temples and buildings. It is a very sacred and peaceful place.

Chumon Gate

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Here’s the Chumon Gate, the gate to the whole complex of Danjo Garan. The original Chumon Gate was destroyed in a fire way back 1843. This present gate was rebuilt just last 2015 to celebrate Koyasan’s 1200th anniversary.

Kondo Hall

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The main hall of the temple complex is the Kondo Hall. It is used in important Buddhist ceremonies and it holds a status of Yakushi Nyorai as its main deity.

Arakawa Kyozo

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The Arakawa Kyozo was built by Bifukumon-in, empress consort of Emperor Toba to pray for her husband’s happiness in the next world.

Saito

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This building was built by Shinzen Daitoku, the successor to Kobo Daishi. The current tower was rebuilt in 1834 and is now featuring an ornamental knob at the top.

Myō Shrine/Miyashiro

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This gate envelopes three main buildings: the first is Niu-Myojin, the second is Koya-Myojin, and the third is a shrine that is dedicated collectively to 12 princes and 120 gods.

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This torii (shrine gate) is the entrance to Myojin.

Toto

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Emperor Shirakawa had this pagoda built. Then, on 1843, it was destroyed by fire. Over 100 years later, it was rebuilt to commemorate the death of Kukai – founder of the Shingon Buddhism and of Koyasan.

Konpon Daitō

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The Konpon Daitō is around 50 meters tall, and appears at the center of the lotus flower mandala formed by eight mountains around Koyasan. Kobo Daishi referred to this pagoda as a representation of the universe. And having played a role as the central training dojo for the Shingon Sect, it was called the Konpon “Principal” Daito.

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You can also find some souvenir shops around the area which sells charms, amulets, ema (shinto), and many more souvenirs and prayer items.

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We bought an ema, and hung it near the Myō Shrine.

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After exploring Danjo Garan, we then went to Okunoin Cemetery.

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Before taking the bus, we dropped our bags in a coin locker near the bus stop to prepare for the 40 minute walk to along Okunoin.

Okunoin Cemetery

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Okunoin cemetery is the largest cemetery in Japan with over 200,000 tombstones. It is around a two-kilometer long approach to Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum.

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An alternative and shorter route can be done by starting at the Okunoin-mae bus stop which cuts the walk to just around one kilometer. This alternative route leads to a more recent addition to the cemetery with modern tombstones by individuals, associations and companies.

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It’s creepy to say but Okunoin cemetery is one very pretty cemetery.

Sugatami-no-ido, the Well of Reflections

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Along the path, you will pass by a well which is the Sugatami-no-ido, ot the Well of Reflections. Legend says that if one looks into the well and does not see his or her reflection, death will come to that person within three years.

Torodo Hall, Hall of Lanterns

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Torodo Hall is Okunoin’s main hall for worship. It can be found directly in front of Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum. Inside the hall are more than 10,000 lanterns which were donated by worshipers and are kept eternally lit.

Taking photos and videos are strictly not allowed in most areas of Okunoin most especially in Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum. Nevertheless, the two-kilometer walk is still worth doing.

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Before ending this post, let me share with you a short clip I made on our trip to Koyasan:

These pictures and video clips don’t really give justice to what Koyasan can show you. It is a very beautiful place, sacred and tranquil, and rich in history.  If ever you are going to Japan, particularly near Osaka, I strongly suggest that you include Koyasan in your itinerary. This place is unparalleled, truly a must visit!

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