Koyasan or Mt Koyo was one of my favourite stops on my 2014 visit to Japan. Tucked away in the hills only 60kms south of Osaka I very nearly left it off our itinerary, being put off by what appeared to be a rather complex process for getting there. I am glad I wasn’t deterred as it was not that hard to get to and so, so much worth it when we did.
Koyasan, a world heritage site, is one of Japan’s most sacred places. It is the centre of the Shingon Esoteric sect of Buddhism, established here in the early 800s by Kukai, known posthumously as Kobo Daishi. Mount Koya is now home to more than 100 Shingon Buddhist temples, scattered through its stunning mountain forests. A large number of the temples offer accommodation making a stay in the mountains a great way to get an insight into daily temple life.
Sadly, our time was limited to a day trip from Osaka (typical of many tourists who come here) so we concentrated on the amazing Okunoin cemetery which contains the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, where he lies, not dead, but in a deep state of meditation awaiting the arrival of the last bodhisattva (Buddha messiah), and so much more besides. Time permitted a brief look at the Danjo Garan complex and a few other sights before a hearty late lunch and our bidding Koyasan farewell for our return to Osaka.
When we left Osaka, in mid to late spring, the weather forecast was predicting an overcast day with possible showers. By the time we got to Koyasan we were almost in blizzard conditions and it had been snowing through part of the night. It continued to snow on and off while we were there (more on than off). While it left us cold, wet and miserable it did not deter us from getting out and seeing what we had come to see. Nor did the unexpected conditions deflect from our enjoyment of what we saw, in fact, on the contrary, the snow added to and made what was already spectacular even more so, as it blanketed the town in silence.
Without wanting to deter anyone thinking of visiting Koyasan this might be a suitable point to include a bit of advice on weather and what to wear.
Like most travellers, though certainly not all, when I go on a day trip other than by car I try to carry the absolute minimum of gear necessary. Of course, if I am heading off the beaten track into the bush or the mountains different rules apply.
While Koyasan is in the mountains most visitors, and in particular those like myself on a day trip from Osaka, do not venture more than a few hundred metres away from urban shelter. That said, although Koyasan is at only around 850 metres altitude, the weather is prone to sudden change. If things turn foul and you are not suitably equipped in terms of clothing you will not die of hypothermia, nor will your fingers and toes fall off from frost-bite but you may have a dismal time and likely be forced to limit what you see or prematurely abandon your visit, sad as that would be.
I visited Koyasan in early April and the night before I had checked the weather forecast which indicated likely rain showers. Accordingly, I brought an extra layer of clothing and a raincoat and while this let me see most of what I could reasonably expect to see in the short time I had, I would have valued one more layer and a pair of gloves to have been entirely snug in the unseasonable blizzard like conditions and sub zero temperature we encountered on the day.
My advice would be to add about two layers of clothing and a raincoat to whatever you would wear in Osaka at the time of your visit. Though a pain to carry it and you might not need any of this, you will be thankful you brought it should the weather misbehave.
That out of the way, do join me now as I take you through, via a series of entries, a short reflection on my time in Koyasan, starting with the all important topic of getting there.
This is the first in a series of reviews on Koyasan. For my next review click HERE.