Before moving to China, I had spent hours staring aimlessly at my wall map of the world, planning out all the places I would go. I promised myself that I would take advantage of my new location and throughout the year visit Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.
Group ventures led me to the first two and I decided to keep Japan all to myself. Tired of using my precious travel time to accommodate the “exciting” ventures of travel buddies (eating as much western food as possible and spending limited exploration time hung over) I couldn’t wait to plan a trip that was entirely based around what I wanted to do.
With the usual tourist spots covered on my itinerary, I decided it was time to shake things up a bit and do something that was more of a Japanese experience than just sneaking photos of Geisha girls on the street. I decided on a temple stay on Mt. Koya.
If you pictured Buddhist Monks delivering hot tea to your rice paper walled room, you would be correct. This Mt. Koya temple was every bit of what I imagined and as I awoke each morning to the soft padding of monks feet, I knew that breakfast was on its way to be delivered to my traditional style bed, made up on the floor.
It was quiet, and when I wasn’t exploring the mossy cemeteries that reside on Mt. Koya and temples in the nearby woods, I was sitting on my wicker chair reading by the natural sunlight that shined through the over-sized windows that overlooked the garden.
On my last evening at the temple, I spoiled myself with a cold sake room delivery before dressing in an authentic Japanese robe and wandering down the dark halls to the traditional Japanese bath. I honed in my bravery and undressed before the other women who were already at the showers, rinsing before entering the warm, communal bath. Feeling cozy from the steam, I fell asleep easily that night, preparing myself for the Monk-led mediation course in the morning.
How did I book it?
At the time, I never came across anyone who had stayed in a temple and without any recommendation, the search was up to me. After a bit of Googling, I came across the 1000 year old Buddhist temple, Eko-in on Mt. Koya. After a glance at the exceptional reviews and facilities, I booked a room for two nights.
Getting to Mt. Koya
Getting to Mt. Koya from Kyoto or Osaka can be a bit of a treasure hunt. Although it doesn’t take too much time and isn’t difficult to arrive, there are quite a few steps to get from a major city to the temple’s location atop Mt. Koyasan. Here is a step-by-step route…
• Start at either JR Shin-Osaka or JR Osaka train station
• Take a 15 minute ride on the Midosuji line to Namba Station
• At Namba, transfer to Nankai Station
• Ride the Nankai Koya line for 1 ½ hours to the Gokurakubashi train station
• At the Gokurakubashi station, take the Koya-san cable car up to Koyasan Station. The ride will take five minutes
• Ask for a map once you reach the station and you will see the Eko-in clearly marked on it
• There will be a guide telling you which bus number to get on depending on your accommodation
• Once on the bus, you will travel about 20 minutes before getting off at the closest stop to the Eko-in, Karukayado-mae
What to do Around The Town
When you aren’t enjoying traditional Japanese tea, meditation courses and traditional baths inside the temple, there is plenty to explore atop this mountain. Some of the top sites:
• Okuno-In: A mausoleum surrounded by an immense and moss covered graveyard
• The Garan: Temple complex
• Kongobu-ji Temple: Beautiful stone garden
• Pilgrimage Trails: Historic hiking trails around the mountain
A temple stay was one of the top activities on my trip that made my journey to Japan feel more like an experience than just a visit. My time there has inspired me to treat future travels in the same way and to try to find authentic experiences over trekking to the tourist sites.
-This post contains an affiliate link. If you book Eko-in through this link, I will receive a percentage that helps me fund future posts with NO extra cost to you. Thanks guys!
-All opinion are my own : )