Koyasan Temple Stay: Live with Buddhist Monks Koyasan Temple Stay: Live with Buddhist Monks

Koyasan Temple Stay: Live with Buddhist Monks

Situated on the scenic slopes of Mount Koya in Japan, among towering cedar trees and pine tree forests, is the extraordinary Koyosan temple village. Buddhist Shingon monks have made the 100+ temples their spiritual home, lighting lanterns through the forest as they walk to pray among ancient pagodas and sacred tombs. Most unique of all is that many of the temples have opened their doors to visitors, allowing you to stay overnight and live as the monks have done for hundreds of years. Discover the tranquility of Koyasan with our complete travel guide.

Koyasan Temple Village

Koyasan is a temple village in the Wakayama Mountains, sitting at 800 meters above sea level. It is said that the 8 mountain peaks surrounding the town look like a lotus, making it a ‘blessed’ location.

Koyasan Temple Village Japan

This, among other things, makes it one of Japan’s most sacred Buddhist sites, home to 117 temples and 700+ monks. It’s also a popular destination for visitors who want to experience staying overnight at a Koyasan temple, sleeping in a temple ‘hotel’ room to see how monks live.  

sunset Banryu-tei Japanese Rock Garden Koyasan Japan

Because of its high location, Koyasan is colder than other places you’ll visit on your Japan itinerary. If you’re traveling outside of summer, bring warm clothes, as it can drop to around 0°C (32°F) at night. 

1. Koyasan Temple Stay

One of the best things to do in Koyasan (and the most memorable experience on our Japan trip) is to book an overnight stay at a Koyasan temple. The experience is called Shukubo, which means ‘sleeping with the monks’. Over 50 temples have opened their doors to visitors, allowing people to live as the monks have for hundreds of years. (We stayed at Ren’gejo-in)

Koyasan Temple Stay courtyard

You’ll stay in simple, traditional lodgings in line with Buddhist teachings. Rooms have basic futons, sliding doors, and shared bathrooms (although you may have your own private sink and toilet). Mattresses are usually on the floor, accompanied by a low table, where you can sit cross-legged to enjoy green tea. 

tea room koyasan temple stay

The most remarkable part of a Koyasan temple stay is that you can join the monks for a typical vegetarian breakfast and dinner. The meals are usually made with seasonal vegetables, and you’ll eat sitting on the ground in a communal hall.

This is usually done in silence, as the monks do. If you wish, you’ll also have the opportunity to join the monks for morning or evening prayer and meditation. Without a doubt, this was one of our favorite adventures in Japan! 

Koyasan Japan Temple stay corridor

Tip: Our Koyasan temple stay was at Ren’gejo-in (Pilgrim’s Lodging), where we slept in a beautiful room. The mattresses were on the floor, but they were comfortable! Please note that this experience isn’t the cheapest, but it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Make sure to book in advance, as spots are limited in Koyasan (book your stay at Ren’gejo-in here).

bedroom koyasan temple stay

2. Okunoin Cemetery

Okunoin Cemetery is an extraordinary place to visit in Koyasan and the holiest location in the area. It’s one of the most beautiful cemeteries we’ve ever seen, with 200,000+ tombs set among a forest of mammoth cedar trees and moss-covered statues.

monk forest okunoin Cemetery Koyasan Japan

During the day, the sunlight creates dusty light fractures through the tree, and as you walk, you’ll always be accompanied by the fragrant smell of burning incense. At night, it’s similarly breathtaking when all the thousands of stone lanterns light up, creating a truly magical scene.

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Koyasan Temple Stay: Live with Buddhist Monks

Although walking through a cemetery at night might sound creepy, it felt extremely peaceful for us!

Woman walking okunoin Cemetery Koyasan Japan

Embark on a beautiful 2 km walk from the Inci-no-hashi bridge through the forest to the cemetery. Once you reach Okunoin, there are a few temples to discover on the site, like Torodo (Lantern Hall). It’s absolutely stunning inside, lined with shelves holding thousands of warm-glowing lanterns.

ceiling Lanterns koyasan okunoin cemetery

After, walk just behind the hall to visit the mausoleum, where the founder of Koyasan, Kobo Daishi, rests. He was also the founder of this specific sect of Buddhism: Shingon Buddhism. Legend has it that he is still alive and well inside the tomb.  

Note: Both these locations are a must-visit on your Koyasan temples route. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take pictures or videos here, and they are very strict about it. 

Entrance Fee and Opening Times

The cemetery is open 24/7. However, the temples on the property, like Torodo, have opening times of 5.30 AM – 4.30/5 PM. Best of all, this sacred experience can be enjoyed for free!

couple okunoin cemetery koyasan

3. Kongo Sammai-in (Oldest Koyasan Temple)

Kongo Sammai-in is the oldest original temple in town (the rest have been rebuilt over the years), so it’s an absolute must-see in Koyasan! This small but stunning Koyasan temple is often overlooked in favor of its bigger neighbors. However, we think it’s one of the most beautiful in the area. 

Kongo sammai-in Koyasan Japan

There is a magical feeling of calm here; the temple is set back away from the road within a beautiful pine forest that is covered in a blanket of snow during winter. It’s also spectacular in the spring, as many flowers bloom around the temple, including colorful rhododendrons. (Here is the exact location of the temple)

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pine trees garden kongo sammai-in Koyasan Japan

Inside are some beautiful statues. However, the real highlight is that this temple has opened its doors to overnight visitors, allowing you to spend the night in the oldest temple of Mount Koya! There’s even an onsen on site for complete relaxation.

sign Japanese writing

Entry fee and opening times: The temple is open from 8 AM – 5 PM (March 5 – November 27) and costs 300 yen (2 USD) to enter. Outside of these months, it’s free. Please note, however, that entry is 500 yen (3.50 USD) during exhibition seasons, when unique items such as sculptures, sliding door paintings, or traditional clothing are on display.

Goshuin Stamp

Don’t forget to get your unique temple stamp on your visit to Kongo Sammai-in! In Japan, it’s common for people to queue up at temples and shrines with decorated books ready for their Goshuin (shrine and temple stamps), which you can collect for a small donation. Each shrine has its own individual stamp, so it’s a fun thing to collect on your trip! 

Goshuin stamp Kongo sammai-in Koyasan

4. Kongōbu-ji

Experience one of the most tranquil temples in all of Japan! Kongōbu-ji is especially important as it’s the head temple of Shingon Buddhism, overseeing hundreds of sub-temples throughout the country. 

sunset Kongobu-ji Koyasan Japan

The building itself has some beautiful sliding doors, with crane illustrations painted across them by the famous artist Kano Tanyu. Remove your shoes and walk through the peaceful temple to the more modern section, where you’ll be invited for complimentary green tea and cookies.

Sliding doors cranes

Banryu-tei Japanese Rock Garden

The most inspiring part of this Koyasan temple is the magnificent Banryu-tei Japanese rock garden, which is the largest rock garden in Japan. The garden sits just in front of the temple and is made up of large rocks taken from the birthplace of Shingon founder Kobo Daishi.

temple sand drawing koyasan Japan

The garden feels like a work of art, with circular rings drawn in the sand around each rock; it looks a bit like mountains in the desert!

Opening times and entry fee: 8.30 AM – 5 PM (last entry 4.30 PM). Tickets cost 1000 yen (7 USD). Please note that you’re not allowed to take photos inside the temple, only of the rock garden outside.

5. Konpon Daito (Grand Central Pagoda)

Within the Kongōbu-ji temple complex, discover the great grand central pagoda of Konpon Daito. The 45-meter-high, two-story temple comprises a beautiful vermillion pagoda, which is viewed as a symbol of Mount Koya. It’s also said to be the first pagoda of its kind (2-storied square) in Japan. Inside, discover a giant statue of the central Buddha of Shingon Buddhism, surrounded by pillars painted with beautiful illustrations.

snow in konpon daito Koyasan Japan

Note: Sadly, we could not visit the Konpon Daito, as it was already closed when we arrived. Most Koyasan temples close by 5 PM (generally with the last entry at 4.30 PM), so bear this in mind when deciding which temples you’d like to see.  

6. Koyasan Daishikyokai

Koyasan Daishikyokai is not the most popular visit for tourists, but it is for locals, as it’s the administrative center for Shingon Buddhism. It’s made up of two buildings: the Henjoden Temple Hall, which is dedicated to the Shingon Founder, Kobo Daishi, and a more contemporary building that is designed for learning and admin.

Temple Koyasan Daishikyokai

Although impressive, you only need to visit this Koyasan temple briefly as there’s not a huge amount to see. Remember to also collect your Goshuin stamp here!

Opening times and entry fee: Open 8.30 AM – 5 PM (entry until 4.30 PM). Free to enter. Please remember to take your shoes off before stepping inside the temple.

Koyasan temple sun

Jukai Ceremony (Unique experience in Koyosan!)

If you’re interested, you can also participate in Jukai (receiving Buddhist precepts). These precepts are commitments to the guiding principles of Buddhism, for example, not to murder or cheat. Jukai takes about 30 minutes, during which you’ll sit in a dark room and repeat after the priest. Anyone can undertake the ceremony, whether you’re Buddhist or not, and you’ll also get a certificate at the end.

Japanese garden

Note: The ceremony costs 1000 yen (7 USD). Alternatively, buy a combi ticket for 2500 yen (17 USD) which includes 6 other major sites in Koyasan. You can buy the combination ticket at the Koyasan Shukubo Association Offices.

wooden statue Koyasan Japan

Where to Stay in Koyasan, Japan

There are over 50 Koyasan temple stays to choose from, all of which have varying facilities. In general, though, accommodation is more basic, like a traditional Ryokan, and in line with conventional Buddhist principles. However, it’s fantastic to experience how the monks live, and although beds are on the floor, we still found the experience comfortable. 

Where to stay in Koyasan Japan

Koyasan is a small place, so most temple stays will place you within walking distance of all the top things to do. We stayed at the well-located Rengejo-in Temple and had one of the most memorable experiences of our trip!

How Many Days in Koyasan?

Staying overnight in a traditional Buddhist temple was one of the highlights of our Japan itinerary, offering an insight into Shingon Buddhism and its importance in Japanese culture. You’ll also get to explore in the early morning without the crowds and see the mountain town after dark when all the lanterns bathe the temples in a warm glow.  

japanese dinner set koyasan

Many people visit Koyasan on a day tour from Osaka or Kyoto, which can create more crowds at the main sites. However, if you don’t have time to stay overnight, this is a great option; it will still give you an overall feel for Mount Koya’s temple town.

road Japanese temple

How to Visit Koyasan, Japan

Visiting Koyasan is relatively easy from both Osaka and Kyoto, particularly if you’ve hired a car. The journey is 1 hour 45 minutes from Osaka and just over 2 hours from Kyoto. It’s also a great idea to drive if you want a little more flexibility while on your Japan itinerary. For example, we did a road trip loop: 

Kumano Gongu Taisha Otorii Koyasan Japan

However, if you don’t have a car, there are various public transport options:

Kyoto to Koyasan

Take a rapid train from Kyoto Station to Osaka Namba Station (covered by your Japan Rail Pass) in under 30 minutes.

From here, jump on another train to Gokurabashi Station (1.5 hours) before taking the cable car up the mountain to Koyosan Station.

How to get to Koyasan Japan

Osaka to Koyasan

First, take the train from Osaka Namba Station to Gokurabashi (1.5 hours). From here, take the cable car up the mountain to Koyosan for 390 yen (2.50 USD). Please note that the Japan Rail Pass does not cover this route.

couple walking koyasan temple Kongobu-ji

Note: Once you’ve reached the top of the mountain by cable car, you can take a bus directly into town. We’ve pinned all locations on our Japan Google Maps (we always recommend checking Maps in advance for accurate timetables).

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things to do koyasan japan temple

Getting Around

Koyasan is a small town, so you can walk between most main sites. You can do this using Google Maps, or if you want to learn more about each temple, you can join a tour with a local guide. This is an excellent idea if you want to learn more about the legends and history of sacred Mount Koya.

tori gates koyasan Japan

Best Cafes and Restaurants

If you book a traditional Koyasan temple stay, you’ll have the option to dine with the monks for both vegetarian dinner and breakfast. However, there are also some great restaurants in the area, should you need a snack break between temple visits. Some of our favorites are:

  • Bon On Shya Cafe (very lovely!)
  • Higurashi
  • Ponpoko
  • Yoshi Sushi
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where to eat in Koyasan Japan

How Much Does Koyasan Cost?

Booking a Koyasan temple stay is quite expensive, but it’s so worth it! The price also includes your breakfast and dinner, so you save money on food for your trip. Most sites are free to visit (or for a small fee). Because of this, it’s one of the more budget-friendly places to visit on your Japan itinerary.

Budget Tip: If you’d like a quick snack or an affordable takeaway lunch, we recommend the Family Mart Supermarket. They sell delicious Onigiri (a crunchy seaweed ball with rice and fish inside). You can also mix a cup of frozen fruits into a smoothie for breakfast.

Costs of Traveling in Koyasan

Travel on a budget in Koyasan, from $580 − $380 USD weekly per person, mid-range $1470 − $3330 USD, and high-end from $3000 − $4720 USD. However, costs depend on factors like accommodation, transportation, and activities. We did not include flights. Check flight prices here

* Average daily costs
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Best Time to Visit 

Koyasan is an incredibly sacred place and magical to visit any time of the year. Because it’s located high up Mt Koya, it is noticeably colder. With this in mind, make sure to bring extra layers, particularly if you’re visiting overnight. During the winter, you may see the temple town covered in snow, turning it into a winter wonderland! 

garden koyasan Japan

Beautiful trees and plants surround the temples, making it spectacular to visit during Spring and Fall. During these times, flowers come into bloom, with cherry blossom trees at their finest, or you’ll see the colorful pre-winter foliage.

04/06/2024 https://www.saltinourhair.com/japan/koyasan-temple/
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