Exploring Japan's Largest Cemetery
Welcome to Koyasan, a mountain top town in the Wakayama region of Japan.
Though only a few hours from Kansai Airport in Osaka, you will feel like you've entered another world when you arrive. I, of course, made a few wrong turns along the way, but when I woke up in my capsule hotel to chilly pine-scented air, I knew I made the right choice in coming here.
I stayed in a capsule guesthouse called Kokuu Koyasan Guesthouse, which was a small, incredibly cozy guesthouse with "capsules" roughly the size of a queen bed located about a five minute walk from the entrance to Okunoin Cemetery, my entire reason for coming all this way.
Okunoin is a cemetery founded in 835 (no, I am not missing a digit) in honor of Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism. He might have also created the Japanese alphabet, no big deal. The cemetery is the largest in Japan, and everything left stationary for more than a few minutes is covered in moss. It feels like you stepped back in time and straight into a Studio Ghibli film.
I woke up at 8am to start my day, but there are plenty of opportunities to join the local monks in meditation and chanting at dawn! Many of my guesthouse-mates were just returning from their sunrise experience as I was leaving.
The cemetery was empty when I arrived. It was eerily quiet, but the fresh mountain air and soft sunlight took away any creepy feelings cemeteries usually give me.
It wasn't until about 20 minutes of wandering that I came across a few elderly Japanese visitors and about an hour until I saw my first tourists coming in to see Okunoin.
I would suggest about two hours or more for Okunion. The hidden details and paths you can follow are endless! I took so many pictures my phone freaked out on me and I had to bust out my laptop in the middle of a graveyard to transfer images off of my phone. I felt so disrespectful, butI think any spirits in the area understood that they're in a place too gorgeous not to capture on film!
I wandered a while more, left a few coins for good luck, and headed to town.
There are buses in Koyasan (all of which take the Kansai Thru Pass!) but walking from the main entrance of the cemetery into the center of town is no problem at all. There are little stores along the way (where I bought my latest travel companion) as well as temples and gardens to see.
There are a few cafes serving full meals, but I opted for a convenience store lunch, as usual. After an onigiri, hard boiled egg, and juice I was ready to head towards Koya Station.
Koyasan is accessed by a funicular, which takes you down to the actual train station where you can head back towards Osaka, Kyoto, or wherever you please.
I took a bus to the station (Google Maps and the Koyasan map my guesthouse gave me has great directions!) and boarded the cable car!
Since I had arrived so late at night, my first ride on the cable car was just a short trip through blackness. Now, I had a sunny afternoon to enjoy the scenery!
The cable car is also included in the Kansai Thru Pass, or you can buy a Koyasan package ticket that includes train, cable car, and bus within Koya.
This was by far my favorite solo trip I've ever taken (beating Hong Kong and Tokyo!) so I highly highly recommend taking this slightly out-of-the-way trip to Koyasan. The mountain air would do us all some good.