Most Famous Temple of Japan
Editor’s Note: Travel is complicated right now, but we hope this will inspire your future travels.

There is a famous Buddhist monk whom most Japanese, including elementary school students, know. His name is Kukai and he was an existential monk from 774 to 835. He went to China in 804 to master Buddhism and founded a new religious sect in Japan after returning in 806.

His accomplishments are too numerous to mention, but building a new temple for his sect in a mountainous region is the deed most known by ordinary Japanese people.

It is the Kongobuji temple, the head temple of Koyasan Shingon, or “mantra,” Buddhism, and is located on Mount Koya in Wakayama prefecture. Surrounded by 1,000-meter (3,280-foot) mountains, its name means Temple of the Diamond Mountain Peak. Kongobuji is part of the Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Okuno-in: A Sacred Place

The peaceful and clam environment of Okuno-in.
The peaceful environment of Okuno-in. Photo by John Dunsmore – Flickr 

Kongobuji temple is known as the ecclesiastic head temple of Koyasan Shingon Buddhism. It is located on Mount Koya, Japan. Being a really big temple, it has 117 related religious buildings, including Okunoin, the mausoleum of Kukai.

This Most Famous Temple of Japan is part of the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range” UNESCO World Heritage Site

Could Kukai, the Founder of the Temple Still be Alive?

Another amazing view of the Kongobuji temple.
Another amazing view of the Kongobuji temple. Photo by Kadano – Flickr

Some devotees wish that Kukai were still alive in the mausoleum, Most Famous Temple of Japan. He succeeded in the attainment of Buddhahood during life and had been praying for all living things inside of the building for more than 1,200 years.

Surprisingly, meals for him are prepared every morning and evening. A high-ranking monk and his followers carry a wooden box containing meals, and only the high-ranked monk, called Ina, can step inside into the place where Kukai might exist. No one knows what happens inside and what sits or lies flat. Such mysterious ceremonial rites, however, create an atmosphere of solemnity around the place.

Okuno-in is a Must-See Destination for International Travelers

Okuno-in is popular destination among international travelers.
Okuno-in is a popular destination among international travelers. Photo by John Dunsmore – Flickr

The front approach to the mausoleum is also designated as one of the World Heritage Sites. Along the 2-kilometer (1.24-mile) path lined with more than 1000 Japanese cedar trees, about 200,000 graves are densely packed in the woods, including historical feudal warlords and imperial family members. 

Broadly speaking, the whole temple site of the Kouya-san mountain is divided into two areas. One is the temple town where a lot of small temples and related buildings are forested, and the other is the sacred cemetery where tons of graves, including one for the founder Kukai, exist.

Both areas attract international travelers, but the latter, Okuno-in is, in particular, evaluated as one of the most fantastic destinations in Japan.

A small bridge, the Ichino-hashi bridge, connects the two areas and is the way to reach the entrance to Okuno-in. After walking for 30 minutes, you will find a second small bridge named the Gobyono-hashi bridge. The bridge is the official entrance to the most sacred zone, and you cannot take any pictures after crossing the bridge. Just memorize the scene in your mind.

If You Go

You can go to KIX by a direct limousine bus.
You can go to KIX by a direct limousine bus. Photo by Kikuko Nakayama – Flickr 

The Kouyasan mountain including the Kongobuji temple and Okuno-in is surrounded by mountains in the Wakayama prefecture. Wakayama is a southern part of the Kansai region including Osaka, Kyoto and Nara, and is close to the Kansai International Airport (KIX). 

If you plan to visit the most famous temple of Japan, while visiting the Okuno-in, you can easily get there from the KIX by a direct limousine bus. A 105-minute-drive will bring you to the World Heritage Site. The one-way transportation fee is 2,000 yen ($18) per adult. 

Even from Kyoto, the one-way highway bus runs every day. A 160-minute drive from the JR Kyoto station will take you to the Koya-san mountain. The one-way transportation fee is 2,500 yen ($22) and round-trip tickets are 4,500 yen ($40). The buses are very simple and economical. 

More About Koya-san

Author Bio: Masayoshi Sakamoto(坂本正敬)is a Japanese writer and translator based in Toyama, Japan. He writes news and columns for a number of publications and web magazines. He’s also preparing to become editor in chief for a new regional online magazine, Hokuroku.

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