A practical guide to magical Koya, Japan

Koya was one of the most beautiful places I have visited so far in Japan. However, finding information on what to do there and how to travel there wasn’t so easy. So I’ve gathered all information which helped me in one blog post! Read on for my guide to Koya, Japan!

Read my narrative blog post detailing my experience in Koya – to understand why it is really magical – here!

Guide to Koya: How to get there?

Osaka is the best starting point for traveling to Koyasan, as it connects the high-speed trains from Tokyo to the international Kansai airport.  From Osaka, Koyasan is most conveniently reached through the Nankai line from Osaka Namba or Shin-Imamiya stations. Trains go until Gokurakubashi station, where you transfer onto the cable car, which takes you up the mountain. It climbs nearly one kilometer in 15 minutes! You have now arrived at the Koyasan station! Take a bus into the town center, as the you are not allowed to walk on this road.

Train route to Koyasan:

Source: Japan-guide.com
Passes and tickets for transportation:
  • Koyasan World Heritage Ticket (2860 yen): Purchase this pass at Osaka Namba, Shin-Imamiya or Tengachaya Stations. It includes a roundtrip from Osaka to Koyasan (incl. cablecar), unlimited bus travel in Koyasan and discounted admission to some of the major temples. Please note that this ticket is only valid for two consecutive days. Find more information here!
  • Kansai Thru Pass (4000 or 5200 yen – 2 or 3 days): This is quite an expensive pass, which allows you to visit Koyasan with other places in the Kansai region. It includes unlimited travel on buses, trains and other modes of transportation, with exception of the JR lines. More information here.
  • Two day bus pass (890 yen): Koyasan is not a very large town, but it is worth buying the bus pass for the duration of your visit. Especially when it’s raining, this is an easier and warmer method of transportation! This can be purchased at Koyasan station.
  • Traveling with your JR pass: The Nankai line from Osaka to Hashimoto/Gokurakubashi station is not covered by the JR pass. To make the most of your pass, travel by JR line from Nara -> Hashimoto station, this takes approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes. From there you transfer to the Nankai line to Gokurakubashi, which is not covered by the JR pass.

The bus station at Koyasan station:

guide to Koya - The Fiery Explorer
Source: Japan-guide.com

Buslines in Koyasan:

guide to Koya - The Fiery Explorer
Source: Japan-guide.com

What to do in Koya?

  • Visit the Unesco World Heritage-listed temples and monuments. The town contains many temples, built since the founding in 800 A.D. Find a complete list & more information here.
  • Okunoin cemetery and temple: this is part of the famous monuments, and definitely a must visit when in Koyasan. Find more detailed information here.
  • Meditation class: I participated in a meditation (Ajikan style) class at the Ekoin temple. I can highly recommend this! More information can be found on the website of the Ekoin temple.
  • Night-time cemetery tour: Want to learn about Koyasan history, Esoteric Buddhism and have the chance to see some impressive wildlife? An English speaking monk gives a tour of the Okunoin graveyard in the evening – more information here.
  • Hiking: Koyasan is located in an area full of lush forests, and there are several pilgrimage routes which are great for hiking! One of the more well known is the Choishi Stupa Route – more information can be found here and here. Check for bear warnings before heading out!

guide to Koya - The Fiery Explorer

Guide to Koya: Where to stay?

Koyasan is the perfect place to stay overnight in a shukubo (temple lodging). Monks run the shukubos, and allow you to eat their vegetarian cuisine and experience morning prayers. I booked mine via booking.com (click here for €15 discount), but can also be booked via the official Shukubo website of Koyasan – click here for more information. Generally, Shukubo lodgings are medium to high in budget, with most prices starting around 130,000 yen/night. I stayed at Kongo Sanmaiin, which I can really recommend! Situated off the main road of Koya, one night costs 129,000 yen (100 EUR/USD approximately).

Please note: for most temple lodgings you need to reserve well in advance! I would advise at least three months before your visit, but earlier if possible!

Koyasan also has a guesthouse, which offers lower budget range capsules and private rooms. Read more and book them through their website.

guide to Koya - The Fiery Explorer

Guide to Koya on a budget: 

Visiting Koyasan was definitely the most expensive visit of my last vacation to Japan. However, it would definitely be a pity not to visit Koyasan because of budget restrictions. If you want to visit Koyasan on a budget, these are my recommendations:

  • Getting there: If you have a JR pass, travel from Osaka to Hashimoto through Nara. This will take longer, but it will save you nearly ¥2,500! From Hashimoto take a local train to Gokurakubashi, this costs ¥440. From Gokurakubashi station, take the cable car up to Koyasan.
  • Bus pass: Buy a bus pass for your duration in Koyasan, as you will need to take the bus from the station into the town anyway, and it will save money vs. buying single bus tickets.
  • Food: thank goodness, Koyasan also has a convenience store (Family Mart). Quality of food at Family Mart is good, and it offers an array of cold and warm dishes. It’s perfect to get your lunch, dinner, breakfast, and snacks!
  • Accommodation: The guesthouse Kokuu by far offers the lowest cost accommodation in Koya, starting at ¥3,500 (~35 USD/EUR) per night for a capsule style room.
  • Sightseeing: Most temples ask a small fee between ¥200-500 (~2-5 USD/EUR) admission fees. Choose which you are willing to pay for, and at the others walk through the gardens. The Okunoin cemetery is free, but keep some change to use for the offerings.

A trip to Koyasan costs between ¥7,500-10,000, which translates to 75-100 USD/EUR for a two-day, one night trip, depending on our where you buy your meals. This takes into consideration ¥1,330 for transportation, ¥1500 for sightseeing, ¥3,500 for accommodation, and the remaining budget for food.

I hope this shows that visiting Koyasan does not have to be super expensive – it’s not a budget visit, but does not have cost ¥15,000+.

Great resources:

  • Always good to know what the etiquette in a Japanese onsen or bath. My fave Youtubers have a great video – find it here.
  • The Japan Guide website is a great resource with a lot of background and logistical information.
  • The official Koyasan website, which lists all the sights and allows you to book a temple stay as well.

If you have any questions about visiting Koyasan, please leave a comment below or on my social media, I’m happy to answer any questions!

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2 Comments

  1. Eunice
    January 31, 2018 / 15:08

    Thanks for posting all the useful information here! For the Koyasan Heritage Ticket, is it possible to purchase it in advance of the two days I plan to spend at Koyasan? I’ll be flying into Kansai and I read that you can buy the ticket there (which would be convenient since I’ll be there). But I plan to go to Nara first, then off to Koyasan the next day. I’m wondering when the 2 consecutive day time period starts (i.e., at time of purchase or when I start using it?).

    Thanks!

    • The Fiery Explorer
      Author
      January 31, 2018 / 15:14

      Hi Eunice! I’m happy you find the information useful!
      When I bought my ticket, I needed to say the dates I would like to use them – so they should be able to put the validity dates you need with no problem!
      I’m sharing a post in 2 weeks with more details of my Koya trip 😊. Have a great trip!!

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