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Kumano Kodo and Koyasan—a spiritual journey

Wakayama is known as the spiritual center of Japan because the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Routes and Koyasan—a mountaintop temple complex—lie within the prefecture's borders. Visitors to these areas can enjoy an enhanced travel experience through Buddhist temple stays, spiritual walks, and involvement in traditional Buddhist practices.
OVERVIEW
· Stay overnight in the mountaintop temple complex, Koyasan
· Visit Japan's largest cemetery, Okuno-in
· Discover the daily practices of a Koyasan Buddhist monk
· Walk sections of the Nakahechi route on the ancient Kumano Kodo

Koyasan—a Mountain of Temples

Koyasan is a sprawling mountaintop temple complex of 117 Buddhist temples founded by Kukai (Kobo Daishi) over 1,200 years ago.The area is much more than a sightseeing spot. Visitors to Koyasan can engage in a much deeper travel experience through shukubo, or Buddhist temple stays, and immersive activities. As well as learning about traditional Buddhist practices, travelers can wander through Okuno-in, a large cemetery that is home to thousands of departed souls.

Who was Kobo Daishi?

Kukai—posthumously known as Kobo Daishi (774-835)—was a Japanese Buddhist monk and founder of Shingon Buddhism.

Okuno-in

The mausoleum of Kobo Daishi is in Okuno-in, the largest cemetary in Japan, and the holiest location in Koyasan. Kobo Daishi lies in eternal meditation here, waiting for Miroku Nyorai, Buddha of the Future. There are more than 200,000 tombstones and commemorative monuments in the cemetery, and visitors can wander through the spiritual spot on a cedar-lined path. Be aware that no food, drink, or photography are allowed beyond the Gobyobashi Bridge. More Info

Shukubo

Shukubo, or temple stays, offer visitors a one-of-a-kind experience. By staying overnight at a temple, you can gain insight into the lives of the monks that reside there. Guests stay in traditional Japanese rooms with futons and tatami mats, and have opportunities to pray with the monks in the mornings or late afternoons. Enjoy Buddhist cuisine for dinner or take part in shakyo, or sutra copying, activity (the activities offered depend on the temple.) Around 50 of Koyasan temples offer shukubo accommodation.

Experiential Learning Programs

Wakayama offers a wide range of experiential learning programs that will help students acquire in-depth knowledge on important subject matters. Hear directly from professionals in the fields of resource management, ancient site preservation, food culture, and natural heritage.

Through the resource management program, students can discover more about the farming and preservation of bluefin tuna. Students attend a live fish auction, learn about developments in tuna farming, and the efforts being made to preserve the fish stocks.

Preservation of a different kind is at the heart of the Kumano Kodo Preservation field trip. Students head to the UNESCO World Heritage Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Routes to learn about how this ancient path is maintained, along with learning about the history of the routes and the grand shrines they lead too.

Other programs tackle critical issues facing the world today, including "learning the power of thinking through the culture of food," "globally important agricultural heritage systems," and "preservation of corals, to save our precious oceans."

How to get to Koyasan from Tokyo or Osaka

Visitors to Koyasan can take flights from Tokyo's Haneda and Narita airports to Kansai International Airport (KIX) in Osaka.

Limousine buses from the airport run directly to Koyasan.

Koyasan is also accessible by rail. The shinkansen from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka takes around 2hours 30 minutes.

Take the Midosuji Line from Shin-Osaka to Namba to connect with the Nankai Koya Line.

At the Gokurakubashi stop, change to the Nankai Cable Car to Koyasan.

Travel Tips

KIX to Koyasan
You can connect to and from the Kansai International Airport via the [KIX-Koyasan express bus].

Kyoto to Koyasan
The [Kyoto-Koyasan Direct Highway bus] offers easy travel between Kyoto and Koyasan.

Koyasan to Kumano
Board the [Koyasan-Kumano Discovery Bus] to get to Kumano from Koyasan (operates from April to November.)

Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Routes

The Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Routes snake through the verdant forest of the Kii Peninsula, leading to the Kumano Sanzan—the grand shrines of Kumano. Walkers and hikers can choose from several routes, ranging in difficulty from easy to arduous. The most well-trodden route is the Nakahechi that runs from Tanabe to Kumano Nachi Taisha—one of the Kumano Sanzan. Other routes include the Kohechi (challenging), and the Iseji Route (moderate.) Discover the most suitable route for you by browsing the itinerararies below.

Kumano Kodo Nakahechi Route

The Nakahechi is the most popular route among the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Routes. However, this doesn't mean that it is an easy hike.

The full route is a five-day journey (although you can choose to walk a section of it) and is physically demanding. Hikers will encounter twisting mountain paths, steep slopes, and steps. While the Nakahechi Route might be taxing on the body, it is rewarding for the soul. Before embarking, assess your health and prepare all necessary items.

Kumano Sanzan

Ther Kumano Sanzan are the grand shrines of Kumano and the ultimate destination for pilgrims along the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Routes. Each shrine has distinct characteristics from the sweeping cypress roofs of Kumano Hongu Taisha, to the thundering waterfall that forms the backdrop to Kumano Nachi Taisha.

Kawayu Onsen

Kawayu Onsen is one of three onsen (hot spring) hamlets that make up the Hongu Onsen-kyo—an area of hot spring hotels in central Wakayama. The cozy onsen hotels at Kawayu Onsen are clustered on the banks of the Kumano River.

The main winter attraction at Kawayu Onsen is the Senninburo—a huge onsen bath that is part of the river. The area is easily accessible by bus from the Kumano Kodo trails and Kumano Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine.

How to get to Kumano from Tokyo or Osaka

Access the Kumano area from Tokyo by riding the shinkansen to Nagoya (around 1 hour 50 minutes) before changing to a Nanki express train to Shingu—a further 3 hours 30 minutes.

From Osaka, take the Kuroshio limited express from Shin-Osaka to Shingu. The 4-hour 10-minute trip is a scenic journey that hugs the Wakayama coastline.