After a restless night, people snoring, packing during the night, etc, it was my turn to wake up early and even a few minutes before the alarm went of. I packed everything and I double checked if I hadn’t left anything behind, and back to the train station! It was time to visit Koyasan, in the middle of the mountains!
How to get to Koyasan from Nara
Looking to the map, it is normal to think that the best way to get to Koyasan from Nara is a straight line, but it isn’t. Osaka is kind of the hub of the area, the best way to go anywhere around is passing through Osaka. I took the JR train to Osaka Shin-Imamiya, and from there the train to Gokurakubashi (the base that connects to Koyasan). The JR Pass is not valid on this route, you’ll have to buy your ticket, and it’s worth to buy the Koyasan World Heritage Ticket, that covers the train, cable car, bus and several temples and museums. One ticket, less hassle.
The world is tiny, and gets smaller when you are a tourist. By chance, I met with Jorge (the CS guy) again at Shin-Imamiya train station, we were really next to each other when I looked to the guy next to me and I recognized him! We immediately start chatting, and after a while a very nice old Japanese man joined our conversation, obviously in English. He traveled to Europe a few times and was really comfortable with speaking in English, a very pleasant surprise in Japan.
On our way there, at some point, we had to change to another part of the train. That was the part where the mountain train starts, next to each station you see the station’s altitude and the ones right before and after. We were lucky because that nice man explained us every thing about our trip to the top, it wasn’t just a regular train ride!
At the arrival we said goodbye to the Japanese guy, his name’s Katsumi, and we went directly to the temple to do the check-in. In a very funny way I got threatened, the doors close at 9pm or I would be left outside. They doors close at 9pm sharp, and most temples are not flexible with it, while some others are. Considering that there was another typhoon alert, it wasn’t the best option to sleep outside, I guess.
The main buildings of the Garan are the Kondo Hall and the Konpon Daito Pagoda, the first one is quite recent since it burned down a few times over the centuries, the last reconstruction dates from early 1930’s. We walked around that area, but we didn’t get inside any temple, though I totally regret not visiting the Pagoda. According to what I read and I’ve been told, it is a must visit place! And it is included within the Koyasan World Heritage Ticket.
Since one of the main attractions is the more than one thousand years old graveyard, and that’s right outside the town, we went for an early lunch on our way to the graveyard, and right after our lunch we met again with Katsumi. I couldn’t ask for a better guide, a very interesting person, passionate about Koyasan and the area and with knowledge about the places we visited.
On our way to the graveyard, Katsumi recommended us to visit this museum about a tragic story (or legend) that happened in Koyasan. Sadly there is very few information in English about the story and the museum. Summarizing it a bit, it is the story about a father that never knew he had a son, until his son looked for him in Koyasan with his mother. Though, by then, Mount Koya was a place restricted from women and she wasn’t authorized to climb the mount and see and recognize her former lover, the son did. There he met his father, whom swore to give up of all his former life when he joined the monastery, and therefore he couldn’t tell his son who he really was, so told him that his father died instead. The son went to the bottom of the mount to tell that to his mother, but when he got he found out that she got really sick and died, so he became an orphan. Without father nor mother, he decided to join the monastery, and so he spent 40 years of his life next to his father unknowing who he really was. I totally recommend a visit to this place, it tells a lot about Koyasan, I am not sure if this is a tale or a real story, but it is a very famous story in Koyasan.