Hiking to Koyasan in Wakayama Prefecture

ByJustin Hanus
Sep 28, 2021

Hiking to Koyasan in Wakayama Prefecture

Wakayama prefecture is home to Koyasan — one of the most popular places for pilgrimages for more than a thousand years. There are actually a few trails to Koyasan, but the original is the Koyasan Choishi Michi trail. The name comes from the fact that it has choishi along the way, stone signposts that make it extra easy to follow the trail.

About the Trails

Koyasan Choishi Michi trail starts at Kudoyama Station. It technically ends at Daimon Gate, although there are still markers to follow until you reach the Garan central temple complex. The entire trail is about 15 miles long and takes about six to seven hours to complete for most people. You’ll climb about 2,500 feet to reach the mountaintop plateau, but the majority of the climbing takes place in the first 3 miles.

If you want a shorter hike, you can walk just part of the Koyasan Choishi Michi trail. For instance, you could start at Kosawa Station or Kii-Hosokawa Station. Alternatively, you could take one of the other trails. Fudozaka trail is only 1.5 miles, but it’s much steeper. The Women Pilgrims Course is 4.5 miles and takes you to Fudozaka-guchi Nyonindo, one of the women’s temples. These were built because women were not allowed to enter the Garan until 1872. Of the original seven temples, Fudozaka-guchi Nyonindo is the only one that remains.

Returning from Koyasan

To avoid a hike back, you can take a bus to Koyasan Station and then a cable car to Gokurakubashi Station. The station is on the Nankai Koya Line, which will take you back to Kudoyama Station.

Spending the Night

You are also welcome to spend the night at Koyasan in one of the temples. This will give you the chance to learn more about the culture, including enjoying traditional Buddhist food. The temples use a dining style called shojin ryori, which dates back to the 13th century. Meals are free from animal products and are made from primarily in-season vegetables, particularly plants from the mountain. The characteristic of the food is what’s known as the rule of five, which is every meal includes five colors (red, yellow, green, black, and white) and five tastes (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami).

Preparing for Your Hike

If you are staying the night, you’ll need to check into your accommodation by the curfew, which is around 7:00 p.m. (check the exact time for the temple where you’ll be staying). Leave early enough in the morning to ensure you don’t need to rush and enjoy the trail. Also, bring sufficient food for your hike (there’s nowhere to eat along the way) and something to make a loud noise with, such as a bell. This is important because sometimes, there are bears near the trail. By having a bear bell or something else that makes noise, you’ll be able to warn away any of the furry animals if they should cross your path.

With that said, don’t be too concerned about bears. Hiking Koyasan is a great experience. The variety of trails available allow you to adapt the hike to your preference. Furthermore, it’s certainly worth staying the night to explore the various places at the Garan especially Okunoin, which is the largest cemetery in the country.

Andrea Schaffer from Sydney, Australia, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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