I put so much effort into planning our route FROM Koyasan, that I seem to believe getting TO Koyasan sure cannot be that difficult. All I know is that we need to take three trains.
Of course, taking rural countryside trains are a bit more of a hassle than the metro that run every 5-or-so minutes with clear signs even foreign eyes can comprehend.
After catching the first two departures alright, I seem to have a flick on the third and get us off one station too early. We end up seemingly in the Middle of Nowhere, or at least that is what I imagine this train stop would translate to in English. Getting off a station too early is not a big deal. Unless the next train will not arrive for another hour.
This one event seems to be the first in a long row of domino bricks of mistakes. To make a long story short: We leave Kyoto around 7am and arrive on top of Koyasan just after 4pm…
Getting to Koyasan is a bit of an adventure on its own. (Like, without the extra detour to Nowhereland). For the final bits the train winds its way up the mountain, with its wall on one side and steep valleys on the other. At the final station, you catch a cable car to reach all the way to the top.
Most people visiting Koyasan will stay in shukubo (aka temple lodgings).
As a) I do everything last minute and b) this is high season, we however spend the night at a capsule style backpackers called Koyasan Guest House Kokuu.
It has a design that brings chapels slash stables to mind along with the best English spoken staff encountered the entire trip. (One has even studied in Scotland and gets muy excited when hearing about me arriving from Granite City!)
The biggest attraction is undoubtedly Oku-no-in — where the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi resides surrounded by circa 200’000 tombstones and monuments. Kobo Daishi was the founder of the Shingon Buddhism that Koyasan is a pilgrammage for; he was last seen in year 835 and according to legend he is to this day sat in meditation inside his mausoleum awaiting the arrival of Miroku (the Future Buddha).
It is a really atmospheric, almost eerie feel walking about the cemetery as the sun begins to descend. Despite knowing we are most certainly not alone as visitors of the mountain, it sure feels like it as you vanish into the large grounds.
You can also watch the monks do their morning chanting in the early am’s over at Okunoin, as we did the following morning. Brings me back to my week at Doi Suthep in 2014.
Koyasan has recently gotten a new supermarket that stays open until late, but other than that everything closes early (like 5pm max). Which in this case means I did not have time to try out Shojin-Ryori — a traditional buddhist veggie (vegan actually) cuisine — typical for the region. Alas, the more reason to visit again!
On the bright side, it brings people inside and together — we spend the evening drinking copious amounts of tea at the hostel, chatting to fellow travellers about our Japan feels.
Fresh out of the chanting, we hurry off to catch the cable car back down to the train station. With the disastrous logistic failures of the day past, we were on a roll. The perkiest bit was when I realised we could get off the shinkansen already in Odawara, instead of travelling all the way back to Tokyo to swap trains. Ha-le-lu!
It is still quite the bus trip to reach the top of the mountain though. Once we are checked in at our hotel Mount View, we head straight out and into Museum of the Little Prince just up the road. Which must be the most unpredictable of locations to find a museum dedicated to a French childrens tale?
Apparently the founder was so fond of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book that she felt a museum was in order. It is a full on experience, with a French style townscape and gallery of St Exupéry’s life doings. (Most of the accompaning captions with the works found in the latter are in either Japanese or French though… Of course I do not really mind just watching photos).
Back at the hotel (it is so alien to me staying in a hotel that my fingers automatically add an extra s in there) we change into our yukatas to get into the groove. We head downstairs for dinner, then spend the remains of the evening in the public outdoors onsen.
The following morning I dress up in my most museumy outfit and we take the bus to Hakone Open Air Museum. It is a very hot morning and thus the sun creates some really harsh shadows over the works unfortunately.
Hakone turns out to be a right mekka for art museums – there seems to be something for every taste, at every other bus stop.
This makes me completely forget what we really came there for – to catch a glimpse of infamous Mount Fuji…
Unfortunately the installation I am most keen to watch, The Symphonic Sculpture, is having maintenance work made on this very day (what are the odds?!) so there is no entry.
They do host an enchanting photography exhibition by Kishin Shinoyama - a series of portraits of fellow artists, including Yoko Ono, in their right element. That along with the vegan friendly sushi bar down the road makes it a pretty decent excursion anyway.
This was part 6/7 of my Japan Photo Diary, the previous entries can be found below: