Danjo Garan, Mount Koya

Danjo Garan, Mount Koya

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① The Buddha revered by the Shingon school is the Cosmic Buddha (大 日 如 来, Dainichi Nyorai) sitting on an 8-petalled lotus flower. As Koya san is surrounded by 8 hills, he saw this place as the center of a lotus flower, that is, the place where the Cosmic Buddha is sitting.

② At the end of his study trip to China, before leaving the country, Kukai launched the Sankosho (三 鈷 杵), the material used for the Shingon school prayer, and it flew in the direction of Japan. When he arrived in Japan, he saw a bright place and was guided by 2 dogs (considered to be Shinto deities turned into dogs) and managed to find the Sankosho, which was hanging on a pine tree that still exists today in Danjo Garan.

In 816, Kukai obtained permission from the Emperor of Saga to create a monastery on this mountain. In 832, Kukai inaugurated the first monastery, Kongobuji, to preach the Shingon doctrine. Thanks to the help of the emperor, who promoted the expansion of the Shingon doctrine, it spread rapidly.

At the height of Koyasan’s prosperity in the early 16th century, there were about 1,500 monasteries and 90,000 monks.
When Meiji was restored in 1868, some parts of Koyasan were confiscated by the Meiji government and there were also many fires so many temples were lost. Only 117 temples remain today. Of these 117 temples, 52 are monastery inns. We can spend the night in one of the monasteries of Mount Koya.
The monk Kukai (空 海) or Kobo Daishi (弘法 大師)
Kukai was born in 774 on the island of Shikoku, his boy’s name was Mao (真 魚). His parents attached great importance to the belief of Buddhism. Mao was a very intelligent child and at the age of 15, he went to the capital, Kyoto, with his uncle who was a scientist. He devoted himself mainly to the study of ancient Chinese texts and Confucianism. His desire to help suffering people grew ever greater and at the age of 19 (in 793) he decided to become a monk, and at the age of 22, he received the mon of Kukai at the Todaiji temple.

He studied various Buddhist texts from different schools and became interested in the Maha Vairochana Sutra, in Japanese Dainichi Kyo, and devoted himself to its precept. Unfortunately, some parts of the texts were written in ancient India and were incomprehensible to him, so Kukai decided to go to China to deepen his knowledge of Dainichi Kyo. It left Japan on July 6, 804 and arrived in China on August 10. For 8 months, he learned esoteric Buddhism from the great monk Keika Ajari. Two years later, in 806, he returned to Japan and spread this new school and in 8012 he founded the Shingon school, the esoteric Mahayana Buddhism. It is an esoteric Buddhism according to which, with the help of a teacher, it is possible in the course of life to achieve the state of Buddha, that is, the absolute truth.

In 832, he opened the first Shingon School monastery, Kongobuji, on Mount Koya.

Kukai was not only an intelligent monk, he also dedicated his life to helping people. He participated in public works, created a university for everyone, and also wrote many works.

Kukai passed away (entered eternal samadhi on Mount Koya) in 835 at the age of 62 and in 891 he was posthumously named Kobo Daishi (弘法 大師, literally Grand Master of the diffusion of loi).
It is said that Kobo Daishi did not die but entered a state of prayer and that from Mount Koya he prays every day for Peace.

The History of Mount Koya

Mount Koya is the headquarters of the Shingon sect of mystical Buddhism which was introduced to Japan from China by the monk Kukai (774–835). Born on the island of Shikoku, Kukai (also called Kobo Daishi) was a legendary Buddhist saint, poet, teacher, calligrapher, and engineer. He introduced the teachings of Shingon to Japan after two years of spiritual study in China and founded the monastic community at Mount Koya in the year 819. By Kukai’s design the community on the Mount Koya plateau was arranged as a physical mandala a mystical map of the Shingon Buddhist universe.

The eight mountains around the plateau are the mandala’s lotus petals, the Konpon Daito pagoda stands at the mandala’s center, and at the center of the pagoda is a statue of Dainichi Nyorai, the primal Buddha. Kukai died on March 21st in the year 835. However, there is a legend that Kukai did not really die, but is still in a state of deep meditation inside his mountain tomb on Mount Koya, praying for our salvation.

Garan &bull

Legend has it that Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, threw his sankosho (a double ended, three pronged Buddhist ceremonial tool) from China, where he had been studying, toward Japan. Back in Japan, while in search of a place to headquarter his new religion, he came across his sankosho stuck in the branches of a pine tree on Koyasan and started construction of the Garan, Koyasan's central temple complex. The pine tree, that caught the sankosho, is still growing there.

The two most prominent buildings of the Garan are the Kondo Hall and the huge Konpon Daito Pagoda. The Kondo Hall is a large wooden temple hall where major ceremonies are held. The building has burned down multiple times over the centuries, and the current hall dates back to 1932. It enshrines an image of Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of medicine and healing.

Next to the Kondo Hall stands the vermilion Konpon Daito Pagoda, a 45 meter tall, two tiered, tahoto style pagoda. A statue of the Dainichi Nyorai (Cosmic Buddha, also known as Variocana), the central Buddha in Shingon Buddhism, stands in the middle of the pagoda's interior and is surrounded by statues and paintings on pillars, which together make up a rare three dimensional mandala (a metaphysical map of the cosmos). Mandala are usually two dimensional paintings.

Kobo Daishi started building the Kondo Hall and Daito Pagoda, however he was not able to finish them himself. His successors completed the construction of the two main structures and also expanded the grounds of the Garan with multiple additional halls and pagodas over time. Among these are the Toto (eastern pagoda), Saito (western pagoda), Miedo (founder's hall) and Koya Myojin Shrine, which enshrines Mount Koya's local kami (Shinto deities).

In the small town of Mount Koya

Koyasan is a small town, just a few thousand people call the historic mountain town home. Many of the homes and shops were built in the Edo Period (similar to the streets of Narai-juku along the Nakasendo). There are many temples offering lodging to tourists, most located in the center of town.

Temple lodging – Henjoko-in 「遍照光院」 – on Koyasan’s main street

Within a small area there are over 50 temples offering accommodation. Most of these are real working Buddhist temples, and visitors enjoy traditional Buddhist meals and can take part in morning prayers.

Small altar on Koyasan’s main street

Danjo Garan-on, or Garan, was one of the first complexes built by Kobo Daishi in Koyasan. Vast, quiet, soothing, it is filled with temples, a magnificent pagoda, with a unique atmosphere.

816. Kobo Daishi (774-835) established his community and laid the foundations of a "sacred complex" that should remain with the Kongobuji, one of the principal religious sites in the city.

The complex has about twenty temples and buildings, including the Konpon Daito, "Great pagoda" rebuilt in the late 1930s and all freshly painted in vermilion. A symbolic construction, it would appear at the center of the lotus flower mandala formed by eight mountains around Koyasan. Between legend and cult, Konpon Daito houses the Dainichi Nyorai, cosmic Buddha, surrounded by four other Buddhas who assist him.

Kondo, the main pavilion which hosts major religious ceremonies, was built in 819 and was also rebuilt for the last time in the 1930s. A statue of Yakushi Nyorai, the doctor Buddha is revealed when the pavilion is open.

Among other wonders, the Miedo, "temple of portraits" once reserved for meditation of Kobo Daishi, often keeps its doors closed. A portrait of the founder monk sleeps, hidden amidst ten other works of his disciples. However, every March 21st, during the Kyusho Mieku festival , Kukai can be contemplated, admired.

South of Danjo Garan-the Reihokan Museum , built in 1921, hides thousands of treasures of the daily religious life of the city.

Miedō「御影堂」(Great Portrait Hall)

Miedo was once the spot reserved for Kobo Daishi’s private meditations. It has since been dubbed the “Great Portrait Hall” because a painting of the founder himself resides inside. Visitors are only allowed in one day a year on 21 March, the date of the Kyusho Mieku Festival, to admire the portrait.

In front of Miedo stands Sanko no Matsu, the tree said to have been punctured by Kobo Daishi’s trident.

Recommended Spots at Mount Koya

Okunoin Temple

This is the sanctuary of Mount Koya, where Kobo Daishi has entered the state of nyujo. The approach runs through a forest filled with two- to three-hundred year old Japanese cedar trees, and some of the trees are said to be over a thousand year old. A great number of graves stand along both sides of the approach.

The photograph shows the grave of a famous warlord. There are also graves and cenotaphs of various daimyo in this area. Torodo (Lantern Hall), which houses the toro (*4), is located at the end of the approach, and Kobo Daishi Gobyo (mausoleum), where the body of Kobo Daishi rests, stands behind Torodo.

At Okunoin, a ritual of delivering meals to Kobo Daishi called shojingu, is held twice every day. If you're lucky, you might be able to see it.

Okunoin Torodo

Open: 6:00 - 17:30
On January 1st, the Torodo is open from midnight to 2:00. On August 13th, the Torodo re-opens from 19:00 to 21:00.

*4 Toro: a Japanese lantern, mainly used in the outdoors.

Danjo Garan

This monastic complex was the first site built when Kobo Daishi founded the main temple on Mount Koya. After passing through the Chumon gate, the symbolic, vermilion-colored Konpon Daito jumps into view. The admission fee here is 200 yen, including tax.

Kondo, the main temple of Mount Koya, stands in the foreground of Konpon Daito. The admission fee is also 200 yen, including tax.

This is the Miedo (Great Portrait Hall), where portraits of Kobo Daishi and his Judai Deshi (*5) are lined up.

*5 Judai Deshi: the ten main disciples of Kobo Daishi.

Of all the architectures of Danjo Garan, a very special one is the Rokkaku Kyozo. There are handles which can be rotated sticking out from its base. It is said that if you can rotate a handle 360 degrees, the act will equal the kudoku (*6) of reading a scripture named "Issaikyo."

Be sure to walk the beautiful road named Jabara (snake's belly)-michi on your way back.

*6 Kudoku: a meritorious deed which will be rewarded by the deities.

Danjo Garan

Open: 8:30 - 17:00
Admission Fee: 200 yen (Please note that Konpon Daito and Kondo have separate fees)


The Seimon gate is the oldest architecture on Mount Koya. The residing priests use the smaller entrance on the right side.

A Tensui Oke (*7) is set on the roof of Kongobuji, so that the collected rainwater can be used in case of fire.

The rooms inside are adorned with brilliant fusuma art. The temple also has a rock garden, and a kitchen to prepare meals for the priests.

*7 Tensui Oke: a traditional Japanese tank used for collecting and storing rainwater.


Open: 8:30 - 17:00 (The entrance closes at 16:30)
Admission Fee: Adults 500 yen, Elementary School Children 200 yen. Admission free for preschoolers.

  • Hire a bicycle!
  • Stay at a temple, and spend at least 1 night/2 days in Koyasan. You could see all of Koyasan over 2 nights/3 days. I spent only 1 night here, and will definitely go back to see Kongobuji Temple, the Tokugawa Mausoleum and the Okunoin area.
  • Allow plenty of time to get to and from Koyasan, the one-way trip from Osaka to Koyasan can take 3 hours or more, depending on transfers.

Many important Buddhist rituals take place at Koyasan.

March 21: Sho-Mie-Ku

Anniversary of Koyasan’s founder Kukai’s “entrance into eternal meditation”. Chief priests from every temple in Koyasan perform a memorial service at Okunoin. With a large procession of priests the ceremonies are said to be quite spectacular.

May 3-5 and October 1-3: Kechien Kanjo

Buddhist monks and priests perform an austerity ritual which aims to realise the natural spirituality and wisdom of Buddha that is within us all. The ceremony is performed at the Kon-dō of Danjo Garan.

August 13: Mando- Kuyoe (Candle Festival)

Along the 2km sacred approach to Okunion 100,000 candles are placed to pray for the souls at those buried at this important graveyard, as well as for one’s own ancestors.

Your man in Japan, online since 2009. I used to live in Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture, and travel to Japan at least once a year for three weeks.

2. Mt. Koya Full-Day Private Tour (Osaka departure) with Nationally-Licensed Guide

Overall Ratings

Our nationally-licensed and experienced multilingual guides will help you efficiently enjoy a one-day tour of UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, Mt. Koya. Go on a full-day guided walking tour of Mt. Koya and learn about the modern and traditional aspects of one of the world’s most sacred mountains! If you are staying in Osaka but would like to take some time out to enjoy some sights outside the big city, then this tour of Mount Koya in Wakayama Prefecture is for you! Meet your guide at your hotel (in Osaka, Kyoto, Wakayama, or around the Kansai area), then head to Mount Koya. Your guide will customize your full-day tour in detail according to your interests. Note*1: Please select your must-see spots from a list in the tour information to create your customized itinerary. Note*2: The Nationally-licensed Tour Guide-Interpreter certification is issued by the Japanese government requires a good knowledge and understanding of Japanese culture and history.

Inclusions: Licensed Local Guide, Free Photos, Hotel Pick up and Drop-off

Exclusions: Private transportation, Transportation fee (for yourself and your guide), Entrance fee (for yourself), Other personal expenses, Lunch Fee(for yourself and your guide)

Reviewed By Cwshaman

The flexibility to chose locations that suited our wants and abilities was great. Hiro San was very quick to put together an itinerary that accommodated a family with a stroller-baby (no monkey park due to long unpacked walking paths). Taking in the beautiful temples and view of the Kyoto from the west was breath taking and the guide was able to explain many things we as new Japanese learners could not read or know through cultural knowledge. Overall a great experience, a wonderful and lively guide, and some great memories.

Watch the video: Επιτελους στο Τοκιο! Τι τρελο μερος (June 2022).


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