A return to nature and quest for enlightenment in one — taking a pilgrimage to Mount Koya and its many temples is a must for anyone at all interested in Japanese Buddhism. The mountain was singled out by the founder of Shingon Buddhism, a man by the name of Kobo Daisho, as the home for his sect in the 9th century.
Nowadays, over 100 temples have sprung up on the mountain, and it remains a magnet for the pious from around Japan. More than half of these temples offer overnight stays for visitors, giving you the chance to get intimately involved with temple life.
Whether you plan on staying or not, walking around the mountain trails is the best way to discover all of the hidden sectors Koya-san has to offer. Start off at Okunoin Cemetery - where Kobo Daisha himself is entombed - and onwards to Torodo Hall with its thousand lanterns, finishing with a visit to the head temple: Kongobuji.
If seeing the resident monks of the mountain go about their business has you itching to find some inner peace of your own, then you can also try your hand at various traditional crafts and activities in many of the minor temples in the complex. Discovering how to meditate directly from a real Japanese monk sure beats learning it from some guy on YouTube!
Sign up for insider tips & sneak peeks into the diverse world of dining in Japan.