Hiking around Koyasan
Koyasan has been a popular destination of pilgrims for centuries using the network of pilgrimage trails that connected the temple site and later town to the outside world. Today, most visitors arrive at the mountain attraction by cable-car although the pilgrimage trails still attract a fair number of seasoned hikers that prefer the more traditional approach to the town.
The pilgrimage trails are highly recommended, in good condition and well maintained to allow you to enjoy the natural surroundings of the forest.
Koyasan Choishi Michi Trail
The original pilgrimage trail up to Koyasan is found on the Koyasan Choishi Michi Trail. This trail starts at Kudoyama Station which is located along the Nankai Koya Line between Osaka and its terminus at Gokurakubashi Station. Along the length of the trail you will find it is clearly marked by stone signposts known as choishi that stand every few hundred meters to ease the burden on pilgrims finding their way. These markers are numbered in kanji (kanji is the use of logographic Chinese characters that have been adopted for use within the writing system used in the Japanese language) in descending order down to number one located in Koyasan. The markers have been formed to represent the five elements used in Buddhism of earth, fire, water, void and air.
Should you choose to hike the entire length of this trail the 23.5 km will take you around seven hours from start to finish. However, you can shorten your hike by two hours should you start at Kami-Kosawa Station or by four hours by beginning your hike from Kii-Hosokawa Station. This hiking trail ends at the impressive Daimon Gate although the trail markers continue on into Koyasan ending at Garan.
The Fudozaka Trail is a much less historic trail than the Choishi Michi Trail and much shorter. It is an alternative hiking route from Gokurakubashi Station at the lower point of the cable-car up to the town of Koyasan. This trail measures just 2.5 km in length, is paved but a steep climb taking about an hour to ascend your way uphill. Should you be heading downhill then you will have a much quicker and easier descent. This trail finishes at the Fudozaka-guchi Nyonindo temple hall.
Women Pilgrims Course
The Women Pilgrims Course is a trail that leads around Koyasan’s perimeter beginning at the Fudozaka-guchi Nyonindo along to the entrance to Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum at Okunoin. This trail is around 7km long and will take you around 2.5 hours to hike its entire length. This trail is a nice introductory route for those that are not so experienced in hiking. Highly recommended.
The Kohechi Trail is a much more demanding and challenging pilgrimage trail and forms part of the Kumano Kodo network of trails connecting Koyasan with the sacred shrines found at Kumano. Should you wish to take on a challenge such as this you should be aware of the complexities of using a remote and rugged route across mountains which may take up to a week to negotiate, requiring correct planning and equipment to navigate your way safely.
The Daimon Gate is located at the western end of Koyasan and takes about 10 or 15 minutes to walk from the town centre or 5 minutes on a bus. The gate is a two storey high structure that marks the traditional entrance to the town of Koyasan. The Daimon Gate is a great spot for you to take some pictures before or after a hike, or just for the culture of the area.
Fudozaka-guchi Nyonindo Hall
Fudozaka-guchi Nyonindo Hall is the only survivor of the seven Nyonindo that used to exist here. The Nyonindo were women halls built around the perimeter of Koyasan and used to hold female visitors as the temple town was open only to males prior to 1872. The hall is open every day from 8.30am until 5pm with free entry.