Koyasan has 117 Buddhist temples, and 52 that provide lodging for pilgrims. A quick search on Tripadvisors can show you the options. What isn’t well known however, is that travellers can ask to see inside of many of the temples in Koya, even some which don’t offer overnight stays. I was even told, quite bluntly, by a Tourist Information Centre staff-member that is impossible to view temples other than those you pay to stay at.
In fact, this is not true, and there is a map that shows the temples that will allow guests in. The catch is, you cannot wander freely about the temple, as you might in your lodgings but instead will be shown the temple’s Hondo – the main hall where ceremonies take place. This is so that devotees of Buddha, and families connected to the temple can come in and pay their respects.
Therefore, when asking to view Hondo, use upmost politeness. Ask before taking any photos, and assume that photo taking will not be approved of.
Also, do not assume that entry will always be permitted. While I followed the map, I found that some temples were not open to the public, while some temples that were “closed” will let in someone who is particularly polite, and obviously has an interest in Buddhism.
You will need to speak Japanese. A lot of temples do not have English speaking staff, and speaking Japanese, or even having these written down will help put the monks at ease. Some phrases I used:
Hello, my name is….
konnichi wa. (name) to moh shimasu.
I am visiting the temples’ hondos.
hondo o mairi shite imasu.
Can I please enter here as well?
koko nimo haite ii desuka?
Can I take a picture?
shashin o totte ii desuka?
Do you also have a garden? May I also look at that?
niwa mo arimasuka? soko nimo mite ii desuka?
Thank you very much
honto ni arigatoh gozaimasu.
Here are maps you can use. The first map is a general map in English that shows all the temples and their names. The second is the map with the temples that allow visitors who aren’t guests. Blue circles indicate the temples you can visit, while green indicates you can’t.
Please be aware that some temples might ask for an entry fee, though these tend to be places that are generally known to accept outside visitors – for example Kongo Sanmaiin allows guests to view its garden and inside the temple building for around 500 yen.
In my next post I will describe some of the temples I visited while living in Koyasan, including some which are green on the map, but let me in anyway.