13 temples to try in Koyasan (and 2 to miss)

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Following on from my previous post: How to visit temples in Koyasan without staying at one here is a run down of 13 different temples I did visit. There are over 100 temples in Koya, and 52 that allow overnight lodging, however, not all Shingon Buddhist temples are created equal. While the most popular temples tend to have larger, more luxurious rooms, English speaking monks, and wifi, there are charms to the smaller temples tucked away into the mountainside where the silence is so profound customers have complained. 

Protip: Photos of the altars are usually forbidden – though you can always ask.

Ekoin  

Outside visitors are welcome to see the Hondo and it is part of the Shichifukuchijin meguri.   

Ekoin is one of the most progressive temples in Koyasan and most of the monks speak English. It has a beautiful inner garden, and a large hondo. They perform goma-taki, Shingon Buddhism’s fire ritual, every morning around 6:30 (winter) or 7:00 (summer) in the small shrine at the front of the temple. Outsiders are welcome to watch the fire ritual. Sometimes a young monk can be heard practicing his taiko drumming around lunch-time. At night, they also have a walking tour that goes through the stone grave yard, all the way to the Okunoin – it starts at 7:15pm and costs 1500 yen. 

Sekishoin 

Does not allow visitors inside to view the hondo, but has a cool reflexology path in the entry-way you can walk along.

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Sekishoin’s hondo is very dark, and cavernous, with red-carpets and garish paintings on the walls. Those who stay here may get a room with a balcony overlooking a natural, rambling garden, with a pond, cherry trees that must be gorgeous in spring, and the mountain beyond which turns red and yellow in autumn. 

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Komyoin

Visitors are allowed to see the hondo.

This is a small, and beautiful wooden temple tucked away behind Ekoin. It has a charming walking bridge that spans their stone garden as visitors cross over to see the hondo. Inside it is lit with many hanging lanterns, in the style of Terado (lantern hall) at the Okunoin. The monks are very friendly, and guests can stay here as well, though rooms are limited.

Mitsugonin

Visitors are allowed to see the hondo.

White, electric lights; framed photos of the head monks; and a small altar make the hondo less impressive than some others. The temple is small, with wooden floors, and only 10 or so rooms, though these have lovely balconies overlooking a pretty garden. The monks are a little shy. 

Jochiin

Visitors are allowed to see the hondo.

The monk here was very informative and friendly. The hondo is wide, and has the feel of a antiques store room – full of statues and even a box of bibs for the Ojizo statues. I was shown around the back of the altar, where a rare carving of Fudomyo, a Buddhist deity, with a flame above its head, is here rendered more as a pheonix. Looking upon this, burns the evil from our hearts, I was told. 

Jizoin

Visitors are allowed to see the hondo.

This temple is huge, and shaped more like a castle. Inside it is clean, and very modern, as the structure is only 30 years old, the previous temple succumbing to fire in the way that many of the temples in Koya have. The current building is so large that there is no space for a garden.

Fudoin 

Visitors are allowed to see the hondo.

Gorgeous, inside and out. Rooms have ukiyo-e, wood-block-print style winter landscapes and large modern paintings donated to the temple. The rooms were built only 10 years ago, and the temple has the feel of being new, while retaining its original style. The garden is a series of stone steps leading the eye up towards the mountain. A young, and nervous monk showed me around.

Takamuroin

Visitors are allowed to see the hondo.

A lovely temple on the main street that is a conglomeration of 5 temples. A lovely, very tall, young monk, who had obviously done this before, took me along the wooden corridor to the hondo. It was dark, warm, with a luminescent light around its main shrine, which houses a Buddha that promotes good health. The goma fire ceremony here is only performed on the 8th of every month, and them they get to use a very cool taiko drum. The garden here is small, and narrow. Unfortunately for travellers looking to stay, they only accept Japanese pilgrims.

Tentokuin

Visitors must call ahead to gain entry.

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The garden here is a registered cultural property, and closed to the public. This is the newest temple in Koyasan, replacing a different temple around 400 years ago. The Donosan of Kagawa built this place after his beloved wife died at age 24. She had a full life with him, it seems, married at 3 (!) and bearing him 6 or 7 children. They loved each other too much, the rumour goes, that at the slightest seperation she died of loneliness. The garden has a pond with two islands, one representing a crane, the other a turtle. The story goes, that the turtle is over 1000 years old, and it has grown a mountain on its back here the divinities live. Beyond is a hill where the princess is interred, and she lives there with Buddha. We, the viewer, sit in a small tatami room, the realm of human life – and look out on the world of the gods, and the world of the Buddha.

The temple accepts foreign guests, but only does the fire ceremony once or twice a year.

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Jokin

Outside visitors are not allowed to visit the inner hondo, however there is an altar to the “red Buddha” outside which anyone can enter, and pray to. 

While this temple is usually off-limits, I was allowed access thanks to the connections between my temple and Jokin. The staff here are very friendly, and speak English well. The temple is wooden, and its garden runs along Jabara-michi,  and must be gorgeous in autumn. The hondo is small, with a seperate antechamber to the side where the fire-ceremony is sometimes performed, though the day I visited it was being used as a study for the young monks and nuns performing their training.

Daimyoin

Visitors are allowed to see the hondo.

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Tall, flowering sakura grow just inside the gate of this temple, and visitors are welcome to come in to just enjoy it. I called ahead to check that we could visit the temple, and we were shown around by the head monk – a kind, friendly man who takes pride in his beautiful temple. The hondo was rebuilt quite recently (Heisei, year 3), and contains a golden statue of Kobo Daishi. The garden has a deep pond into which one of the precious Buddhist carvings was thrown during the fire, saving it from being burnt. We were shown the temple’s popular “golden room” (though this is not its actual name, just how it’s known online). Other rooms are also beautifully painted, with spreading pine branches, and snow covered trees. The wood is sourced locally. 

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Annyoin

Visitors are allowed to see the hondo before 3pm.

Raked, stone garden and a small hondo. Inside, you can take an omikuji fortune from inside a gourd though take care to read the cutely written instructions (though these are all in Japanese).

Shakamonin

Despite being classed as blue “you can visit the hondo” on the 高野山お寺MAP this temple does not allow visitors, nor does it allow foreign guests to stay overnight.

Joju-in

Visitors can peer through a broken glass door at the shine. 

This temple feels like an abandoned house. The garden is wild, and overgrown, with little plant pots on the hondo balcony. I was allowed to stand outside the hondo and pray, if I desired to. I made use of their blue, ceramic tables and chairs for a quick break.

Hokiin

Visitors are allowed to see the hondo.

A fresh-water spring at this temple draws pilgrims (so bring a water bottle), though it doesn’t allow overnight guests. Inside is quite, with large, dark tatami rooms. The hondo has several small antechambers, with a variety of interesting things to look at. Faded mandelas on the walls, and piles of received gifts including stuffed koala toys. The ceiling is covered in hanging lanterns and a small room to the side let in the morning light, as it overlooks the wild garden.

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So there’s the list! Of course, there are so many more temples in Koyasan! From the famous Fukuchin (does not allow outside visitors in!) to Muryoin (does allow visitors and is the home of Kurto Genso, a Swedish man who became a monk here 20 years ago), to places that I simply didn’t have time to view (always a good reason to go back, right!)

My personal favourites are: Ekoin, Fudomyoin, Daimyoin and Hokiin.

Ekoin, of course, because I lived there for 7 months, but also I think its garden is the most beautiful, especially along the balcony by the meditation room, overlooking the tangle of trees and the temple itself.

Fudomyoin because of its calm, quiet atmosphere, beautiful use of wood and lovely monks.

Daimyoin a) because I could see it from my bedroom window and b) the incredible generosity of its head monk in showing me and my coworker around (also the temple incidentally where the guest complained of the silence).

And finally Hokiin, where I would fill up bottles of water for me and my coworkers, and which just generally cool looking.

 

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