Kongobu-ji, the head temple of the Koyasan school of the Shingon sect located on top of Mt. Koya, was founded some 1,200 years ago.
To be precise, Kongobu-ji is the name of the head temple and at the same time has been the collective name of all the temples located on Mt. Koya.
The head temple now called Kongobu-ji was created in 1869 by merging two temples called Seigan-ji and Kozan-ji into one, and until then there had been no single temple called Kongobu-ji.
Kongobu-ji is registered as part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site under the name of “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.”
At the entrance of Mt. Koya stands a 25.1-meter(82-feet)-high, two-storied red gate called Daimon, which houses two statues of Kongo-rikish. These statues are said to be the second largest pair of Kongo-rikishi following those of Todai-ji.
There’s a sign on the gate saying that “Kobo Daishi rises from his mausoleum every day, inspects the world, and saves us,” a phrase based on Kobo Daishi worship. On the side of the gate there’s a mountain trail leading to the top of Mt. Benten, and at the top there’s a small shrine of Dake Benzaiten which Kobo Daishi enshrined.
The area where many buildings including Kondo and Konpon-daito are situated is called Danjo-garan and is the center of Mt. Koya. This area was the first area to be developed by Kobo Daishi, and is said to represent the world depicted in the Taizo-kai (Womb Realm) Mandala.
Kondo is the very main hall of Mt. Koya. Present one is the seventh reconstruction erected in 1932, made with reinforced concrete to resist fire and earthquakes. The statue of Ashuku Nyorai is the main object of worship here. Chumon, the gate in front of Kondo, was constructed in 2015 and houses statues of Shitenno.
Konpon Daito, rebuilt in 1937, was initially erected by Kobo Daishi as the symbol of Mt. Koya. It was the principal training facility for the Shingon Sect. There are two more pagodas called Toto and Saito in the precincts.
Though there have been so many temples for such a long time on Mt. Koya, it was destroyed by fire many a time, and only two buildings are designated as National Treasures in the whole mountain. One is Fudodo constructed in either 1197 or 1198, and the other is a tahoto-style pagoda erected in 1223 which is possessed by a sub-temple called Kongosanmai-in.
The Banryutei garden created in the late 20th century, claimed to be the largest rock garden in Japan, is also beautiful.
Another must-see place is the Mausoleum of Kobo Daishi (774 – 835), the founder of the Shingon sect also known as Kukai, at Okunoin. It is the center of the Kobo Daishi worship, and many stone tombs are erected among Japanese cedar trees along the passage to the mausoleum.
Where to eat around Kongobu-ji
Hamadaya is a tofu restaurant on Mt. Koya, and you can enjoy various tofu dishes like having them with wasabi-mixed soy sauce or wasanbon (a kind of sweet). Known particular is goma-dofu (tofu made from sesame) which uses spring water from Mt. Koya, and it is creamy but at the same time light.
Yukimuraan is a Japanese restaurant in Kudoyama, a town at the foot of Mt. Koya. This restaurant serves soba noodles and tempura.
Our recomenndation is tsuke-kamo-soba (“kamo” is duck meat). Crispy fried soba will also be on the house. If you order Yukimura-gozen (“gozen” is a set menu), soba-dofu will be included in it. This restaurant is very popular and tends to be crowded.
Where to stay around Kongobu-ji
Ichijo-in is a shukubo (temple-run inn), and Buddhist cuisines are served here.
There’s a beautiful garden with a pond in the middle of the grounds. As for the bath, there are a large one made of hinoki woods and a middle-sized one from which tsuboniwa (a small garden) can be seen. You can also join the meditation or the morning service of the temple.
Saizen-in is another shukubo adjacent to Danjo-garan, and you can enjoy the scenery of it from this inn, including Konpon-daito lighted up at night.
There is a beautiful garden also. Buddhist cuisines including goma-dofu are served at meals. You can join the morning service or experience sutra copying if you wish.
Happu Bekkan is an inn attached to Happu-no-yu at the base of Mt. Koya. This facility uses water from five hot springs for its baths, and one of them is of fossil groundwater.
There are several bathtubs including an open-air bath, a sauna, a hot stone spa, a foot bath, and inner baths from cold to hot. The open-air bath is beautifully illuminated at night. Cuisines are also tasty. There’s a souvenir shop, also.
At Mt. Koya, you can enjoy both beautiful nature and excellent Buddhist architecture. There are more than 50 temple-run inns on the top, and there are inns with spas at the base.
Mt. Koya is one of the most prominent tourist destinations in Japan, and it’s definitely worth visiting.