Day 52: Kōya-san

After a fun weekend exploring a few sights in Tokushima and Kagawa that I’d missed the first time around (more on this in a later post) I woke at 5.30 am on Monday morning and made my way to the Nankai Ferry terminal, about 20 minutes by bus from Tokushima Station.

Nankai Ferry

Departing at 8 am, the overcast sky soon blended into the grey sea and, just like that, Shikoku was gone. I settled back into my chair staring out towards the grey horizon.

The two-hour crossing to Wakayama passed without incident and I was soon on the train heading towards Osaka (although Kōya-san is actually to the east you have to head north and then back south to reach it by train).

With an hour to kill at Tengachaya Station before the connecting train to Gokurakubashi, I stepped out of the station and had an early lunch at one of the restaurants under the tracks.

My first reverse culture shock moment came when I found the next train full of foreign tourists from Europe and America. I soon became aware of the bemused looks in my direction and for the first time felt rather uncomfortable in my full henro gear. A Spanish guy asked if I was training in some sort of Japanese martial art and I had to explain what the pilgrimage was about.

A little later a retired Japanese gentleman sat next to me and started asking me about my trip. I probably should have mentioned that this was my second trip to Kōya-san (高野山) because he was soon giving me lengthy advice about where to visit and how to get around.

Koya-san cable car

It was almost exactly a year since I’d last visited with a good friend who was in Japan on business. Back then I’d only vaguely heard that it was connected with a pilgrimage and had no idea that I would soon be embarking on the epic adventure myself. Funny how life works.

Okunoin Cemetery
Statues in Okunoin Cemetery
Graves in Okunoin Cemetery

After riding the steep cable car to Kōyasan Station I took the bus to Ichiohashi Bridge and was soon walking through the atmospheric cemetery towards Okunoin (奥の院).

Tombstones in Okunoin Cemetery
Statues in Okunoin Cemetery
Okunoin Cemetery Path

Over 200,000 tombstones of prominent monks and feudal lords line the almost two-kilometre approach to the mausoleum of Kōbō-Daishi.

Tombstone in Okunoin Cemetery
Tree roots in Okunoin Cemetery

Crossing Gobyonohashi Bridge, which separates the grounds of the temple from Okunoin, I became rather aggravated by a loud group of western tourists who clearly had no idea they were on hallowed ground. I can’t really blame them but you wouldn’t behave the same way in a Mosque or Cathedral.

I approached Torodo Hall and paid my respects before walking to the rear where Kōbō-Daishi’s mausoleum is semi-hidden behind the trees. It is believed that he remains alive here in eternal meditation.

Having given my thanks for completing the pilgrimage safely, I descended into the hall’s basement where there are over 50,000 tiny statues that have been donated to Okunoin.

Gokusho Offering Hall

Afterwards, I walked back to the Gokusho Offering Hall and got my book stamped and signed for the last time. I felt a sense of pride as the man at the window checked that my book was complete.

Koya-san cable car

By now it was almost 4 pm and since I’d already visited the other sights in Kōya-san decided to head back to Osaka directly. To be honest the tourists rather spoiled the atmosphere and I was feeling a bit down since I was back in the land where nobody smiles or acknowledges each other. I’m going to miss that about Shikoku immensely.

Nankai Electric Railway

Tomorrow I return to my home in Tokyo and begin re-integration with the wider world. I’m looking forward to seeing friends and enjoying home comforts again. I do so in the knowledge that Shikoku and all the wonderful people I met will always be in my memory and I hope I can bring a sliver of it back into whatever I do next.


Distance walked: 10 km / 14,729 steps
Temples visited: Kōya-san
Overnight lodgings: Via Inn Shin Osaka (ヴィアイン新大阪) – Business Hotel

← Day 49 Map Epilogue →

David avatar

14 responses

  1. Congratulations David 🙂 Let’s get hiking tattoos OK?

  2. James avatar

    Well done David, when you are next in Norwich give me a call and we can meet up. Remember wherever I am my outer world is always a reflection of my inner world. Life is my pilgrimage ???

    1. Thanks James – will certainly do that!

  3. Greg avatar

    Thanks for taking the time to update your blog every day. I have enjoyed following your pilgrimage, and I will miss the daily updates. You have inspired me to do this myself someday. I’m looking forward to your post on gear and also your summarizing thoughts on the experience. Take your time.

    Having repatriated a couple of times, I know how it feels to return from a life-changing experience to a place and people who haven’t changed at all. Fortunately, those who care for you the most have at least a sense of what you’ve been through by reading this blog. Best wishes as you return.

    1. Thanks Greg, much appreciated. Hope you get a chance to experience the pilgrimage for yourself, it’s well worth it 🙂

  4. Wendy avatar

    Thank you.

    1. Thanks for all your support Wendy!

  5. Pascal avatar

    Very nice blog!
    I found it with Murakami Haruki’s urban piligrimage (you stolled my idea by the way!).
    I’ll follow yours steps to this Jazz bar..
    For Koyasan i think it worst to avoid the cable car and take the historic path :
    Chi ishi michi 24 km long.The website with map and multilingual:
    Its a great way to arrive at Koyasan from the deep forest to the big Torii.

    This september i ‘ll be on the Kumano-Kodo from Ise .
    Congratulation for this excellent blog.

    1. Thanks for the tip Pascal – I didn’t have time to walk to Koyasan but perhaps will in the future.

      Hope you have a good time on the Kumano-Kodo in Sept, I also want to walk there one day.

  6. Arnold Smith avatar
    Arnold Smith

    Have a safe journey back to Tokyo and thanks again for taking the time to share your blog. Arigato.

    1. Cheers Arnold, back safe & sound in Tokyo. Lots to catch up on now but luckily not in too much of a rush 🙂

  7. Jack avatar

    Thanks again for the wonderful images and words. Great memories within for those that have traveled the path and great anticipation for those waiting to do so.

    1. Thanks Jack, now that I’m back I’m noticing all the terrible spelling / grammar mistakes but hopefully it all made sense!


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