Archive for June, 2006

At the height of the Golden Week holidays, the weather in the Kansai area turned perfect — t-shirt warm with cloudless blue skies. It was like a California summer day, and if you live in Japan you know how rare it is to actually have a day like that. It was a perfect day to […]


Although Jess and I were tired, we couldn’t leave Koya-san without visiting the vast cemetery area of Okunoin, a graveyard of some 200,000 tombs that line the path that extends from Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum. It’s almost impossible to convey the sense of scale of the Okunoin cemetery. It’s about a twenty-minute walk from the entrance […]


What you miss in any account of Koya-san’s more famous large-scale temple structures is a proper sense of the intricate symbolic repleteness embedded in every possible corner of the city environs. There is no place in Koya-san that is not marked by its religious history and its continuing role as a living center of Buddhist […]


The Daimon (i.e. “Great Gate”) was once the main entrance to Koya-san. On either side of the gate are the two Nio guardian dieties who protect the mountain. The figure on the left, with the closed mouth, is called Ungyo. This figure sounds the “um” or “om” sound that signifies death. The figure on the […]


The Garan area is the central temple complex of Koya-san, and is home to the Kondo, the hall where Kukai gave his sermons. The Kondo was originally built in 819, though it’s been repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt since then. The Garan area is also the site of the Konpon Daito, a lacquered persimmon-colored pagoda that […]


Kongobu-ji is the headquarters for Shingon Buddhism, and it doubles as the residence of Koya-san’s abbot. It was originally built in 1593 in honor of the memory of Toyotomi Hideyoshi‘s mother. Inside the main hall there are beautiful Kano-school paintings of cranes, as well as the famous Willow Room (Yanagi-no-ma) which features paintings of trailing […]


My friend Jess flew out to visit at the beginning of May during my Golden Week vacation. Golden Week, which is pretty much like a five-day long Memorial Day weekend, is one of Japan’s biggest holidays and everything (including ATMs!) shuts down for the two official holidays that are the centerpiece of the five days […]