Having been to Arashiyama, Nara and Kyoto, I thought Koyasan would be like that. Temples in a serene setting, little traffic...
So I was surprised at the size of Koyasan and the amount of traffic there was. It felt commercial, with all the paved roads, buses and cars. And while Odawara-dori had a lovely old-Japan feel and character (as well as a really good Japanese sweets shop whose name eludes me), my visit was perhaps somewhat marred by this modern intrusion in what I imagined to be a religious, quiet and peaceful place.
That said, the journey to Koyasan is scenic (journeying through the Japanese countryside, beautiful cedar trees and scenery on the ascent up the mountains en-route to Koyasan), and the buses are especially handy if you are only there for a day. We passed many beautiful temples, including one with striking gold lacquered screens which we almost entered, only to find out that it was for guests only. I think it would be quite an experience to stay on the mountain overnight, when the traffic has died down.
I particularly loved the Danjo Garan religious precinct. It was what I imagine Koyasan to be like back in the day - packed sand roads, towering cedar trees, monks walking about and an overall atmosphere of peacefulness. We also did the Okunoi walk; it was amazing to see how old some of the graves were, and to read the signs on the monuments along the way. The Torodo and Masoleum of Kobo Daishi at the end were also spectacular. There was a spiritual and respectful air to it, and quite amazing to think that two of the oil lamps are said to have been constantly lit since the 11th century.
I enjoyed my experience and left feeling a little lighter. I do think a stay on the mountain would have made a difference, and been quite magical upon nightfall!
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