Thursday, August 3, 2017

Kansai Diaries, Day 1: Going to, Sleeping in, and Eating in Koyasan

November 23, 2016

I wake up before my alarm rings. Soon I am at the ground floor of Hotel Raizan, depositing my bag in their luggage storage area. I have a quick breakfast with what they have for sale: cereal, milk, and yogurt. And I say goodbye to my bag and to the receptionist and trace my way back to where I had come from last night, Nankai Shin-Imamiya Station, to start my journey to the town of Koya in the prefecture of Wakayama, where I will be staying for a night.

Going to the Town of Koya:
  • At Nankai Shin-Imamiya Station I get on the Express train to Hashimoto. (See train timetable.)
  • In Hashimoto, I transfer to a train bound for Gokurakubashi.
  • From Gokurakubashi, I take a 5-minute cable car ride on an inclined tram/cable car to Koyasan Station.
  • And finally, I get on a bus bound for the town of Koya. (See bus timetable.)
 A station along the Koya Line

 Tram/Cable Car to Koyasan Station

Inside the tram/cable car

The entire trip, from Shin-Imamiya Station to Koya town, takes about two hours and I pay for each leg of the trip by showing my Koyasan World Heritage Ticket. There are faster trains—Rapid Express and Limited Express—that will shave off 10 to 20 minutes from the travel time. The Rapid Express operates every hour from 9AM to 1PM. The Limited Express is more frequent but is not covered by my Koyasan World Heritage Ticket.

The Koyasan World Heritage Ticket also includes 2 days of unlimited bus rides (Nankai Rinkan Bus) around the town of Koya.

Sleeping in the Town of Koya:

Koyasan (Mt Koya) is the center of Shingon Buddhism, a sect of Buddhism established 1200 years ago by Kukai or Kobo Daishi, a Buddhist priest. He established a monastery in Koyasan. And over the years, a temple town developed around it. Many temples around Koya offer pilgrims and travelers a place to stay (a night in a temple with breakfast and dinner costs at least 9,700 yen). While on the trip planning stage I was tempted to stay in a temple lodging, but in the end I had to admit defeat and find a cheaper alternative.

I get off at the last bus stop and walk east, away from the town center, for about 5 minutes, to the only non-temple accommodation I could find that was within my budget: Koyasan Guesthouse Kokuu.

The guesthouse, grey on the outside but all white inside, is small with just 8 capsules and 3 bedrooms. All the bedrooms and capsules share toilets and shower rooms. I am assigned a bottom capsule. The capsule has a futon, pillow, blanket, lamp, power outlets, coat hooks, hangers, and a window. (A bath towel can be rented for 100 yen.) The capsule door can be locked from the inside. The capsule is rather small but is surprisingly comfy.

It's amazingly cozy inside the capsule

There is a bar and a common lounge where guests can mingle and eat. The bar serves breakfast (not included in the room rate), dinner, and drinks. There is free coffee and tea.

600 yen breakfast at Koyasan Guesthouse Kokuu

Once I had finished inspecting my capsule and dumping my bag there, the guesthouse staff sits me down at the lounge and gives tips (in a very humorous way, I should mention) on what to see (a lot!) and where to eat (he gives me seven restaurant options and writes down the restaurant names in romaji and not in Japanese) in town.

Eating in the Town of Koya:

I take his advice and go to the center of town to find Chuo Shokudo San Bou, a restaurant that serves shojin ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine). I surprise myself by finding it without asking anyone even if the only sign outside is this: 中央食堂 さんぼう. I step inside and find there is a short queue of Japanese customers and I take it as a sign that the food must be good. Soon the line of hungry customers grows and extends outside the door. While waiting, I look over the menu and skip the udon selection (650 to 950 yen) and study the nine vegetarian set meal options (1100 to 2200 yen).

Lunch hour at Chuo Shokudo San Bou

I decide on the mugi daizu (barley and soy bean) rice set for 1100 yen. The meal is served on bowls and plates on a wooden tray. I especially like the goma tofu (sesame tofu, a specialty in Koyasan) and the mashed I-don't-know-what (on the oval plate on the left of the photo below). I walk out of the restaurant full (but my stomach doesn't feel heavy) and satisfied.

Mugi daizu (barley and soy bean) rice set

For dinner, I choose another one of the restaurants the guesthouse staff recommended and try Shunsai Kameya, just a few houses from Koyasan Guesthouse Kokuu. I again congratulate myself when I find it even with only this sign outside: 旬菜かめや. In the restaurant, there is just me and a Japanese family. I am guessing business is slow tonight because it's a weekday and the restaurant is located far from the town center.

 Shunsai Kameya 旬菜かめや

There are seven dinner sets (1100 to 1500 yen) to choose from. I decide on the vegetarian tempura set 1200 yen (+8% tax) with 5 kinds of vegetable tempura on a bowl of rice, a bowl of udon, and a cube of goma tofu (sesame tofu). A tasty, healthy dinner. (Oh, I  managed to be vegetarian for a day! Haha!)

Vegetarian tempura set

This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger
An Ignoramus in Japan: Vending Machines
An Ignoramus in Japan: Bathrooms and Toilets
An Ignoramus in Japan: Manhole Covers
I Spy With My Little Eye: Japan's Fashion Contradictions
I Spy With My Little Eye: On the Go in Japan

Kansai Diaries (2016)
9D/9N | Wakayama, Nara, Kyoto, Osaka
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Kansai Region
Osaka: Day 0: Arrival
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado
Wakayama: Day 1: Going to, Sleeping in, and Eating in Koyasan (you're here!)
Wakayama: Day 1.5: West Side of Koya Town
Wakayama: Koyasan Sidewalk Shorts
Wakayama: Days 1.75~2: Okunoin, Three Times
Nara: Sleep, Eat, and Explore Nara City
Nara: Day 3: Horyuji, Hokkiji, and Some Japanecdotes in Ikaruga Town
Nara: Day 3.5: Yakushiji, Toshodaiji, and Heijo Palace Site in Nara City
Nara: Day 4: Early Morning at Nara Park
Nara: Day 4.25: Naramachi Walking Tour
Nara: Day 4.5: Todaiji, Yoshiki-en, and Kofukuji in Nara Park
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado
Kyoto: Day 5: Rainy Day in Uji City
Kyoto: Day 5.5: Tofukuji, Kawai Jinja, Shimogamo Jinja
Kyoto: Day 6: Ginkakuji, Ryoanji, Ninnaji
Kyoto: Day 6.75: Gion Night Walking Tour
Kyoto: Day 7: All Day in Arashiyama
Kyoto: Day 8: Last Day in Kyoto
Osaka: Day 8.75: Dizzying Dotonbori
Osaka: Day 9: Osaka, Over and Out

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