High upon a mountain on Japan’s Kii Peninsula sits the village of holy men and ancient temples called Koyasan—the epicenter of Shingon Buddhism. Though it’s just a couple of hours by train from the electric bustle of Osaka, you’d be hard-pressed to find a destination that feels more off-the-beaten-path than this. Dotted with vermilion pagodas and vibrating with the hum of thousands of monks reciting sutras, the village radiates a deep, otherworldly tranquility.
Reaching Koyasan requires a little bit of planning and familiarity with the local train lines, but an overnight stay at one of its Buddhist temples offers the chance to understand just why Koyasan is considered one of Japan’s most sacred places. To make the journey a little easier, here’s everything you need to know before setting out on your own pilgrimage to the top of Mount Koya.