Mountaintop Temple Retreat (1 night)

KOB 203-201
  • Visit one of Japan’s most mystic places
  • Learn about Buddhism and about daily life as a monk
  • Marvel at the delicious vegetarian “shojin ryori” cuisine
Program Overview
Country: Japan
Depart: 12/03/2017 1130
Return: 12/04/2017 1500
Duration: Overnight
Difficulty: Moderate
Capacity: Min. 10 / Max. 40
Category: ILLUMINATE: History / Culture, Faculty-Led Programs

Faculty-Led Program

Program Fee
$399 (early booking: $370)

Dr. James Bratt, professor in Philosophy and Religious Studies from Calvin College will lead this Faculty-Led Field Program.

Mount Koya (Koyasan) is the center of Shingon Buddhism, an important Buddhist sect that spread throughout Japan in 805 by Kobo Daishi (also known as Kukai), one of Japan’s most significant religious figures. A small, secluded temple town has developed around the sect’s headquarters that Kobo Daishi built on Koyasan’s wooded mountaintop. It is also the site of Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum and the start and end point of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage.

Kobo Daishi began construction on the original Garan temple complex in 826 after wandering the country for years in search of a suitable place to serve as a center for his religion. Since then, over one hundred temples have sprung up along the streets of Koyasan. The most important among them are Kongobuji, the head temple of Shingon Buddhism, and Okunoin, the site of Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum.  Koya-san and its surroundings are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Travel by bus to Koyasan (3 hours) with a local English-speaking guide.  On arrival at Koya-san, take a guided walk around the main sites, allowing you to gain an insight into Buddhism and its influence on Japan since its arrival from India in the sixth century.

Tonight, you will be staying at a shukubo, Buddhist temple lodging. Dinner tonight is shojin ryori, traditional vegetarian Buddhist cuisine. Also, take this rare opportunity to participate in a zen meditation session with the monks.

Early next morning, wake to watch the monks holding their daily prayers (please note this is not meditation as the practice is different for Shingon Buddhism). Take a walking tour of Okunoin, Japan’s largest cemetery, which holds the mausoleum of the founder of Shingon Buddhism, Kobo Daishi. The 2 km walk to the mausoleum takes you past 200,000 tombstones, belonging to feudal lords, prominent monks, and well known Japanese companies. Enjoy lunch, before returning to port (3 hrs).

“I fell in love with Japan on this trip, it changed my life.” -Micah W., Spring ’17 Student Voyager


Day 1

  • Depart Kobe Port Terminal Mt. Koya (with lunch box on the bus)
  • Visit Mt. Koya’s main temples and sites
  • Dinner and overnight at temple lodging

Day 2

  • Wake up early to attend the monks’ daily prayers before breakfast
  • Okunoin walking tour
  • Lunch
  • Depart Mt. Koya back to Port Terminal

Meals Included

  • Day 1: lunch, dinner
  • Day 2: breakfast, lunch

Special Note

  • As Mt. Koya is a mountainous area that often reaches freezing temperatures, we urge you to bring warm clothing and covered shoes. The temperature will get below 0 degrees (Celsius). Please wear appropriate warm, insulating clothing. Leggings, light hoodies, canvas sneakers are not appropriate for this tour.
  • Additionally, please wear appropriate, non-revealing or tightly fit clothing as you will be staying at a sacred temple lodging.
  • Toilet and bathroom facilities at the temple lodging will be shared.
  • Single room accommodation is not available.