Navigating Your Way to Mt. Koya

When planning our trip, I read so many accounts of Koyasan being the highlight of others’ visits that I had to incorporate it into our itinerary.  I enjoyed learning some about Buddhism and visiting a monastery during my trip to Taiwan, and Mt. Koya seemed like the perfect place to explore this aspect of Japanese culture.

Getting There

img_2192Our travel route meant that visiting Koyasan between our time in Tokyo and Kyoto was the most logical.  Unfortunately, this resulted in a long travel day.  If all went smoothly, traveling from our apartment in Tokyo to our lodging in Koyasan would require eight transit changes and approximately six hours.  And all did not go smoothly.

The bullet train from Tokyo deposited us at the Shin-Osaka station.  From Shin-Osaka, there are two options for reaching the Nankai Koya Line:  1) taking the subway to the Namba station; or 2) taking the JR line to Osaka and transferring to the Osaka Loop Line to Shin-Imamiya station.  Since our bullet train tickets included inner-city travel on the JR, we chose Option 2.

Here’s where it got tricky.  Between our arrival at Shin-Imamiya and the departure of our train toward Koyasan, we only had six minutes.*  During this time, we had to buy tickets and change train lines.  We knew that our chances of making the connection were slim, but we were determined to give it our best shot.

If you are traveling to Koyasan from the direction of Kyoto/Osaka and plan to catch the Nankai Koya Line from Shin-Imamiya, please note the following:  When you get off the train at Shin-Imamiya, GO LEFT.  If you go right, you will end up outside of the station and have to walk around it and down the street in order to reach the Nankai line.  (As you may have guessed, I know this from experience.)  There will also be nowhere to buy the World Heritage Ticket, if that’s what you plan, as they are not available from the ticket machines.

Please note that this instruction directly contradicts a TripAdvisor forum post discussing this very transfer.  Making a brief connection is very difficult if you do not know exactly where to go, and in this case, making a wrong turn will render it impossible.  Missing the connection delayed us by one hour, certainly not a catastrophe, but meaningful when you’re traveling a long distance for a short stay.

Timetables for the Nankai Koya Line between Namba and Koyasan are available here.  (There is a two-minute difference between the Namba and Shin-Imamiya stations.)  Timetables for the buses running within Koyasan are available at the cable car station.

*It’s worth noting that we faced the same connection on our return with an even smaller window of time and successfully made the transfer.


5 thoughts on “Navigating Your Way to Mt. Koya

  1. Just a question – why would you go from Koyasan from Tokyo and not Kyoto (say, at the end of your time there, instead of before)? Even without the delay in getting there, it wouldn’t have left much time to explore what the area has to offer. I think most people visit Koyasan when starting from Osaka or Kyoto.

    (Sorry, this isn’t meant to criticise what you did, I really am just curious as I’ve never heard anyone doing it from Tokyo before, especially for such a short stay).

    • No need to apologize; it’s a reasonable question. From Kyoto, we went to Kanazawa. Had we went from Kyoto to Mt. Koya to Kanazawa, the travel time between Mt. Koya and Kanazawa would have been roughly the same as that between Tokyo and Mt. Koya. It would have, however, given us a full day on the front end in Mt. Koya and a half-day in Kanazawa (essentially the reverse of what we had for each city). Having now been to both, I can say that would probably have been preferable; I just didn’t think of it that way when planning our route.

      • Yeah, it’s hard to know what will work best until you actually do it! I’ve certainly been through similar situations. Since I often get screwed when I travel by taking the wrong exit, or not having enough time for a transfer, or some other problem, I usually don’t plan any kind of sightseeing on long travel days. The pressure of trying to make tight deadlines is hard for me, usually because I travel alone, so I try to relieve that stress if I can.

  2. Hi there, love your blogs and TA comments, good info for our trip next year.

    Just wondering, did you end up getting the world heritage ticket, and if so, from where did you get them?

    We’re doing Koyasan for an overnight stay from Osaka, so the travel won’t be too bad, but we’re then going to Tokyo, which was gonna be a good 5 odd hours, so I decided for now to go to Nara for the day but not backtrack to Osaka and instead via the Wakayama railway, hopefully it’ll be somewhat scenic and should give us 6 to 8 hours in Nara, then the plan is to get the overnight bus from Nara straight to Shinjuku. So here’s hoping for a bit of sleep on the overnight bus, but will be an experience either way. At worse, if we’re tired in Nara we’ll check out a manga café and get a few hours rest at one of those.


    • Hi, Mikayil – Thanks so much; I’m glad you’re finding it all useful. Regarding the World Heritage Ticket, we didn’t purchase them, as we determined they wouldn’t really make a difference for us cost-wise. It’s my understanding they can be purchased at the Namba and Shin-Imamiya stations. Of course, this assumes you don’t have a hiccup like we did and end up at one of the station’s unmanned street entrances. 😉

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