Koyasan, along with Kumano Sanzan, Yoshino, and Omine, was designated a world heritage site on July 7, 2004, as the “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.” This includes the “Choishi-michi” trail, whose name is derived from the five-tiered stone stupas (called “choishi”) that line the trail at intervals of approximately 109 meters (i.e., a “cho”). A total of 180 choishi are found along this roughly 22-kilometer trail, which is a popular hiking route to Koyasan.
From the remains of Yukimura’s residence to “Choishi-michi”
The walk begins at Kudoyama Station on the Nankai Koya Line. Walk for approximately 10 minutes from the station, and you’ll find “Zenmyosho-in.” This is also the last stop of the warrior parade featured in the annual Sanada Festival held on May 5.
Once you pass Zenmyosho-in, turn left and cross the bridge to get to Jison-in, a temple that was, upon its opening, designated as the front gate of Koyasan by Kobo Daishi.
Pass through the gate and you will stand before a stone stairway. Beside the stairway, there is a stone monument that reads, “The Starting Point of Choishi-michi.” Atop the stairway lies Niukanshobu Shrine, which is believed to originate from the enshrining of two deities–“Niutsuhime” and “Koyamiko”–as the guardians of Jison-in. The shrine has also been selected as a world heritage site along with Jison-in. At approximately halfway up the stairway stands the first choishi (the 180th one), on the right-hand side. Continue walking across the shrine grounds, and soon you’ll enter an orchard. Although the trail is still paved around here, it changes into an unpaved trail that cuts through the forest near the 160th choishi. Then the trail splits into two routes around the 137th choishi, which located in the pass known as “Ropponsugi.” Take the straight route and you will see Niutsuhime Shrine (a world heritage). Past this shrine, the trail merges back into Choishi-michi. To keep track of every section of choishi, however, you’ll need to take the left route in Ropponsugi.
Heading to Koyasan from a land connected with the Tales of the Heike
Take the left route in Ropponsugi and walk through the Kotoge Pass, where the trail intersects the way from Kamikosawa Station. Now you will reach “Futatsu Torii,” a place at which the trail from Niutsuhime Shrine merges. Keep going for a while, and you’ll reach Koda Jizo Temple. From here, the trail gradually descends to Yatate, where the 60th choishi stands. Along the way, it intersects the trail leading from Kamikosawa Station in Yatate-toge Pass, where you’ll first see the nearby National Route 370. Continue to move ahead and you’ll come to Yatate, which adjoins the national route. The trail from Kii Hosokawa Station also leads here.
Go across the national route, and the trail will ascend again. Beyond the last steep slope, you’ll see the bright vermilion of the Daimon Gate, the main entrance to Koyasan. At this point, there are only six choishi to go. Pass through the gate as you gaze at the statues of Kongo-Rikishi warriors, which are registered as an important cultural property. Then you will be in Mount Koya. Continue forward, and you’ll reach the first choishi, which stands by the paved driveway.
According to a route guide, it takes approximately seven hours to walk the entire route to this point. Although the trail is well maintained and no spot is considered particularly dangerous, it’s a considerably difficult route to follow unless you’re accustomed to walking long distances. Unlike the present day, there were no parking lots on the mountain in ancient times, and people used to walk these mountainous paths without shoes as they made the pilgrimage to Koyasan. This suggests a great desire to reach their destination. Those who aren’t confident about walking for several hours might want to start at Kii Hosokawa Station and climb to Yatate and then walk the last third of Choishi-michi.