It is relatively easy to get from Japan's major cities to Mount Koya, the spiritual headquarters of Shingon Buddhism and the home of Okunoin, Japan's largest cemetery, which is the burial place of Kobo Daishi, founder of Shingon Buddhism, and Oda Nobunaga, the ruthless 16th-century warlord.
Duration: 5.25 – 6 hours
Most travelers choose to take the train from Tokyo to Osaka's Shin-Osaka Station, then take local trains and subways to Shinimayima Station. You can also take a taxi to Shinimayima Station, but Osaka's downtown traffic makes this option less predictable. From there, you'll take a Nankai Railways Nankai Limited Express Rinkan train to Hashimoto. Once in Hashimoto, you'll transfer to a local Nankai Koya train bound for Gokurakubashi Station. A ten-minute cable car trip up the mountain will take you to the outskirts of Mount Koya. Catch a local bus or take a taxi to the center of town. The entire journey will take about 5.5 hours.
Note that both Nozomi and Hikari shinkansen (bullet train) lines connect Tokyo and Shin-Osaka Station, but JR Pass holders can only use their rail passes on Hikari shinkansen trains.
You can also drive from Tokyo to Mount Koya. It will take about six hours to drive to Mount Koya via the Tomei/E1, Shin-Tomei/E1A, and Higashi-Meihan/E23 Expressways, the Meihan National Highway/E25, the Keinawa Expressway/E24, and National Routes, 55, and 371. If you plan to make this drive between November and April, make sure your rental car has snow tires and be prepared for mountain driving.
You can also fly from Tokyo to Osaka International Airport (Itami), take a taxi or bus to Shinimayima Station or Namba Station, and travel by Nankai Railways trains to Gokurakubashi Station. From there, a ten-minute cable car trip and a short taxi or local bus ride will bring you to Mount Koya.
Bus travel from Tokyo to Mount Koya is not recommended because the trip takes nearly twice as long as traveling by airplane, train or car.
Duration: 2-3 hours
The easiest way to get from Kyoto to Mount Koya is by train, subway or taxi, and cable car. Take a JR train to Osaka and take the subway or a taxi to Namba Station. From there, take a Nankai Railways Nankai Koya train to Gokurakubashi Station. Walk to the cable car station and take the cable car up the mountain. You'll need to hail a taxi or take a local bus to the town center. The entire journey takes about three hours.
The fastest way to get from Kyoto to Mount Koya is by car or private transfer, as the distance from Kyoto to Mount Koya is only 75 miles (120 kilometers). If mountain driving bothers you or you are visiting in the winter and do not enjoy driving in snow, hiring a private transfer might be your best option. Four toll highways, the Meishin, Kinki, Hanwa, and Keinawa Expressways, take you to National Route 371, which winds through the mountains from Hashimoto to Mount Koya. Depending on traffic and weather, the drive should take two to three hours.
Keihan Bus offers twice-daily service from Kyoto Station to Okunoin-mae Station. The bus trip takes just over 2.5 hours. From Okunoin-mae Station, it's a ten-minute bus or taxi trip to the center of town.
Cycling enthusiasts can visit Mount Koya by bicycle as part of a 7-day Japanese cycling adventure that takes participants from Kyoto to Nara, Japan's first permanent capital, and through the Kii Mountains to Mount Koya.
Duration: 1-2.5 hours
Nankai Railways Nankai Koya trains run from Namba Station to Gokurakubashi Station, where you can catch a cable car to ascend the mountain. You can also take a Nankai Railways train from Shinimayima Station to Hashimoto, then transfer to a train heading to Gokurabashi Station and the cable car to Mount Koya. Once there, take a local bus or taxi to the center of town. The entire trip should take about 2.5 hours.
If you prefer to drive or hire a private transfer, the fastest way to get from Osaka to Mount Koya is via National Routes 36, 216, and 480. The 48-mile (77-kilometer) drive takes just over an hour, although you may experience traffic on the weekends. If you make the drive between November and April, pay attention to weather reports and make sure your rental car has snow tires.
Buses are available, too, but it takes longer to travel from Osaka to Mount Koya by bus, about 3.5 hours, than by train, car, or private transfer.
Hiking buffs might wish to consider traveling from Osaka or Kyoto to Mount Koya on foot as part of an 11-day self-guided walk along the Kumano Kodo, Japan's network of Kii Peninsula pilgrimage trails.