How to access to Mt. Koya (Koyasan)

Kansai Area
There are lots of places to see in Mt. Koya. ©JNTO
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Koyasan (Mt. Koya) (C) JNTO
World Heritage site Koyasan (Mt. Koya) too. (C) JNTO

Mt. Koya (Koyasan) is one of very popular destinations in Kansai area. Most common way to Mt. Koya is Nankai Railway line. It takes you to Gokurakubashi station where is located at the base of Mt. Koya. You may transfer to the funicular to Mt. Koya.

If you use JR deals, such as JR Pass (nationwide pass), Kansai area pass, Kansai Hiroshima area pass and other JR West passes, you cannot use the pass because Nankai Railway is not JR. If you do not use these JR deals, you may use other deals, such as Kansai Thru Pass, Koyasan World Heritage Pass.

You may use these JR deals partially to get Mt. Koya if you want.

In this post, I would like to show you the way to get Mt. Koya and also tell you how you use the deal.

Nankai Railway line

As I mentioned at the beginning, Nankai Railway is most common way to Mt. Koya. Nankai Railway operates a rapid train and a limited express train between Namba and Gokurakubashi. Namba is one of the biggest downtown core in Osaka as you probably know.

Limited Express “Koya”

Nankai Railway Limited Express Koya (Namba – Gokurakubashi).

Average trip time: 1 hour 20 minutes (and extra 10 minutes for the funicular)
Fare: Basic fare 1,230 yen (+ Express surcharge 760 yen)

Nankai Railway operates Limited Express train “Koya” between Namba and Gokurakubashi. This is the easiest and the fastest way to get Gokurakubashi. Koya is only train which connects Namba and Gokurakubashi directly.

Gokurakubashi station is the gate station to Mt. Koya. You will transfer to Nankai Koyasan Cable Car line (the funicular line to Mt. Koya) at Gokurakubashi.

Koya interior
Interior of Limited Express Koya

Nankai also operates Limited Express train “Rinkan” between Namba and Hashimoto. Hashimoto is 9 stations away from Gokurakubashi. You can simply transfer to a local train to Gokurakubashi at Hashimoto. If you want to get a comfortable seat, you can take Limited Express Rinkan. Rinkan is operated by same fleet as Koya. The express surcharge is a bit cheaper than Koya at 500 yen. But the trip time between Namba and Gokurakubashi is not much different from the trip time by Rapid Express and Local train which I explain in next chapter. Limited Express Rinkan is not a good choice to shorten your trip time.

Find your hotels in 500 cities throughout Japan!!!

Hotels and Ryokans in Mt. Koya
Hotels in Wakayama

Rapid Express and Express

Interior of rapid, rapid express and local trains. Usually train is more crowded.

If you are okay with taking a commuter train, Rapid Express and Express trains are most affordable. Accommodation is completely different from Koya and Rinkan. You have to change the trains at Hashimoto. But you are able to get Gokurakubashi in 90 minutes with no express surcharge. However this is a commuter train. You cannot secure your seat. You may have to stand up in the train.


View How to get Mt Koya (Koya San) in a larger map

Cruising train “Tenku”

All seats towards to the valley side

Nankai Railway operates Tenku between Hashimoto and Gokurakubashi. Tenku is operated as a rapid train on this segment by specialized fleet.

I have taken “Tenku” and rapid express to Koyasan in 2017. You can find my trip report in the link below. You will find my day trip to Koyasan and many information about the stations, transportation and sightseeing spots in Koyasan. I believe this trip report gives you many ideas to build your trip plan.

Two days trip to Koyasan (Mt. Koya) and Wakayama from Osaka, Part 1 – Namba to Koyasan

Taking JR train

If you will use JR Pass, Kansai Area Pass, Kansai Wide Area Pass, Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass or other JR deals, you might think using the pass to get Mt. Koya. To go straight to the bottom line, you cannot get Mt. Koya by JR trains only. The nearest JR station is Hashimoto. You have to take Nankai Railway train between Hashimoto and Koyasan via Gokurakubashi which is not covered by JR deals. You can use JR Pass or other JR deals to get Hashimoto and save your trip cost. But you have to spend extra minutes in exchange for saving the cost and you have to pay for Nankai Railway.

I will show you the route and trip time. You can compare the cost and the trip time.

Route 1, Osaka or Tennoji / Oji / Hashimoto / Gokurakubashi / Koyasan

Average trip time: 2 to 2.5 hours (and extra 10 minutes for the funicular)
Fare: Basic fare 810 yen for Nankai Railway and the funicular

You have two ways to get Hashimoto by Japan Railway and Nankai Railway.

The first option is taking Rapid train to Oji from Osaka or Tennoji. And then transfer to Wakayama line local train. You may have to change trains once more at Takada station.

If all train connections are very smooth, the trip time to Hashimoto from Tennoji is around 90 minutes. And then you have to spend 40 to 45 minutes for Nankai Railway from Hashimoto to Gokurakubashi and another 10 minutes from Gokurakubashi to Koyasan by cable car.

It is long way and complicated but you can save only 400 yen.

But if you travel to Mt. Koya from Nara, this is not a bad way.

Route 2, Shin-Osaka or Tennoji / Wakayama / Hashimoto / Gokurakubashi / Koyasan

Many of Limited Express Kuroshio is operated by newer 287 series.

Average trip time: 3 hours (and extra 10 minutes for the funicular)
Fare: Basic fare 810 yen for Nankai Railway and the funicular

Another option to use Japan Rail Pass to get Mt. Koya is Wakayama route. You may take Limited Express train Kuroshio from Shin-Osaka or Tennoji to Wakayama. And transfer to JR Wakayama line local train. Even if you take Limited Express to Wakayama, trip time is longer than the first option. Again this option is not a smart way even if you use JR deals partially. Simply it is a big detour. Trip time is much longer than Nankai Railway route.

But if you look for the route from Wakayama to Mt. Koya, this is the best and the fastest route. It takes just one hour from Wakayama to Hashimoto. And you will spend another one hour from Hashimoto to Koyasan via Gokurakubashi.

Suggested deals

There are some deals for the trip to Mt. Koya.

Koyasan World Heritage Ticket

This deal includes round trip fare between Namba and Mt. Koya, unlimited ride of local bus in Koyasan and discount coupon for major attractions and souvenir shops. It is valid for two days but you can get the worth by day trip too.

You can find the details about this deal in the link below:

Nankai Railway official site – Koyasan World Heritage Ticket

In this link, it shows the deal which includes one way limited express fee to Koyasan at 3,400 yen. But the deal which does not include limited express fee is available at 2,860 yen.

Kansai Thru Pass

If you visit Mt, Koya as day trip and visit other place(s), such as Kyoto, Nara, Kobe, Kansai Thru Pass is the perfect choice. It covers Nankai Railway and bus in Koyasan area. Please see the link below to learn more about Kansai Thru Pass.

How to use Kansai Thru Pass. Compare pass and single fare

Assessment

As I explained, JR train does not offer good access to Mt. Koya. Nankai Railway is a realistic choice. Even if you use JR pass or other JR deals, please try to avoid using it.

Comments

  1. Jessie says:

    Hello Takeshi,

    I’m planning to access Koyasan, straight from Kansai International Airport. And I planned to use Kansai Thru Pass (3-day ticket). Is there any extra charges that I have to pay? And how do I do that? I will then head straight to Kyoto after spending a night at Koyasan’s temple.

    Please advise me on the matter of that extra charge (for reserved seats etc..) on the Nankai Line.

    • JPRail says:

      Hi Jessie,

      Kansai Thru Pass cover to Koyasan from KIX. But if you take a limited express train, you have to add express surcharge. Nankai Railway is the best option. Go to Namba or Tengachaya from KIX and change a train to Koyasan.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JP Rail

      • Jessie says:

        Yes, I will take Ltd.Exp. train if I’m not mistaken. But how do I pay the extra surcharge, since I’m going to use the Kansai pass

        • JPRail says:

          Hi Jessie,

          Just show your Kansai Thru Pass at Kansai airport station of Nankai Railway and tell them to purchase Limited Express ticket. They are familiar to the tourist form overseas with Kansai Thru Pass.
          You cannot do it online. So you have to do it at the station after you get the pass.

          Cheers,

          Takeshi / JP Rail

  2. […] Japan Rail Pass and rail travel in Japan complete guide – JPRail …Hashimoto Station From Hashimoto Station of the JR Wakayama Line to Hashimoto Station of the Nankai Line The Nankai Line and JR Line trains are parallel to … […]

  3. Flora says:

    Hello, I’m planning my Japan trip and get so shocked by their expensive transportation.

    The plan is to fly to Osaka and visit the Kansai area (Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe and Nara) for about 5 days and then go to Tokyo (visit the city and Mt Fuji) for around 3 days.

    The next half would be Hokkaido (Sapporo, Hakodate, Otaru and Shiretoko), all together 6 days.
    And I have to find a cheap way getting back to Osaka for my flight home in the afternoon of my last day.

    Do you have any suggestions about how I should buy the tickets?
    Kansai Thru Pass (3 days) & night bus to Tokyo from Osaka?
    How shall I arrange the tickets around Tokyo as that might be the most expensive place…
    And how to get to Sapporo? Shall I buy JR PASS 7 Days?
    Is there any cheap overnight bus fro Sapporo to Osaka? How long it would be, dont want to waste too many time on the road thou….

    Hope to get your advise, thank you million times….

  4. Pasqualino says:

    I am planning on going to Mt. Koya. Could you please advise me on the transportation?

    Itinerary:

    Tuesday, March 20
    12:17 Nara
    JR Yantoji Line
    12:53 Shinimamiya

    13:02 Shinimamiya
    Nankai Ltd. Exp Koya 9
    14:19 Gokurakubashi

    Wednesday, March 21
    13:01 Gokurarakubashi
    Nankai Ltd. Exp Koya 6
    14:22 Nanba (Nankai)

    My questions:
    1) Is there a Nankai Electric Railway office in Kyoto (preferable) or Nara? I would like to purchase my tickets before hand, especially because I only have a 9 minute transfer time at Shinimamya. If I can’t purchase beforehand, could I purchase the tickets on the train?
    2) Is the World Heritage Pass recommended?( I will only take two bus trips on Mt. Koya.)
    3) I would need a supplement since both inbound and out bound trips are on limited express train, correct?
    4) If I do not get the World Heritage Pass, is the cable car included in the price of the train ticket?
    (I thought I read this somewhere.)
    5) Since is this a holiday, should I anticipate difficulties with sold out trains?

    Thank you very much!

    • JPRail says:

      Hi Pasqualino,

      1) Nankai Railway do not have any office in Kyoto and Nara. But you can purchase your ticket at travel agent too. For example, the biggest travel agent, JTB have several branches in Kyoto.
      http://g.co/maps/zepev
      You can try to get it one of those branches.
      2) Yes.
      3) Yes.
      4) Both cable car and train are operated by same company, Nankai. So you can but a ticket to Mt. Koya. That means the ticket include both train and cable car.
      5) It’ hard to say. But most of visitors go to home on Mar 20. You will take a train to other direction. So I don’t think it will be hard to get a ticket.
      Have you seen the comments on this page? Especially the comment from Jonathan is very useful. He’s been to Mt Koya. His experience will be helpful for you. Please check the comment by “JAyre”.
      Takeshi / JP Rail

  5. Sabrina says:

    Thank you Takeshi, Yes you are right about my schedule and we will be using a JR pass. The link I posted doesn’t work because the date was for a couple of days ago. Here is a new link that I put in for February. I hope it works. http://www.hyperdia.com/en/cgi/en/search.html?dep_node=KANAZAWA&arv_node=KOYASAN&via_node01=&via_node02=&via_node03=&year=2012&month=02&day=15&hour=07&minute=00&search_type=0&search_way=&transtime=undefined&sort=0&max_route=5&ship=off&sprnozomi=off&lmlimit=null&search_target=route&facility=reserved&sum_target=7

    Both route #1 and route #2 is expected to arrive Koyasan at 11.34am. Look like we are going to miss the two transfers as we have to stop to buy the tickets. Which means, we won’t get to Koyasan at 11.34am as expected. If that’s the case, do you know when we will get there if we were to use either route 1 or 2?

    Another question is, please take a look at the Validity of World Heritage Pass #2 below? Where it stated “but not in the opposite direction”

    2) The “regular version” of the ticket is valid on all trains along the Nankai Koya Line except limited express trains, while the “limited express version” of the ticket is valid on a limited express train on the outward journey from Osaka to Gokurakubashi (but not in the opposite direction).

    I was told that if you also want to ride a limited express train back to Osaka, you have to purchase a limited express supplement separately. Can I buy the supplement from Osaka Namba at the same time when I buy World Heritage Pass?

    Back to Kanazawa to Koyasan. Do you know of a better way that gets to Koyasan quicker? We won’t have much time to see Koyasan as we will be leaving Koyasan very early again the next mornign to go to Miyajima Island. I’m thinking of staying at Shojoshin-In temple. I want to see Goran, Kongobuji Temple, Reihokan Museum and last, Okunoin as the Shojoshin-In is just 5 mins walk to Okunoin. I think we have to check in by 4pm. If we were to arrive about 1pm, I don’t think we’ll get to see all these places in 3 hours. I suppose we could leave Okunoin till after 4pm as it is near where we will be staying anyway. How long does it take to do the first 3 places from the min you arrive Koyasan? Do the buses come quite regularly?

    Thanks

    • JAyre says:

      Hi Sabrina,

      Having been to Koyasan several times, and having had a look at your schedule, I certainly understand your concerns. I’ll leave the rail schedule issues to Takeshi, but thought I could offer a few pointers on Koyasan.

      Firstly, for the Nankai Koya Line, yes, you’ll have to get the tickets/World Heritage Tickets. The fastest throughput I’ve had for the world heritage tickets is about 5 minutes for 4 people, with no limited express tickets to be added, but its never taken more than 10 minutes.

      You certainly can book limited express surcharge tickets when you get the world heritage ticket, as long as you know exactly what train you’ll be on. Failing that, there are limited express surcharge machines at major stations along the Nankai Line, or you can book them at Gokurakubashi/Koyasan Station for your return trip.

      As sightseeing on Koyasan, my experience indicates that it takes 5-6 hours to see the four sites you mentioned. If you divide Koyasan into east (Okunoin/Shojoshin-in) and west (Kongobuji/Garan), in 3 hours you would comfortably be able to do either of these pairs including transit. Buses are usually half hourly for the Koyasan to Okunoin-mae route, and the bus terminus is across the road from the entrance to Okunoin.

      On the west side, the key bus stop is Senjuinbashi, in the middle of town. Kongobuji is west down the street about 400m, and Garan a further 400m or so further west (up the hill). These two places take about 1 hour each, plus about half an hour of walking to and from the bus stop.

      Finally, the only thing I can advise to avoid having to get world heritage tickets while there is to contact the JTB in your country. They can book these for you and have them delivered to your hotel (perhaps in Kanazawa), but they charge a rather excessive booking fee.

      I hope this helps, and best of luck in finding the most suitable route!

      – Jonathan Ayre –

      • JPRail says:

        Oops! When I wrote a reply, we got more useful info.
        Sabrina, Jonathan has lots of experience about travelling in Japan. Maybe much more than me! 🙂
        Anyway, as you saw the comment from Jonathan, purchasing Heritage ticket is not a big deal.
        Things is easier than what you think! 🙂
        Takeshi / JP Rail

      • Sabrina says:

        Thank you so much for your long reply @ Jonathan.

        According to route #1 http://www.hyperdia.com/en/cgi/en/search.html?dep_node=KANAZAWA&arv_node=KOYASAN&via_node01=&via_node02=&via_node03=&year=2012&month=02&day=15&hour=06&minute=00&search_type=0&search_way=&transtime=undefined&sort=0&max_route=5&ship=off&sprnozomi=off&lmlimit=null&search_target=route&facility=reserved&sum_target=7 do I need to get limited express tickets? Do I have to buy limited express ticket for this train> Nankai Ltd. Exp. Koya 3? If I do, can I buy a return for the next day?

        At route #3 we can leave Kanazawa at 6.11am and arrives Osaka at 9.06am. We then have more time to buy a ticket to to Namba Subway as the train runs every few mins. Once arrive Namba subway, we’ll go to Namba Nankai and buy World Heritage Pass. We will have at least 30 mins to buy the pass as the train leaves at 10am to GOKURAKUBASHI station. Train arrives GOKURAKUBASHI at 11.24am.

        Looks like we will be in Koyasan at 11.34am. From there, do you think it’s best to get a bus and start sightseeing at Kongobuji,Garan, Reihokan Museum before we go to Okunoin/Shojoshin-in? Hopefully we’ll have 3 hours there. I think dinner at Shojoshin-in is about 5.30pm. We can always walk around Okunoin after dinner (I know it will be quite dark) so that we have more time to see Kongobuji,Garan and Reihokan Museum.
        How long does it take the bus to get to Shojoshin-in?

        Many thanks, Sabrina

        • JAyre says:

          Hi Sabrina,

          I’ve never stayed at a temple before, but I had a look on google maps for you.

          http://g.co/maps/85jwa

          Using Point A as Koyasan Post Office (which is across the road from the Senjuinbashi Bus Stop I mentioned), Shojoshin-in seems to be about 600m (or 2-3 bus stops) up the road. From Koyasan Station, the bus bound for Okunoin-mae takes about 12 minutes to reach Senjuinbashi, and about another 10 from there to Okunoin. I’d guess it’d be about 14 minutes from Koyasan Station to the closest bus stop to Shojoshin-in. However, only major stations have English announcements.

          Generally I would compartmentalise Koyasan as “close to Senjuinbashi” (Reihokan, Kongobuji, Garan), and “close to Okunoin”. Fortunately Koyasan isn’t that big so it’s fairly easy to get around. I’d suggest dropping luggage (if you have any) at Shojoshin-in (since its only about 5-10mins walk from Senjuinbashi) and then Reihokan, Garan and Kongobuji.

          Hope this helps,

          – Jonathan Ayre –

    • JPRail says:

      Hi Sabrina,
      I got a link this time. I checked your schedule completely and this is very tight. So I recommend you to take one more earlier Thunderbird. It will depart from Kanazawa at 06:11 and arrive at Osaka at 09:06. Even if you take one earlier Thunderbird, arrival time at Koyasan is still same. But you arrive at Osaka more than 30 minutes earlier than your original schedule. This 30 minutes gives you smooth transfer and secure your time at Koyasan. So take Thunderbird to Osaka and then transfer to Osaka loop line to Shin Imamiya. Osaka loop line is easier to transfer from Thunderbird than subway. It is in same station. You don’t need to worry about wasting time to find subway station. And also Shin Imamiya is easier to transfer from JR to Nankai than Namba. Nankai Shin-Imamiya station is completely same location as JR Shin Imamiya station. (Nanba is not)
      Train comes almost every 5 minutes on Osaka loop line. So simply go to Track#1 at Osaka station. Take the train and get off at Shin Imamiya. I estimate you arrive at Shin Imamiya around 09:40. You need to wake up 1 hour earlier. But I believe this is the best option. If you don’t want (or cannot) to take Thunderbird 06:11 departure, take route #2 (via Shin Imamiya). This is easier for the tourists. Route #1 is almost impossible.

      Regarding Koyasan heritage ticket, you are right. But you can purchase your return limited express ticket when you buy your heritage ticket at Shin Imamiya (or Namba).

      You have many things to see in Koyasan! I hope you get there on time and complete your itinerary.

      Enjoy your trip!

      Takeshi / JP Rail

  6. Sabrina says:

    Hi, can you please take a look at route #2? http://www.hyperdia.com/en/cgi/en/search.html?dep_node=KANAZAWA&arv_no
    From Kanazawa to Osaka, it shows arrival at track No.3 / Departure track No.1 and using Osaka loop line. Does this mean we can go straight to track No.1 and this train goes directly to SHINIMAMIYA station. Do we have to buy additional subway ticket if we use the Osaka loop line?

    From what I’ve been reading, you have to buy a world heritage pass to Koyasan from Osaka Namba. If this is the case, we can’t use route #2 right because it doesn’t stop at Osaka Namba? If we have to use route #1, from Namba subway to Namba (Nankai), we will have only 7 mins to buy the world heritage pass + make our way to the Nanakai Koya line. Will 7 mins be enough time to buy ticket and get to the Koya line platform?

    Can we buy the ticket in advance from Kanazawa for the Osaka City Subway Midosuji Line, as we have only 4 mins to buy from the machine and go to Osaka subway line which we will have to find the right platform (I remember it took us a bit of time to work out how to use the machine when we got to Osaka to go to Namba) Also, can we buy the world heritage pass in advance to Koyasan from Kanazawa? I am really concern about not make it to the train on time.

    • JPRail says:

      Hi Sabria,
      I could not open the link that you give me. But I could guess about your schedule.
      I guess you will take Thunderbird from Kanazawa, and then transfer to Osaka loop line at Osaka station. Is this correct?
      Osaka loop line is one of JR line. So you don’t need to buy any extra ticket. If you use Japan Rail Pass, it is fully covered. If you buy a single ticket, just buy a ticket from Kanazawa to Shin Imamiya.

      I cannot get your exact schedule. But I think you try to get Nanba and go to Koyasan in one day from Kanazawa. And you may have only 7 minutes at Nanba. In my opinion, 7 mins is not enough from subway to Nankai and buy a ticket. It is a bit tight for even Osaka local people. I recommend you to have minimum 15 minutes to get Nankai from subway and buy a ticket.

      It is same situation about transfer from JR to Midosuji line. In my opinion, 10 minutes is minimum for the tourists to transfer from JR to Midosuji line.

      The trains in Japan are operated on time mostly. So you don’t need to worry about the delay. But you have to expect some extra time to transfer. Especially both Osaka (Umeda) and Nanba are the biggest downtown core in Osaka. There are so many passengers there. Sometimes it makes you confused easily.

      If you still need some help, let me know. 🙂
      Takeshi / JP Rail

  7. JAyre says:

    I have been to Koyasan using the Nankai Line before and found the World Heritage Ticket was really good value. I was travelling on a JR Pass but was on a tight schedule and came to Shin-Osaka on the first Haruka service in the morning from Kyoto.

    I found the staff at Nankai Namba Station were very friendly and helpful when trying to book the tickets the day before and the whole booking of trains for 4 people using the heritage ticket took less than 5 minutes.

    Even at 6:30am, there were frequent subway connections to Namba Station (JR Namba is a significant walk from the private lines’ Nankai station) and frequent Nankai Line trains to Hashimoto (I used a regular express that early) were available. However apparently your one included Limited Express ticket is only valid on the trip to Koyasan and you have to pay the surcharge if returning on a limited express.

    Overall unless you were really strapped for cash I would go with the world heritage ticket – the included unlimited bus ticket is excellent value as I found the buses up there to be quite expensive.

  8. petunia says:

    Thanks so much for all your information and assurances Takeshi!

    Very much appreciated.

  9. petunia says:

    Hi,

    Can I take this route from Osaka JR station to Mt Koya? I am staying at K’s House which is very near to JR Osaka station.

    From Hyperdia it looks as if i can take the JR Osaka Loop Line (inner loop) @ 8.41am
    (i did a search from Osaka to Shinimamiya) arriving at Shinimamiya at 8.59am

    Buy the Koyasan World Heritage Ticket at Shin-Imamiya station.

    Then following this timetable http://www.nankaikoya.jp/en/iku/01.html

    I can catch the Koya Rinkan from Shinimamiya @ 9.17am and arrive Koyasan at 10.49am

    Is this correct? Sorry but it’s my first trip to Japan and first time using hyperdia.

    • JPRail says:

      Hi Petnunia,
      Thats’ right. You can take this way.
      You don’t need to worry about catching a train on Osaka loop line. Train come every 3 minutes in the morning.
      It will be easier than you think. 🙂
      Takeshi / JP Rail

  10. James says:

    Does this train “Tenku” goes up to Mt Koya ?

    http://www.nankaikoya.jp/tenku/index.html

    http://www.nankaikoya.jp/tenku/feature/index.html

    And if so, how do I make reservation? looks like reservation for “Tenku ” is a little bit different!

    Regards
    James

    • JPRail says:

      Yes, James.
      This train goes up to Gokurakubashi where is the gateway to Mt. Koya. But you got to be careful. Because this train departs from Hashimoto.
      This is one of the reason why I did not mention about this post. And another reason why I did not mention is the way of reservation. Nankai railway take a reservation over the phone only. Yes, there is the language barrier.
      Takeshi / JP Rail

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