Kôyasan monastery, (near) Wakayama City, Wakayama Prefecture, JP

Raw data

In 816, the monk Kûkai (Kôbô Daishi, 774–835) received Emperor Saga’s permission to found a monastery, Kôyasan, in the highlands of Mount Kôya, located in the northwest region of Kii Peninsula. Kôyasan became the center of the Shingon Mikkyô sect, especially after Emperor Junna confirmed in a letter that only Shingon monks could stay at the monastery. Kûkai had studied the tenants of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism during the 804 mission to China. He was the disciple of Hui-ko (746–805), abbot of Hsi-ming (“Blue Dragon”) Temple in Chang’an (now Xian). On his return to Japan, he became the abbot of Takaosanji.

Located 850 meters (3,230 feet) above sea level, the site that Kûkai chose for the monastery was sacred to local Shinto worshippers. According to legend, Kûkai enshrined the god Kôya and the goddess Niu “as protector deities in the Asano Shrine at the foot of Mount Kôya” -Izutsu (2002: 14). In this way, he put the Shinto shrine within Kôya-san’s sphere of influence.

Construction began in 819. At its height, Kôyasan consisted of 1500 temples. Five cloisters developed around the Kongôbuji (“Diamond Peak Temple”), which functioned as the headquarters of the Shingon sect. Kûkai was enshrined after his death in the Oku-no-in cloister. There was an impressive Grand Pagoda dedicated to Dainichi (Mahavairocana). Today, Kôyasan’s museum contains 300,000 pieces of art, including mandalas and statues, of which 4,697 are designated as National Treasures. Documents concerning the monastery's history are compiled in the Kôya monjo.

Since Mount Kôya was a six- to eight-day journey from Heian-kyô, the capital, it was protected from some of the violence that affected Enryakuji and Kôfukuji. After Kûkai’s death, a rivalry developed between his followers at Kôyasan and those at Tôji, a Shingon temple closer to the capital. Disputes between the two focused on jurisdiction over landed estates, the “thirty scrolls,” and the ordination of priests.

From 919, the abbot of Tôji in Nara served concurrently as abbot of Kôyasan, which began to decline until permission was received for an "executor" or "overseer" to reside at Kongôbuji and act in its interests. A devastating fire of 994 destroyed many of the buildings. The monastery gradually recovered in the late 11th century, due to the patronage of Fujiwara regents and the Retired Emperor Shirakawa, the first of several "cloistered emperors" who as patriarchs of the imperial family could influence the reigning emperors.

- Adolphson (2000: 7, 35, 44-6, 56, 96)
- Izutsu (2002: 12, 14, 24, 25)
- Shively & McCullough, eds. (1999: 503-5)

Kôya-san is included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List. –“Welcome to Koyasan: History of Koyasan” http://www.shukubo.jp/eng/01_history.html

Input by: Lizbeth H. Piel, April 18, 2010
Source: JPN

A rivalry broke out between Tôji and Kôyasan when [Toji's] Abbot Shinzei and his successor proposed to the court that monks should be ordained at Tôji instead of at the more distant Kôyasan, which had been the practice since 835. Shinzen, abbot of Kôyasan, argued that Kôyasan had more right to ordain, since it housed Kûkai’s tomb. Over the next ten years, the two monasteries quarreled until the court stepped in and declared that Tôji, Kôyasan and Takaosanji could each ordain a specified number of monks .

In 915, Abbot Kangen of Tôji launched another dispute with Kôyasan by demanding the return of the Sanjûjô sakushi scrolls that Kûkai had brought back from China. Kôyasan finally surrendered them in 919, at which point the court decided that from then on Tôji’s abbot would also hold the position of “overseer” (de facto abbot) of Kôyasan. Tô-ji later lost the scrolls to Ninnaji in 1186.

- Shively & McCullough, eds. (1999: 107, 117, 478, 477, 498-9, 501)
Input by: Lizbeth H. Piel, Jun 23, 2010

Wakayama, Japan Page
Lat 34.0903 Long135.0900

Final data (and their sources)

Last updated: 1 Sep 2013

Lat/Long coordinates' accuracy:
The monastery in question is assumed to be situated actually no farther than 200m from the point defined by the coordinates below.

Location of Koyasan monastery, JP.

General location of the Koyasan monastery, JP.
Lat 34.2125 Long: 135.586389
Mapping & images: Falling Rain Genomics (http://www.fallingrain.com), 2010.

Google Map link:


Final data - explanatory notes

1. Monastery's name

  • Kôyasan 高野山. Alternative English spelling: Kôya-san, Koyasan, Mount Koya, Mt. Koya

2. Monastery's modern country & province

  • Japan: Wakayama Prefecture

3. Monastery's alternative/historical names

  • Kongôbuji, Kongobuji

4. Monastery's lat/long coordinates

  • Approx., Lat 34.2125 Long: 135.586389 - based on the visual recognition of the site in maps, maps.google.com - tmc, 27 May 2010.

5. Other known nearby Buddhist monasteries

  • [missing data]

6. Modern name of the known nearest city, town, or village

  • Wakayama-shi, Itô-gun, Kôya-chô

7. The settlement's alternative/historical names

  • Kii Province

8. The settlement's coordinates

  • [missing data]

9. Monastery's major Buddhist tradition

  • Mahayana

10. Monastery's Buddhist sub-tradition

  • Shingon (Chinese: Zhenyan)

11. Date-early

  • 816 – Izutsu (2002: 51)

MBM chrono-tag 0800-32c - tmciolek 1 Sep 2013
0800-32c 0833-66c 0867-99c 0900-32c 0933-66c 0967-99c 1000-32c 1033-66c 1067-99c 1100-32p dated-ex

12. Date-intermediate

  • Late 11th century – Adolphson (2000: 96)

MBM chrono-tag 1067-99c 1100-32p - tmciolek 1 Sep 2013

13. Date-late

  • [missing data]

14. Details of contacts with other monasteries

  • A head temple of Kanshinji - Uryû (2003: 212)
  • Kôyasan had relations with Shingon monasteries, Tôji and Takaosanji.
  • A rivalry with Tôji during the 9th and 10th centuries
  • Through the founder Kûkai there is a link to Xi-Ming monastery in Chang’an (Xian)

15. Type of evidence regarding the monastery

  • Documents, architecture

16. Additional notes

  • The number of monks ranged from 3000 to 4000. – Izutsu (2002: 27)
  • The monastery controlled approximately 25 private estates during the Heian and Kamakura periods. – Piggott (1995: 54)

17. Corrections & addenda to this page were kindly provided by

  • [missing data].

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