October 5, 2017
Getting to Koyasan by train is a little confusing but once you get started the Japanese make it fairly easy for you. Depending on where you are departing from and if you are trying to use a JR pass, there are multiple ways to connect to the Kainan line that serves Gokurakubashi (Koyasan station) and on to Koyasan town by cable car and then bus. Below is how we made the journey starting at the Sanjo station in Kyoto.
Sanjo station, Kyoto – Keihan train line to Yodoyabashi
Yodoyabashi – Midosuji/Kitakyo subway line to Namba
Namba station, Osaka – Kainan train line to Gokurakubashi
Gokurakubashi – Cable car to Koyasan
Koyasan – bus into town
We had not made advance reservations and took the Keihan train line from Kyoto to Yodoyabashi, about an hour ride on the limited express train. You can buy a ticket from a machine for an unreserved seat or get a reserved seat from the ticket office. We left at rush hour and the train was pretty full for most of the journey. Only luck got us a seat.
At Yodoyabashi follow the signs to the Midosuji subway line. This is confusing because once you get to the ticket machines the tickets to Namba are on the Kita Osaka Kyuko line labeled “Kitakyo”. Everything else, including the signs to the track, is signed Midosuji. It’s about 3 or 4 stops to Namba.
At Namba follow the signs to the Kainan train line. At the ticket office you can buy a ticket to Koyasan which includes the train to Gokurakubashi and then a cable car to Koyasan town on the same ticket. They also have a ticket package that includes a round trip limited express ticket and a two day bus pass. You will need a bus ticket to get into town from the cable car station but I didn’t work out the math to determine if the package ticket was really a better deal, especially since we only used the bus to get to and from the Koyasan cable car station.
Trains run every half hour or so with limited express trains at 8:42, 10, 1PM and 2PM during the week. The limited express takes about 1 and 20 minutes while the regular train takes an hour and 45 minutes and may require a transfer at Hashimoto.
Most of the train ride is through a densely populated rural area that had golden rice fields, just ready for harvest at this time of year, in just about every empty space possible.
As you get higher in the mountains the distance between towns grows and the steep mountains tower over the valley below. It’s dramatic and very, very green although for me the endless power lines and grungy towns detract from the natural beauty.
Once at the Gokurakubashi station, the way to the cable car is straight forward. The best view is from the bottom looking down as the cable car climbs the very steep track up to the Koyasan station.
Once at the station attendants ask you if you are staying in town for the night or just for the day. They then give you an information sheet, direct you to the right bus and tell you which stop you need to get off at. If you haven’t bought a package ticket you will need to buy a bus ticket before boarding the bus.
For a schedule of bus, cable car and train times for your return stop by the tourist information office in the center of town.
All this may sound like a lot, and in a way it is, but it is also very doable without much hassle. Transportation runs on time and there is often an attendant around to help you find your way. Just start and it will work out.