For hikers, those interested in Buddhism and lovers of nature, Mount Koya in Wakayama is a must-visit. You can spend days wandering around the sacred site, slipping back in time as you admire the crumbling graves and how nature reclaims stone. Visit in early autumn for sensational leaf colours, winter for snow-dusted tombstones, spring for the greenest mosses, and during summer's rainy season for atmospheric meandering between temples. Whenever you visit, you will be entranced by the beauty of Mount Koya, its surroundings and the expansive temple and cemetery complex which make it a pilgrimage destination. To get the full experience, however, it is imperative to stay in one of the superbly preserved Buddhist temples which welcome guests year-round.
One such temple is Ekoin, situated on the main road through the town. Here you can enjoy a true Japanese lodging experience, or ryokan, as well as Buddhist practices. The traditional rooms which start at ¥10,500 (including dinner and breakfast) have tatami flooring, sliding paper doors and exquisitely painted screens. By day your room is perfect for lounging and practicing your Japanese writing by copying a Buddhist sutra. Then, while you bathe in the temple's sento bath after eating, your day room is transformed for the night as plush futons are laid out on the floor - perfect for resting after a day of exploring.
As in all the temples, the food is shojin ryori, Zen Buddhist vegetarian cuisine - but carnivores should not be put off. The meals are an adventure in themselves with so many small dishes to try, and with centuries of experience, the monks are masters of vegetarian food.
In addition to a wonderful room, traditional bathing and impressive dining, at Ekoin you can also get involved in daily temple life. Each afternoon there is a meditation lesson for guests in both Japanese and English, and early in the morning (times differ according to the season) you can attend morning prayers and a fire ritual at which the monks will burn the sutra you spent hours on the day before.
Ekoin is the perfect place to escape the hectic city, reflect and enjoy a slower, more refined pace of life. Everything is done with meticulous care, and after even a short stay you find yourself taking pleasure in the simplicity of temple living. Fear not, though; the temple is in the modern world and offers Wi-Fi, computers and other modern conveniences on request. The monks are very welcoming and eager to help you with anything.