The stone path was dim and moody. Centuries old cedar trees towered above us, shading the moss-covered tombstones below.
We didn’t say much as we quietly wandered deep into this ancient cemetery, the largest in Japan. When we did speak, it was in whispers, as though not to wake the dead.
You see, we were in sacred territory- the Okunoin. This necropolis is the final resting place of some of Japan’s most powerful and prestigious families. Perhaps none more important though than Kobo Daishi, the great Buddhist monk who founded Koyasan and brought Shingon Buddhism to Japan.
Following the path deeper into the forest, you could sense the spirituality of Koyasan. As we passed by over 200,000 timeworn tombs, I noticed I felt at peace.
I started to wonder about the people whose remains are here. What were they like? How did they die? How long ago did they die?
For much of our walk through Okunoin I was lost in thought. Two kilometers later, as the day was ending, we arrived at Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum. Many people believe that Kobo Daishi did not die, but is instead here in eternal meditation.
In front of Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum is a lantern hall called the Torodo. This prayer chapel holds over 10,000 lanterns that have been donated over the years. The lanterns burn day and night, two which are said to have remained lit since the 11th century.
Photos of Okunoin Cemetery
Here are some more pictures from our walk through Okunoin Cemetery.
Tips for Visiting Koyasan’s Okunoin Cemetery
- Okunoin cemetery covers 2 kilometers from Ichinohashi Bridge to Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum.
- We recommend starting your visit at Ichinohashi, the traditional main entrance to Okunoin, so that you can have the complete cemetery experience. Visitors should bow to pay respect to Kobo Daishi before crossing the bridge.
- For a shorter walk into the cemetery, you can start at the Okunoin-mae bus stop. From here, the mausoleum is just under a kilometer away.
- The Torodo Lantern Hall is open from 6:00 am- 5:30 pm.
- After visiting the mausoleum, we walked to the Okunoin-mae bus stop. We took a different path though, through a more recent addition to the cemetery. There are modern tombstones and memorials here, many by associations and companies.
Accommodations in Koyasan
There are 52 temples at Koyasan that provide traditional Japanese lodging.
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