From the black earth to the wind in the trees, everything is sacred in Okunoin Cemetery.
Ladened with religious symbolism, Japan’s largest cemetery is slightly grotesque and arguably one of the most atmospheric human-made sites in the country. It is set in the ancient village of Koyasan in the forested Kii Mountains, stretching over two kilometers with more than 200,000 tombs. As the chief burial site of Shingon Buddhism, Okunoin Cemetery is the resting place of feudal lords and the time’s most revered monks. People believe that they are waiting for the resurrection of Future Buddha in their tombs. Most visitors come for its unique spectacle. Ancient cedar trees tower over the dark stone graves, making the space somewhat eerie, yet irresistibly attractive.
As you enter the cemetery through the Ichinohashi Bridge, jizo statues will stand out among the single-shaded ambiance with their red beanies. Some more ornate ones await for spiritual rituals and prayers some yards away. Every path leads to another enlightening statue or hallway deep in the cemetery’s darker corners. So, exploration is most enjoyable when you wander the paths free and unplanned.
One particular path is well-known among travelers and locals alike. It is the path leading to the mausoleum of the founder of Shingon Buddhism, Kukai. Impressive statues flank it on both sides and the massive trunks of cedar trees highlight its grandeur. The spiritual weight increases even more once you are in the temple. Whether you are a believer or not, the solemn aura of Okunoin Cemetery will wrap you as you explore deeper.
Tours visiting the Okunoin Cemetery
Highlights of Japan