Japan’s Okunoin Cemetery And The Legend Of The Spirits

This cemetery is the largest in Japan. There are no less than 200,000 graves here. A perfect setting for all kinds of legends.
Japan's Okunoin Cemetery and the Legend of the Spirits

Okunoin Cemetery is one of the most important places in Japan for Shingon Buddhism. This is one of the main schools in the country, the one with the most followers. Therefore, every year thousands of Japanese Buddhists make a pilgrimage to see this special place.

Okunoin Cemetery holds many legends that will leave you speechless. Without going any further, it is said that in it there are no dead, but spirits. It is also said that the great Buddhist master Kobo Daishi, buried here, did not actually pass away, but has been in meditation for more than a millennium after reaching nirvana.

If you like to visit cemeteries, they do not give you fear or respect, or you are even passionate about knowing them, you should know that it is mandatory that you visit the Okunoin cemetery. It is the largest in all of Japan and walking through it leaves no one indifferent.

Where is the Okunoin cemetery?

Headstones at Okunoin Cemetery

Okunoin Cemetery is located in Wakayama, on Mount Koya. The closest cities, and from which we recommend you go, are Kyoto and Osaka. This area is also known as Koyasan.

It was Kobo Daishi, the introducer of Shingon Buddhism in Japan, who decided to build a temple on the highest point of this mount. Over time others have joined and today there are at least a hundred temples.

In this way, Mount Koya is the preferred destination for meditation by Buddhists. And it has also become a major tourist spot for travelers visiting Japan.

The spirituality of Okunoin cemetery

Cemetery interior
Cemetery Interior – Steve Simmonds / Flickr.com

Kobo Daishi is buried in Okunoin Cemetery. But, as we have already advanced, the legend says that he is in meditation. This has caused after so many years that thousands of people wanted to be buried next to the monk.

That is why there are more than 200,000 graves in the Okunoin cemetery. And the legend says that all those people are now spirits that live in this place. Walking around there has a special something for everything that is told.

What to see in Okunoin cemetery

When you are in the Okunoin cemetery you can walk along a narrow path that is two kilometers long and is flanked by graves. They are all very different, especially in the innermost part. On the modern side, you can see more uniformity, but as you go deeper, the essence changes everything.

Buddhas at Okunoin Cemetery

You will see larger tombs and smaller tombs, as well as the Buddha sculptures. Some of these statues are covered with a red scarf, which symbolizes the protection that mothers ask for the little deceased.

As you go deeper and deeper, the beauty of Okunoin Cemetery increases. The vegetation begins to invade the tombstones, which now appear less orderly than at the beginning of the route.

On the way you will come across a pavilion known as Torodo Hall. It is full of lighted lamps. There are more than 10,000 and it is a scenario that will leave you speechless. Two of these lamps are said to have been lit continuously for three millennia.

At the end of the path in the Okunoin cemetery remains the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi. This is the destination for the thousands of Buddhists who make pilgrimage from all over Japan to this cemetery.

At what time of the day to visit?

You can visit Okunoin Cemetery at any time of the day. To see all the details of the tombstones and sculptures, it is best to go in the morning or early in the afternoon for the light.

But it is also a place that takes on a certain beauty when the sun goes down. You can go just before sunset to be able to enjoy the Okunoin Cemetery by day and at the moment when the light falls.

You can also go at night, but that is only recommended for the bravest. When you go you may coincide with the monks who visit the Kobo Daishi mausoleum every day to perform Buddhist rituals.

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