Photo By: Julie Sergent
Region
Tohoku
Island
Honshu
Largest City
Fukushima
Population
2,126,998

The Mummy at Kanshu-ji Temple

Spooky but real: This self-made mummy is a rare insight into extreme religious practice.

Mummies make most of us think of ancient Egypt. However, you may be surprised to discover that Japan, too, has its very own remarkably preserved mummies.

In fact, between 16 and 24 well-preserved sokushinbutsu, or “flesh idols,” still remain today across the Tohoku region. These mummies are mostly located in remote mountain areas of Fukushima and Yamagata prefectures, and are a surreal experience that will spark the interest of any history buff or thrill-seeker.

It’s undeniably eerie, being glared at by the 330-year-old mummy, sitting upright in the lotus position.

One spot tourists can visit by appointment is in the small town (just 6,000 people) of Asakawa in Fukushima. Kanshu-ji, as it’s commonly called, is where you can end up face to face with the unique process of self-mummification and the consequences of this gruesome ritual that stems from a sect of Buddhism.

Inside the temple

The visit can be overwhelming at first. As you step inside the temple, you will stand before luxurious furnishings, a ceiling composed of hundreds of painted characters, and the scent of incense sticks.

You’ll soon find your eye drawn to a large golden box overlooking the room, containing the mummified remains of Arisada Hoin, a Buddhist monk who undertook the ritual with the hope of becoming an immortalised protector of the town.

It’s undeniably eerie, being glared at by the 330-year-old Mummy, sitting upright in the lotus position, while dressed in a radiantly red kimono. And it gets even more so when as you discover the  process of the ritual itself.

Photo by: Julie Sergent The monk’s tomb.

Making of a mummy

Mummification takes place in stages, requiring incredible discipline. First the practitioner reduces their body fat through a diet of nuts and tree bark, with the aim of dehydrating the skin for preservation. They are then entombed alive in a stone container, just large enough for one, where they ring a bell every day to remind outsiders they’re still alive. When they eventually pass away, they are left there for three years.

After three years, the tomb is opened, and if the preservation is perfect and their flesh is still intact, they have “succeeded” and are placed on display. Unsurprisingly, this mind-boggling practice has been forbidden since the early 20th century due to the fact that it amounts to disciplined suicide.

Before you go

During your visit to Kanshu-ji the monk will kindly be your guide to tell you more about the story of Arisada Hoin, so be sure to make a reservation by phone (247-36-1183) at least one day before you go.

Dig Japanese history? Read more on where to find historic gems.

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Things To Know

Fees

Admission is ¥300.

How To Get There

Address

Shukunouchi-63 Onuki, Asakawa-machi, Ishikawa-gun, Fukushima-ken 963-6207, Japan

By train

Heading to this temple is quite an adventure with its 4 hour journey from Tokyo. From there take the Tohoku Shinkansen to Shin-Shirakawa (8,100 Yens). Then switch transportation to take the bus.

By bus

In Shin-Shirikawa take the bus line Taiyō no kuni (太陽の国線) to Shirikawa ekimae (白河駅前 ). Change for the Shirakawa-Tanagura line (白河・棚倉線) to Tsutsumi Yotsutsuji (堤四辻). Then walk for 20 minutes to the temple.

Where To Stay

Renaissance Tanagura
  • Sekiguchi Ipponmatsu 43-1 Higashishirakawa-Gun Tanagura-Machi, Fukushima 963-6123
  • 6.5/10
  • 4.8 km
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Hotel Route-Inn Shin-Shirakawa Eki Higashi
  • Shinshirakawa 1-34-1 Shirakawa-Shi, Fukushima 961-0856
  • 7.9/10
  • 18.0 km
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Premier Inn Shirakawa
  • Ishizukakita 72 Nishishirakawa-Gun Nishigo-Mura, Fukushima 961-8044
  • 7.9/10
  • 19.0 km
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Nasu Yoko Hotel
  • Yorii 393-1 Nasu-Gun Nasu-Machi, Tochigi 329-3441
  • 8.9/10
  • 19.9 km
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