Photo By: hiruandon_a
Region
Chubu
Island
Honshu
Largest City
Gifu
Population
2,107,687

The Mummy of Yokokura Temple

The mummified remains of an 18th-century monk resides in this peaceful rural temple.

Mention mummies and most people will think of Egypt, Tutankhamen and Halloween. They’ll likely picture black-and-white horror movies where the hero and heroine are pursued by something that looks like a zombie given a slapdash bandaging by a distracted paramedic. Popular culture hasn’t served the mummy well, but like all stereotypes, there is more to the story.

Japan has a long tradition of mummification.

Japan has a long tradition of mummification but one which is far removed from Hammer Horror and actor Brandon Fraser. Rather, mummification was a respected aspect of ascetic life once practiced by only the most devoted monks, some of whom have survived the centuries and can be visited today.

Yokokura Temple, Gifu

Photo by: hiruandon_a A peaceful temple with a living Buddha in Gifu.

One such holy man is Myoshinjyoin, whose incredibly well-preserved corpse watches over  Yokokura Temple (formally Ryoukaizan Yokokura Temple) that sits in a peaceful valley of clear rivers and bountiful rice fields. The temple, built in 801, lies in the small but scenic town of Ibigawa northeast of Lake Biwa in western Gifu Prefecture.

Where to see more mummies in Japan?

Ryusuiji Dainichibo.
Born here in 1781, he followed the pilgrim trail across Japan, eventually settling at Goshotaizan, in Yamanashi Prefecture, east of Gifu. It was here that he decided to renounce the physical world and become a mummy.

The making of a mummy

While Egyptians were mummified post-mortem, however, the Japanese method is self-administered.

Myoshinjyoin ate a diet of local nuts, berries, bark and roots in order to remove all trace of body fat and bring his biochemistry into synch with the natural world around the temple. Next, he drank a poison made from the sap of the urushi (Japanese lacquer) tree which purged the body of fluids and made it toxic to maggots and insects that would normally devour the body. The whole process could take a decade.

With the body theoretically protected from natural decay, he would be encased underground in a stone room a little bigger than the size of a seated man. His only furnishings were a bell which he rang every day and a tube for air. When the bell ceased to ring the tube was removed and the room sealed.

Yokokura Temple, Gifu

Photo by: きうこ Leave blaze red here in autumn.

At some point, the tomb is opened and the mummy enshrined in the temple. In the start of the Meiji Era (1868) Myoshinjyoin was moved from Goshotaizan to a new home in Yamanashi and in 1890 he was returned to the temple of his hometown, Yokokura, where he sits in a special building overlooking the temple compound.

Visitors can see his remains, pray for a blessing and read about his life, but photographs are prohibited.

Know before you go

In autumn, the trees blaze red and naturally draw many visitors and the hills are a network of paths and trails. This is probably the best time to visit, too.

Nearby Myohogadake, Seitaizan and Tonokura mountains offer rewarding hikes, but there isn’t much in the way of accommodation in the area, so you’re better off heading back to Ogaki, Gifu or Nagoya cities at the end of the day.

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Trivia

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Things To Know

Hours and fees

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.  |  Admisssion: adults ¥500; children ¥100/200.

How To Get There

Address

1160 Tanigumikanbara, Ibigawa, Ibi District, Gifu Prefecture 501-1317, Japan

By train

Take the JR Tokaido line from Nagoya (32 minutes) or Gifu (11 minutes) to Ogaki station. Change to the private Tarumi Tetsudo line and get off at Tanigumiguchi or Kochibora stations (about 39 minutes).

This is a very small country line so check with Tarumi Tetsudo directly for times. From the station, a bus runs to Kanbara bus stop (15 minutes). The temple is another five-minute walk.

By car

About a 50-minute drive from Gifu station. It’s 80 minutes from Nagoya station. A parking lot is available.

Where To Stay

Posada Casa Eco
  • Ayado 1090-1 Fuwa-Gun Tarui-Cho, Gifu 503-2112
  • 7.9/10
  • 20.3 km
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Comfort Inn Ogaki
  • Hayashi-machi 5-11-3 Ogaki-Shi, Gifu 503-0015
  • 8.3/10
  • 21.1 km
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APA Hotel Ogaki Ekimae
  • Takayacho 1-150 Ogaki-Shi, Gifu 503-0901
  • 7.1/10
  • 21.4 km
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Quintessa Hotel Ogaki
  • Miyamachi 1-13 Ogaki-Shi, Gifu 503-0905
  • 7.9/10
  • 21.4 km
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