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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.

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

Japan has a long tradition of mummification but one which is far removed from Hammer Horror and actor Brandon Fraser. 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 Autumn leaves gifu

Photo by: hiruandon_a Beyond having a mummified monk inside, the area around Yokokura is a beautiful spot for autumn leaves.

One such holy man is Myoshin 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 about a little over an hour’s drive north of Nagoya in Gifu Prefecture.

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, the Japanese method is self-administered. Myoshin ate a diet of local nuts, berries, bark, and roots in order to remove all traces of body fat and bring his biochemistry into synch with the natural world around the temple.

Yokokura Temple Gifu Prefecture

Photo by: kyoto_channel No photos of the mummy are allowed, unfortunately, but the temple grounds themselves are extremely photogenic.

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 insects that would normally devour the body. The whole process could take a decade.

With the body theoretically protected from natural decay, he was 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.

Wanna see more mummies in Japan?

Where to see the mummified monks in Yamagata, Japan
At some point, the tomb was opened and the mummy enshrined in the temple. At the start of the Meiji Era (1868) Myoshin 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.

Nearby Myohoga-dake 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.


Where to see the mummified monks in Yamagata, Japan

Wanna see more mummies in Japan?

In the mountains of northern Japan, there are six self-mummified monks across five temples. Use our guide to visit them all.


Things To Know

Hours and fees

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

How To Get There


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 line and get off at Tanigumiguchi Station (about 39 minutes). From there, take the Ibigawa town bus bound for Tanigumi and get off at the Tanigumisan bus stop. The temple is a five-minute walk from there.

Trains on the Tarumi line are very sporadic so check the departure times before your trip.

By car

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

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