Region
Kansai
Island
Honshu
Largest City
Wakayama
Population
1,069,839

Okunoin

The heart of spirituality in Japan.

Concealed atop the spiritual Mount Koya lies Okunoin, Japan’s largest cemetery and one of the most sacred locations in the country. The towering cedar trees – some more than 500 years old – ancient mossy tombstones and haunting atmosphere are all part of this eerie, otherworldly experience.

Mount Koya (or Koyasan) is a sacred Buddhist retreat and UNESCO World Heritage site in Wakayama Prefecture where travelers can stay overnight at a temple, experience prayer rituals and discover the area beyond. No visit to Koya is complete until you’ve had a chance to make your way around Okunoin.

A pathway leading to the cedar-lined path of gravestones.

The two-kilometer path that stretches back from the Ichi-no-hashi bridge, which marks the official cemetery entrance, is lined with over 300,000 gravestones. The styles of the tombstones range from ancient ones covered in moss to recent ones made out of refined granite. Walking down the stone path canopied by trees, you’ll feel the contrast in atmosphere between the old and new burial memorials. With crumbling and weathered stones that date back centuries, the path is dotted with graves of monks, lords and military commanders, including Date Masamune, who founded the city of Sendai.

Juxtapositioned with these are more modern additions, including company graves from corporations like Panasonic and Kubota. Some of the more unusual monuments include a memorial from a pest control company to all the termites that their products have killed!

An eerie yet beautiful atmosphere.

At the end of the path, you’ll find the most important site of Koyasan: the mausoleum of Kobo-Daishi – also known as Priest Kukai – who founded the Shingon sect of Buddhism in Japan. It is believed that he rests here in eternal meditation, awaiting the Buddha of the Future.

The Gobyo-no-hashi Bridge separates this sacred inner area where the mausoleum is located from the rest of the cemetery. Once you cross the bridge, eating, drinking and taking photographs is forbidden. The bridge features 36 stone planks and represents all the Buddhist deities of the Diamond Realm Mandala. The significance of each one of them is marked with a Sanskrit letter carved on the planks.

Hall of Lanterns

Photo by: jeremie.___ Hall of Lanterns.

In front of the mausoleum of Kobo-Daishi is Torodo Hall (the Hall of Lanterns), which is the center of worship for Okunoin. The hall contains more than 10,000 lanterns which are kept eternally lit. Legend has it that some have been burning for more than 1,000 years. Journey beneath the hall, and you’ll find a room with surreal, maze-like walls composed of thousands of tiny Buddha statues.

Other sights at Okunoin

There are a number of other interesting features hidden among the moss-covered tombstones of Okunoin. One of these is the Miroku stone, located in a small wooden cage just over the Gobyo-no-hashi. This ordinary-looking rock is thought to be able to judge the virtue of those who try to lift it, feeling lighter to the virtuous and heavier to the sinful.

Found in the cemetary, Jizo Bodhisattva is one of the most beloved Japanese divinities.

A slightly more unsettling feature is the Sugatami-no-Ido, or Well of Reflections. This tiny well can be found next to a shrine that houses a statue of Asekaki Jizo (Sweating Jizo), by the small Naka-no-hashi bridge in the middle of the cemetery. According to legend, if you look inside the well but don’t see your reflection then you are fated to die within the next three years…

At Okunoin, you’ll find yourself closer to the ancestors of Japan. A visit here is unlike anywhere on earth.

Topics: , , , ,

Things To Know

When to visit

The cemetery is open year round. You can visit the attraction in both daylight and dusk for two very different but equally beautiful experiences. At night, some areas may not be lit, so please be cautious. As this is a sacred area, tourists should be extra careful to carry themselves in a respectful manner.

Mausoleum of Kobo Daishi

You are not allowed to enter the mausoleum of Kobo-Daishi. You can only check the surrounding grounds and pray from the outside.

Hours and fees

The Torodo Hall is open everyday  from 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. There is no admission fee required to enter the grounds of Okunoin.

How To Get There

Address

Japan, 〒648-0211 Wakayama-ken, Ito-gun, Kōya-chō, Kōyasan, 県道53号線

By train

To get to Koyasan, take the cable car from Gokurakubashi train station (100-120 minutes from Osaka). From here, buses run into the center of town. It’s only a short journey, but walking along the narrow road from the cable car station is forbidden for safety reasons.

By bus

From the cable car station, there is a direct bus to Okunoin (2-3 buses an hour). You can either alight at Ichinohashi-guchi (¥330) and take the traditional 2-kilometer walk through the cemetery, or stay on the bus until Okunoin-mae bus stop (¥410) and take the shorter 1-kilometer walk through a newer section of the cemetery.

By foot

If you’re already in Koyasan, the cemetery can be reached on foot in about 10-15 minutes from the town’s main intersection, Senjuinbashi.

Where To Stay

Kumagaiji
  • Koyasan 501 Ito-Gun Koya-Cho, Wakayama 648-0211
  • 8.7/10
  • 0.6 km
Powered by Booking.com
Koyasan Guesthouse Kokuu
  • Koyacho Koyasan 49-43 Ito-Gun Koya-Cho, Wakayama 648-0211
  • 9.3/10
  • 0.6 km
Powered by Booking.com
Sekishoin
  • Koyasan 571 Ito-Gun Koya-Cho, Wakayama 648-0211
  • 7.4/10
  • 0.6 km
Powered by Booking.com
Shukubo Koya-san Eko-in Temple
  • Koyasan 497 Ito-Gun Koya-Cho, Wakayama 648-0211
  • 9/10
  • 0.7 km
Powered by Booking.com