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Photo By: Anna Modugno
Region
Chubu
Island
Honshu
Largest City
Niigata
Population
2,475,724

The Mummy at Saisho-ji Temple

The oldest Buddhist mummy in Japan.

Hidden within the mountaintop Saisho-ji Temple in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture sits the mummified corpse of Kochi Hoin. Kneeling in seiza form, barely illuminated by the softly flickering candles that surround him, he appears ready to conduct a sermon―even after all these centuries.

Kochi is the oldest of Japan’s sokushinbutsu, or “flesh idols,” Buddhist monks following asceticism that were mummified while alive. Add a bit of mysticism to your Niigata trip by visiting him after you’ve seen nearby Yahiko Shrine perched atop a volcano and soaked in Tsubame Onsen.

Life and legend of Kochi Hoin

Saishoji Temple in Niigata, Japan has a mummy on site.

Photo by: Anna Modugno A peaceful place for eternal meditation.

Originally Hirotomo, Kochi was born at the end of the 13th century in Shimosa province (modern-day Chiba Prefecture). As legend has it, he led a life of sin and indulgence, neglecting his pregnant wife and son to frequent the pleasure districts. After being disowned by his father, his wife passed away, but not before giving birth to a second son who was carried off by a wolf.

This series of tragedies led Kochi to embark on a pilgrimage through Dewa Sanzan and the Oshu province (covering the modern-day northern Tohoku region) where he encountered the ghost of his late wife. He also underwent seven years of training at Mount Koya in Wakayama before returning to Niigata to find his father dead and his eldest son orphaned.

An encounter with ghosts

Saishoji Temple in Niigata, Japan.

Photo by: Anna Modugno Ema (wishes) hanging at Saishoji Temple.

The eldest son became his disciple and as they made their way back to Mount Koya, the pair was reunited with the youngest son, who had not been abducted by a real wolf, but rather an incarnation of Buddha.

An encounter with the ghosts of his deceased parents propelled Kochi to begin the ascetic training necessary to becoming a sokushinbutsu. He ascended to the realm of eternal meditation and became a mummy through a process of self-starvation in 1363.

For the temple itself, there’s also a human skull and taxidermied wolf on display. Further inside is what looks like a mummified cat, but the temple insists it’s a “thunder beast.” You’ll have to see this one to believe it.

Wanna know more about Japan’s mummified monks and the strange process it takes to become one? Check our guide on where to see the mummies of Yamagata

Trivia

Are you my mummy?

Japan is thought to have around 16 mummified monks. This one at Rusui-ji Danichibo Temple in northern Yamagata is one of the most famous.

More

Things To Know

Hours and fees

Saisho-ji and the surrounding premises are open from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. year-round; however, the mummy is only available for viewing between the months of April and December.

Admission is ¥500 for adults, ¥300 for Junior High and Elementary school students, and free for children under the age of six.

After paying for admission, you will receive a viewing time, until which you may freely roam the premises. There is a replica mummy on display, so do be careful not to mistake it for the actual thing.

Photography of the mummy is strictly prohibited.

How To Get There

Address

8996 Teradomarinozumi, Nagaoka, Niigata 940-2501, Japan

By train

Board the shinkansen (bullet train) at Tokyo station bound for Joetsu. Change to the Yahiko line at Tsubame-Sanjo Station and take the train until Yahiko Station. From there, it’s a 20-minute taxi ride to Saisho-ji. There are no buses from Yahiko Station so taxi it is.

By car

It’s about a four-hour drive from central Tokyo to the temple. 

Where To Stay

Yahiko Onsen Shiki no Yado Minoya
  • 2927-1 Yahiko, Nishikambara-gun Yahiko-mura, Niigata, 959-0323 Japan
  • ¥8,250 - ¥19,800
  • 4.3/5 (1,060 reviews)
  • 3.0 km
Iwamuro Onsen Fujiya
  • 693 Iwamuronsen, Niigata-shi Nishikan-ku, Niigata, 953-0104 Japan
  • ¥10,020 - ¥10,020
  • 4.6/5 (502 reviews)
  • 5.8 km
Iwamuro Onsen Menmentei Wataya
  • 581 Iwamuronsen, Niigata-shi Nishikan-ku, Niigata, 953-0104 Japan
  • ¥16,170 - ¥33,490
  • 4.03/5 (244 reviews)
  • 5.9 km
Yahiko Mountain View Inn Hoho
  • 340 Iwamuronsen, Niigata-shi Nishikan-ku, Niigata, 953-0104 Japan
  • ¥13,000 - ¥16,000
  • 4.4/5 (931 reviews)
  • 6.1 km

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