Okunoin Cemetery

Graves and Buddha Statues in the Okunoin Cemetery

Okunoin, Wakayama Prefecture, is by far one of the creepiest places you will visit in Japan. Tucked away in the mountains, getting to the township of Koya-san is not the easiest of trips to make. But if you can somehow get to Koya-san, you will be delighted with a quiet, peaceful town full of rich history, dating back to the 8th century. 

In the small township, you will find Okunoin Cemetery. Okunoin Cemetery is Japan’s largest cemetery, and as such, there is a high spiritual presence in and around the cemetery. There are over 200,000 tombstones found within the grounds of the cemetery, all leading up towards to mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, a monk and founder of the Hiragana writing style. It is said that Kobo Daishi has been meditating for over 1,200 years now, and will awaken when the world needs enlightenment the most. Monks prepare and deliver 2 meals a day to Kobo Daishi, to ensure that he has a meal for when he wakes up. It’s an important ritual in the Buddhist ritual and those observing must clear the walkway while the monks are making their delivery.

You can walk through Okunoin Cemetery by starting at the Omotesando Ichinohashi bridge (We will load it into the map feature at the bottom of this page for your reference). From there, you embark on the 2km walk to the Mausoleum. Before crossing the bridge, please bow briefly to show respect for all those whose graves are before you. The walk is quiet…too quiet. Walking through the middle of a forest, you’d expect to hear a lot of birds, yet the activity in the trees is few and far between. The further you walk in, the more spiritual you begin to feel. 

As you approach the Mausoleum, you will find yourself at a small establishment of buildings. These served as rest points for the pilgrims of ancient times who made the trek from all over. You can get refreshments and relieve yourself at the facilities provided before crossing into what can best be described as ‘the underworld’. This is the same area in which the monks mentioned before depart on their journey to the Mausoleum with a meal for Kobo Daishi.

Monks delivering breakfast to Kobo Daishi

After passing through the rest area, you will cross another bridge, the Gobyobashi Bridge, and that’s where things get even creepier. Photography, food or drinks are not allowed past this point. Before crossing the bridge, pour water over the heads of the Buddha statues to the right of the bridge. Once completed, bow at the bridge once again, and depart forward to the mausoleum. 

Along this pathway, you will find it pretty quiet leading up to the main building. The path will be lined with Lanterns, which come nightfall, will be lit up. Now you can walk around Okunoin cemetery at night, however, lanterns only light up partial portions on the trail and provide adequate light for walking around most parts, however, we do not recommend walking through the cemetery after the sun has set, as none of the main buildings are open, and the ground is fairly uneven, and reduced lighting could lead to injury. 

You will see the Kobo Daishi Mausoleum and the Torodo – the lantern hall. These are definitely the highlights of the journey. The Mausoleum is a large hall visible from the Gobyobashi Bridge, and inside are statues and other Buddhist Relics available on display. The Torodo / Lantern hall is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a hall, FULL of lanterns. Like we aren’t joking. There are several thousand lanterns in this one building which line the walls, and ceiling. The room is lit up with a golden tinge as the light from the lanterns lights up the room.

Walking out of the Okunoin Cemetery can be done by taking a shortcut, which is only about half a kilometer, which is actually where more and more tourists are beginning to start the walk – but if you want a real adventure, then you should begin at the actual beginning. The walk back is a little bit more exposed, less trees and such. These graves along this section primarily belong to companies or wealthy individuals. 

Companies have graves here for when employees who have worked at their company – either long term, or passed while being employed by said company – and serves as a memorial for those who helped make the companies. Some companies which occupy memorial graves along this section include Sony, Toyota, Mitsubishi and many more of the large Japanese companies.

After leaving the Okunoin Cemetery through the shortcut, you can talk the long walk back into town, or you can catch a bus for a low cost back to into the town center. The bus stop is right outside the alternative exit/entrance. 

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