About 200,000 tombstones line the 2-kilometer long Okunoin Cemetery which can be found at Mt. Koya. It is known to be the largest cemetery in Japan. It entombs Kobo Daishi (Kukai), an influential Heian monk who’s most revered in the country’s religious history. But what makes this graveyard a popular pilgrimage spot? Let’s try to check it out.
The location of Okunoin Cemetery is attractive to many tourists as it is officially located near many spiritual sites. Mt. Koya has even been designated as a World Heritage Site where sacred pilgrimage routes can be found. Because of this, the cemetery has been regarded as the most sacred place in Japan. It is also connected to the people’s belief that those who are entombed in the place are not really dead but just resting to attain eternal salvation. This is the reason why several important figures in Japanese history such as monks and feudal lords have their tombs erected in here for couples of centuries.
Approaching Okunoin can be done in a longer and shorter way. The longer access starts at the Ichinohashi Bridge where visitors have to cross just like entering another world. It is a must to join hands together while bowing before crossing it as a sign of utmost respect to Kukai. Entering the place is like entering another atmosphere of dizzying cedars. On the other hand, the shorter approach starts at the Okunoin-mae bus stop which cuts the walk to about a half in the mausoleum and gives an access to more recent tombs. This approach also leads to a pest control memorial site which pays homage to all termites an insecticide company has been exterminating.
Following the path to the north leads to a more sacred site where food, drinks, and photographs are not allowed. On the left side is the Miroku Stone which weighs people’s sins once lifted. All you have to do is lift the stone with one hand and place it on top of the shelf. It is said that the stone will feel lighter to good people and heavier to bad people.
As the largest cemetery in Japan, Okunoin is definitely one of the places pilgrims should visit. To have a more exciting experience, it is advisable to visit the graveyard at night for an added special atmosphere.