Koyasan’s Okunoin Cemetery: Resting Place of Kukai

The two most sacred places in Koyasan are the Danjo Garan and Okunoin. The Danjo Garan for people to study and practice Buddhism and the Okunoin is its cemetery. While the Okunoin is a place of rest for many, it is not for one. Kukai passed away in 835 in the Okunoin, However, Shingon Buddhists believe that Kukai did not pass away but went into an eternal meditation, nyujyo.

Getting to Okunoin 

Please see our post on the Danjo Garan to find directions to get to Koyasan from Osaka.

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Transit

From Koyasan station of cable car, take a bus to the Okunoin-mae bus stop. From the bus stop walk about 10 minutes and you will be at Okunoin. This route is very direct and will take your almost straight to the Okunoin. However, this way you will miss most of the cemetery. Our recommend is to get off at the Ichinohashi-guchi bus stop and then walk to Okunoin. The entire trail is 2km but you can enjoy the sacred atmosphere of Koyasan. Keep in mind that in winter it snows a lot in Koyasan, so you will probably need snow shoes then.

Okunoin 

The entrance of Okunoin is right in front of the Ichinohashi-guchi bus stop. It looks like a dense forest, but path is completely straightforward, so you won’t get lost or even need a map.

entrance of Koyasan Okunoin

Entrance of the Okunoin: You are now entering a different world!

Along the path, there are many tall centuries old cedar trees. There are also tens of thousands of graves, hoping to rest in peace near Kukai. You even can find a number of gravestones of famous people. Obviously it would be tedious if we mention every single one, but here are ones we think really stand out!

Famous Gravestones

A number of these grave markers include some famous samurai and warlords from the Sengoku Period.

Grave markers for the Moori clan in the Okunoin in Koyasan

Graves Moori clan: One of the biggest clans who conquered the Chugoku and Sanyo Region

grave marker of takeda shingen

Takeda Shingen: one of the greatest rivals of young Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Mausoleum of Uesugi Kenshin:

Mausoleum of Uesugi Kenshin: a famous and wealthy warlord from the Sengoku Period. Only warlord to have a mausoleum in the Okunoin.

grave marker of Date Masamune in Koyasan's okunoin

Date Masamune: a famous warlord from the Tahoku region.

grave marker of Ishida Mitsunari in the Okunoin cemetery

Ishida Mitsunari: Ieyasu’s biggest rival after the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Memorial dedicated to Tokugawa Hidetada’s wife, Sugenin at Koyasan okunoin cemetery

Memorial dedicated to Tokugawa Hidetada’s wife, Sugenin. This is the biggest memorial in Koyasan

Kobayashi Sahee: a heroic figure in Osaka who helped the poor in many way such as building homeless shelters and hospitals.

Memorial for Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the Okunoin

Memorial for Toyotomi Hideyoshi

Memorial for Oda Nobunaga. at the okunoin cemetery

Memorial for Oda Nobunaga.

Not every grave in Okunoin is super historic or serious– here is the grave marker for a famous fugu chef in Shimonoseki

Popular Sites

At the end of Nakanoshi Bridge, there is a well called Sugatami no Ido [姿見の井戸]. If you can’t see your reflection in the well, you will die in three years.

nakanohashi in koyasan's okunoin

Nakanohashi

Sugatami no Ido in Okunoin cemetery

Sugatami no Ido

When you see Kakuban-zaka slope, you are almost half way! What is scary, is that if you slip on this slope, people believe that you will die in three years.

Kakuban-zaka slope at Okunoin in Koyasan

Kakuban-zaka

Kakuban was a monk who once practiced at Koyasan, for more on him see our post about Negoro-ji Temple!

Former Mitsugen-do: Former site of Mitsugen Temple built by Kakuban

In this area used to be a temple called Mitsugen-do created by Kakuban, but now only this small temple commemorates it.

Lots of people really enjoy visiting Koyasan at different times of the year, and fall is especially popular. If you want to stop by and see the autumn leaves head up around the end of October.

There are also literally hundreds, maybe even thousands of jizo in the Okunoin.

make-up jizo at okunoin

“Make-up” Jizo


I wasn’t exaggerating.

Crossing the Tamagawa

After a while, you will be a little temple called Gokusho, where you can get a shuin. (There are bathrooms too.) During a day, there are so many people, especially tour groups. The Okunoin-mae bus stop is only a five minute walk from here.

Once you cross the small Tamagawa River, the area becomes a most scared place where Kukai is in practice. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take any pictures beyond this point because it is a serious religious site.

Tamagawa river at the Okunoin

Tamagawa: back in ancient times, people purified themselves in this river before proceeding

At the end of the path is the Toro-do, a buildings with hundreds of lanterns hung from the ceiling and a fire, kept burning for a thousand years. It is hard to describe what it looks like in words, but surely, it is gorgeous. After visiting the Toro-do, makes sure to go around the building so that you can get as close to the grave of Kukai as possible!

 

Okunoin at Night

Buildings and restaurants in the Okunoin close at 5 o’clock or so, but the path itself is open 24 hours. Because many temples near the Okunoin lock up at night, there is almost nobody on the path.

Since it is a cemetery, it may seem scary to be in the Okunoin at night, but it is very pretty. Bus service from Okunoin is available till 9 o’clock, you can walk around and take a bus to Koyasan Station.

Coming next time,
The Kongobu-ji and other famous buildings at Koyasan!

The adventure continues…

 

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