Deep within the quaint Wakayama Prefecture of Honshu, Japan, lies Mount Koya, known around the world as the headquarters of the Kōyasan Shingon-shū sect of Japanese Buddhism.
The town of Koya and its monastery are sights to behold, but the real gem of the area is the Okunoin cemetery, which holds 200,000 ancient graves. But to those who practice Shingon Buddhism, none of those buried are actually dead. They’re merely awaiting the coming of the future Buddha.
As you walk down this 1.2 mile path through the forest of Mount Koya, you will find graves on either side of you. These silent memorials rest in Okunoin, which is Japan’s largest cemetery.
Mount Koya was first settled by Kūkai, posthumously named Kōbō-Daishi — which means “The Grand Master Who Propagated Buddhist Teaching” — in 819 C.E.
Kūkai was the founder of a sect of Buddhism known as Shingon, which means “True Words.”
The strength of Shingon Buddhism lies in the two mandalas — the Womb Realm and the Diamond Realm. Representations of each are always mounted on either side of Shingon altars.
Near the end of the path lies Toro-do, which is a pavilion filled with 10,000 lanterns. Legend has it that 2 of the lanterns have been burning since 1088 A.D. One represents an old emperor, and the other represents a peasant woman who sold her hair so that she could pray at this location.
At the end of the path lies Kūkai’s mausoleum, where a ceremonial meal is placed each day.
It’s not the most thrilling of tourist attractions, but if you’re looking for a peaceful walk through history, there’s no better place than this. In 2005, Mount Koya was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
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