The forest surrounding Mount Koya (Koyasan) in Wakayama, a sacred mountain and temple complex founded by the monk Kobo Daishi, serves as a huge cemetery. So huge, in fact, that Okunoin Cemetery, as it is called, is the largest in all of Japan.
Known as the headquarters of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism, Mount Koya was settled back in 816 in a high valley that sits between the eight peaks of the mountain. Over the past 1200 years, the complex has grown to over 100 temples and not encompassed the entire town of Koya. It is so important to a segment of the Japanese population that UNESCO named Mt. Koya a World Heritage Site in 2004.
Lit by thousands of lanterns, Oku-no-in is the mausoleum of the monk that founded the complex. According to tradition, the lights have been burning constantly since his death more than 1,000 years ago. It is around that mausoleum that the cemetery is located. Known not only for its size and significance, but for its unique headstones, Okunoin is filled with giant spaceships, cups, and other strange monuments erected for the former employees of astronautical and coffee companies. A special monument was built by a pesticide company to commemorate all of its insect victims.
Know Before You Go
The mountain is accessible primarily by the Nankai Electric Railway from Namba Station in Osaka, which connects to Gokurakubashi at the base of the mountain. Koya limited expresses take 80 minutes and cost ¥1610, while ordinary expresses are lower priced at ¥1210 and take only 10 minutes longer at 90 minutes. The final half of the trip is a slow climb up into the mountains and extremely scenic in good weather.