Explore the Sacred Graveyard of Okuno-in Temple – Koyasan

Okuno-in Temple (奥の院)

Visiting Koyasan with my friend Kenta was surreal, partly because I still couldn’t believe I was in Japan! In Japan! We met in my home town of Halifax, Nova Scotia half the world away. Just a year later here we were strolling through the eerie cedar forest of Japan’s largest cemetery.  Thanks to Kenta I was able to properly respect the waiting spirits and adhere to basic temple etiquette (Shrines).

Okuno-in temple
Path to the Inner Temples

The story of Okuno-in Temple dates back 1200 years ago with one man, Kukai (Kobo Daishi), a scholar, monk and diplomat. Mount Koya started with Kukai and today his mausoleum remains the focal point of the temple grounds and places of worship. An audio guide of Koyasan is available for rent at the Shukubo Association Central Office, it might be worth it for those of you who don’t have a friend like Kenta to lead the way!

Famous Historic Characters

Some of Japan’s most famous historical figures are buried at Okuno-in Temple, tombstones marking their presence  among the rustling trees. The walk is so peaceful and well kept, and yet there are over 200,000 graves scattered throughout the 2 Kilometer site. It fits with how I’ve seen Japan as a whole.  Kenta was pretty excited to see ‘Toyotomi (Taiko) Hideyoshi ‘s tombstone, so I asked him to explain the man’s significance seeing as I know nothing of Japanese History. He was a famous General, Samurai and later, Emperor of Osaka in the 16th Century. I’ll include some links down below on some famous Japanese figures and blogs I found useful.

 The Inner Temples

Once approaching the Inner Temples, cameras are not permitted. Out of respect for the 1200 year old graveyard home to hundreds of thousands of resting souls and wandering spirits, I gladly obliged. I’m not superstitious, but I felt like this mattered. The Inner Temple felt sacred and not worth disrespecting  for a Instagram photo. To take a quote from the Adventures of Walter Mitty:

If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.

For me, Okuno-In Temple was serene, profound and something much more than that.  I had trouble choosing a word to describe this other feeling I had walking among the silent still graves and softly rustling trees. I felt minuscule, insignificant and grateful for being there.  Well, the perfect word is Yūgen (幽玄), taken in context of traditional Japanese Aethestics:

Yūgen is said to mean “a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe… and the sad beauty of human suffering”.

Yūgen suggests that beyond what can be said but is not an allusion to another world. It is about this world, this experience.

Koyasan gave me a moment of Yugen

Good Read Blogs

Next up, Konpon Daito Padoga!

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