Japan Trip: Mt. Koya

Once I learned about Mt. Kōya it went on the ‘must go’ list. Settled in 819 AD, Mt. Kōya is the world headquarters of the Kōyasan Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. It’s now home to 120 temples, many of which offer lodging to pilgrims and tourists. I stayed in a temple that’s almost 1200 years old, but neither it nor the other temples were the main reason for going. That was Okunoin, the mausoleum of sect’s founder, surrounded by the largest cemetery Japan. Never made it to Okunion, partly because of the 1km uphill walk but mostly because of the cemetery’s appeal.

Picture a pine covered mountain top valley surrounded by 8 hills. Add 200,000+ monuments erected over 1200 years. Sprinkle with ample rain then add a layer of moss and lichen to the stone surfaces – decomposing those surfaces. The more recent sections are clean, shiny and upright. The older sections have leaning and falling stone, fresh wood and decomposing fallen posts. The soft soil, ample foliage and rolling terrain absorbs sound. The trees block all but a few shafts of sunlight. It was magical, mystical. Whatever other cliches or photographs I could produce can not do the experience justice.

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The only way to visit, IMHO, is to take the smaller, less maintained path at each opportunity.

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There are medium sized monument groups,

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isolated small stone works,

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adjacent monuments which please photographers,
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fresh wood next to weathered and eroded monuments, and more.

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