Okunoin, Mount Koya's most sacred site, contains a cemetery that is home to the remains of warlords, celebrities, samurai, shoguns, high priests, businessmen and artists.
I cross the Ichinohashi Bridge and am transported to a weird, wonderful place. Beams of sunlight stream down through a forest of ancient, towering cedar trees. I walk down a path surrounded by lanterns, torii, statues of deities, other-worldly towers of stacked stones that seem to be placed by aliens, o-toga and tombstones. Okunoin Cemetery is both tranquil and haunting.
Greater than 200,000 tombstones can be found in Okunoin. The markers along this path are composed primarily of weathered stone growing green with moss and blackening with time. A second path runs parallel to mine, cutting through groupings of more contemporary marble headstones.
The Okunoin gravestones and memorials are diverse: a spaceship, headstones branded by large corporations and one dedicated by a pesticide company pays tribute to all the termites it has exterminated.
At two kilometers in length the path through Okunoin Cemetery ends too soon. At the end I cross the Gobyonohashi Bridge to the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi (the founder of Shingon Buddhism) and Torodo Hall, which houses greater than 10,000 lanterns.