Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery

A Visit to the Okunoin Cemetary and an overnight Koyasan Temple Stay, are a must-do for many visitors to Japan, especially those seeking a spiritual experience and an insight into Japanese worship and culture.

On paper, the journey to reach Mount Koya – respectfully known as Koyasan in Japan – seems a bit convoluted. But the travel (usually from Osaka or Kyoto) via train, cable car and bus is a beautiful journey and well worth it to visit the centre of Shingon Buddhism in Japan.

Brought to Japan in 805 by Kobo Dashi, the Shingon Buddhist sect’s headquarters are based on this remote mountain top, and there are several historical temples here, many of them offering a unique overnight experience to guests.

Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery

A key attraction of Koyasan is Okunoin, the site of Kobi Dashi’s mausoleum, located within a vast graveyard in the woods, the largest cemetery in Japan with over 200,000 tombstones.

Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery
Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery
Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery
Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery

During the hours of dusk, lanterns are lit along the pathways through the moss- and lichen-covered stone memorials and shrines.

In daytime, the tall forest canopy filters the sunlight, creating a beautiful interplay of light and shadow. It’s a hugely different aesthetic to the typical European cemeteries and gravestones I’m more familiar with, and walking slowly along is immensely calming, a spiritual experience irrespective of one’s faith or belief system.

Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery
Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery

We stayed at Shojoshin-in, a beautiful temple dating from 824. It sits just next to the path leading into Okunoin, so its location is very convenient. Guests can stay in regular rooms within the main temple building, using shared gender-separated bathrooms, or book the hanare (a private residence in a separate building, with its own private bathroom and toilet).

One of the highlights of a stay at a Koyasan temple is the chance to try shojin ryori (traditional Bhuddist vegetarian cuisine), served for dinner and breakfast.

In the morning, guests are invited to observe the monks at prayer, and are shown around the temple.

Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery
Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery
Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery
Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery

Other temples offer participation in meditation sessions, and guided walks around Okunoin, so I recommend researching what is available before making your booking.

Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery

Travel to Koyasan by train from Osaka to Gokurakubashi, changing at Hashimoto station if a direct train is not available. From Gokurakubashi, take the cable car up the mountain, and finally a ten minute bus ride from the top station into the town centre.

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33 Comments to "Spiritual Japan | Koyasan Temple Stay & Visit to Okunoin Cemetery"

  1. Rachel Gabrielle

    Wow, these pictures are stunning. I would never think to go to a cemetery, but this is spectacular. Japan is such a unique place. I always feel like there’s more for me to discover and experience there. Thanks for sharing this, looking forward to traveling here someday!

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Yes, it’s not necessarily the kind of thing you think of initially but this is such a wonderful destination to include for anyone interested in cultural, traditional and spiritual Japan.

    Reply
  2. Michelle M

    Wow, your photos are really great. I love how ancient it looks as it has been around for so long. I am sure this is also a great opportunity to learn about yourself.

    Reply
  3. Sanne Wesselman

    An overnight temple stay?? That must have been such a great experience! I was in Japan a few years ago and wish I would have known about this then! I loved Japan though so I’ll definitely visit again!

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Yes, and recently a hotel regulation change means that a lot more temples will be offering accommodation to travellers – they were previously restricted because of marketing rules, but I am pretty sure now that’s been lifted we’ll see a lot more.

    Reply
  4. Paolo

    We haven’t visited Japan but it is a travel we’d like to plan very soon! You have done an experience that can looks different but instead we find it so real, we mean you can understand the culture so deeply in this way!
    Beautiful photos 🙂

    Reply
  5. Theresa

    This is going to come in handy as I am planning a trip to Japan next summer and we will spend some time in Osaka. The photos are lovely and it looks very soothing, I look forward to seeing it.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    It’s a couple of hours journey but well worth it. You could visit as a day trip for the cemetery, but if you’re able to spend a night in a temple, and revisit the graveyard at dusk too, you won’t regret it.

    Reply
  6. Alex Rivera

    We have yet to visit Asia but it’s definitely on our bucket list. This spiritual location in Japan seems like a must visit. I can envision meditating at the serene looking temples. Love the pics. Thx for sharing!

    Reply
  7. Vaisakhi Mishra

    I so wanna visit Japan one day and explore their culture! I didn’t even know you could do temple stay in a Shinto temple! And such beautiful pictures!! Love the post 🙂

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    It’s not Shinto, that’s an older religion in Japan. It’s Shingon sect of Buddhism. ?

    Reply
  8. Paul

    This looks like such a beautiful place. It’s not something I would have considered before reading your post, but it sounds like such an interesting experience.

    Reply
  9. Medha

    I love Japan! Okunoin looks amazing – especially because of the moss-covered stone memorials and shrines and I can imagine how charming it would be when the lanterns would be lit at night! Can’t believe its the largest cemetery in Japan.

    Reply
  10. Claire

    Really beautiful photos! There is just something very mesmerizing about Japan and it is a place that I have always dream about going and your posts and photos have made the craving even stronger! Thanks for sharing and am looking forward to more of your posts 🙂

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    We adore it, we’ve been three times and planning the fourth trip… I don’t think we’ll ever tire of visiting!

    Reply
  11. Annick

    I’d never would have thought to look at going to Okunoin without seeing your photos. The moss covered pathway and memorials are really different to what we’re used to seeing in the West. I liked the Buddhist monk experiences – did you feel like they were sharing to promote understanding?

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    It’s such a beautiful graveyard. For the temple stay, we didn’t speak a lot to the monks but they served the meals and they also invited guests to observe their early morning prayers. At our temple, there were no further activities but others run meditation sessions in which guests can participate and guided walks into the graveyard, so for deeper understanding, I would consider one of those temples instead. We loved ours though!

    Reply
  12. Sinjana

    This is the first time I read about this hidden gem in Japan. I have read many Japan travelogues which make me want to visit the country. But a temple stay in such a beautiful setting is something I never knew about and is worth exploring

    Reply
  13. Priya Florence Shah

    What a beautiful place to stay. Definitely putting this on my Japan itinerary. Those tombstones look so beautiful too. I love how much respect the Japanese give their ancestors

    Reply
  14. Daniel

    This will sure come in handy as I am planning a Japan trip next spring and I’ll spend some time in Osaka (of course). The photos are very appealing and I look forward to seeing it in person

    Reply
  15. Val

    I simply loved reading your article! It brings me back to my solo trip to Japan, and to the two incredible days I spent in Koyasan! One of my best travel memories ever! Thanks for sharing this 🙂

    Reply
  16. Pujarini

    The pictures show how serene and beautiful this place is. I am sure staying at the temple and observing the rituals must have been a wonderful experience.

    Reply
  17. Shaily

    Okunoin Cemetary indeed looks unique and extremely fascinating. The lush greenery along with the stone statues is simply a treat to the eyes. Shojin ryori also looks yummy. It’s great to know they offer stay in the temple itself. This is one of a kind experience I would so love to try. Your picture are very beautiful.

    Reply

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