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  • Thumbnail for Ichi no hashi bridge entrance to Oku-no-in
    Ichi no hashi bridge entrance to Oku-no-in

    This is the bridge marking the entrance to what is often called Japan's grandest -- both largest and most magnificent -- cemetery. A two kilometer (1.3 mile) stone path through an ancient cryptomeria forest leads to the tomb of Kukai (posthumously Kobo Daishi), founder of the Shingon school and the first to found a temple at Koyasan, in 817. Throughout the forest along both sides of the path, and often up and over small hills behind the trees, are thousands upon thousands of gravestones that have been built up around Kukai's tomb over the millenia.

  • Thumbnail for Private shrine
    Private shrine

    Another family shrine in the forest of Koyasan.

  • Thumbnail for Stairs in the forest
    Stairs in the forest

    The path to Okunoin is not always level. The shifting topography makes for a more pleasurable walk.

  • Thumbnail for Toyotomi family grave site
    Toyotomi family grave site

    The marker to the right announces that this is the grave of the Toyotomi family (and that it is an historical landmark). The family refers to the descendants of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the great general who unified Japan after a long civil war just prior to the lengthy peace of the stable Tokugawa (or Edo) Period around 1600.

  • Thumbnail for Ikuta Jinja - Main gate of Ikuta Jinja from within
    Ikuta Jinja - Main gate of Ikuta Jinja from within

    This photo was taken from the right of the main hall.

  • Thumbnail for Shrine along the path
    Shrine along the path

    This is the same structure as in cocrejpn0163.

  • Thumbnail for Jizo with children
    Jizo with children

    The same Jizo as in cocrejpn0159.

  • Thumbnail for Famous three-in-one tree on path to Okunoin
  • Thumbnail for Forest bridge in Koyasan
  • Thumbnail for Minatogawa Jinja - Chart detailing "years of misfortune" (yakudoshi)
    Minatogawa Jinja - Chart detailing "years of misfortune" (yakudoshi)

    Near a counter that sells protective amulets (o-mamori), this chart details the various ages at which men and women are thought most susceptible to misfortune in their lives. Some explanations of the reasoning behind the system rely on the pronunciation of the digits of the age: 4 (shi) and 2 (ni) sounds "shini" or death for a forty-two year old male and so deserves special care; 3 (san) 3 (san) can be read as "multiple disasters," so that a woman of thirty-three had better watch out. Other explanations suggest a more natural understanding in Japanese culture of specific periods in life when many men or women might traditionally be under a lot of biological or social stress. For one not well-versed in the traditional system, the chart is a reminder of when it might be a good time to stock up on protective charms from the shrine or, for extra caution, even to commission a shrine priest to perform a purification ritual.

  • Thumbnail for Seated Jizo with children
    Seated Jizo with children

    Jizo comes in many forms. This newer statue has him seated in a traditional meditation posture. He holds the children, who are the timeless objects of his vast mercy. The visual contrast here between the clean stone of the new Jizo image and the moss-covered worn stone lantern is one of the charms of this Okunoin trail. Centuries of devotion merge into one another. Our great grandchildren will see this Jizo with its own moss.

  • Thumbnail for Ikuta Jinja - Plaque before enshrined tree
    Ikuta Jinja - Plaque before enshrined tree

    This plaque in front of the tree with the himorogi says that the tree was over 500 years old when it was severely injured by burns received in the bombing of Kobe during WWII. However, even though shattered, it managed to stay alive, and so became revered as a symbol of rebirth and resuscitation. The plaque refers to it as a "divine (kami) tree."

  • Thumbnail for View from portico of Garan building
    View from portico of Garan building

    This is the view from the portico of one of the old temple structures along the path toward the center of the Garan. In the distance is the large Lecture Hall, and to the left is the oldest standing structure, the Fudo Hall, which dates from the 12th century.

  • Thumbnail for Ikuta Jinja - Amulets
    Ikuta Jinja - Amulets

    Most of the amulets (o-mamori) shown here are for success in academics, either for good grades or for passing an entrance exam into the school of your choice. The prices here, which are more or less standard, range from 500 to 1000 yen (from $4-$8).

  • Thumbnail for Minatogawa Jinja - Portal marking grove where Kusunoki Masanari died
    Minatogawa Jinja - Portal marking grove where Kusunoki Masanari died

    This structure marks a large grove within the Minatogawa shrine compound in which Kusunoki Masanari died in 1336.

  • Thumbnail for Shrine along the path
    Shrine along the path

    This old shrine must have been dedicated to the ancestors of a family. It also has the torii entrance.

  • Thumbnail for Minatogawa Jinja - Main shrine hall from a distance
    Minatogawa Jinja - Main shrine hall from a distance

    The two large lanterns flanking the approach are noteworthy.

  • Thumbnail for View of the path from the forest
  • Thumbnail for Prayer strips in Tamagawa
    Prayer strips in Tamagawa

    From the bridge over the Tamagawa stream that leads to Kobo Daishi's mausoleum one can see these wooden strips suspended above the stream so that the current washes across the bottom of the strips. On each strip is written the name of someone deceased, and the pure waters of this stream are said to purify their spirits wherever they may be in their afterlife journey.

  • Thumbnail for Corporate grave site with photos
    Corporate grave site with photos

    On what for many is the "return path" back from Okunoin, parallel to the main one and on which there are many newer grave sites, are a few like this one sponsored by a large company for its employees, whose pictures are placed within large memorial stones.

  • Thumbnail for Memorial site for termites
    Memorial site for termites

    The black plaque on the large white stone says "Termites." In smaller letters below it says," .... in peace" (probably something like "rest in peace," but the verb is illegible). The pillar to the right says the site was dedicated by a company in Japan that eliminates termites.

  • Thumbnail for The Daito in the center of the Garan
    The Daito in the center of the Garan

    Viewed from the south, this is the Great Stupa or Daito, with the Lecture Hall to the left.

  • Thumbnail for Kongobuji temple facade
    Kongobuji temple facade

    A carved dragon such as this one can be found adorning many temple buildings in Japan.

  • Thumbnail for View from Tamagawa bridge
    View from Tamagawa bridge

    Across the bridge and down the path we can see visitors gathered at the foot of the stairs to Kobo Daishi's mausoleum.

  • Thumbnail for Small shrine in Koyasan
    Small shrine in Koyasan

    This small Shinto shrine is in a grove of trees across the street from the Kongobuji temple.