This graveyard is on the sacred Mt. Koya in Wakayama. It's probably THE most sacred mountain in Japan. Buddhism is practiced there and some consider its main stupa there to be at the exact center of the world. In Japan, Buddhism is associated with death rituals. When you die, the ceremony is Buddhist and for the most part each temple has a graveyard attached. The whole area smells of incense and the pine branches that people set before graves.
The graveyard is absolutely massive. I didn't realize at first just how big it was. On the map it looks just like a line, but actually it extends way out into the woods with tons of little forgotten graves and many paths that lead up the mountain to nothing. When you're surrounded by graves and can't see the road anymore, you start to appreciate the immensity of it all.
One of my friends asked me if I was afraid of taking photos in a graveyard, because what if a ghost popped up or something and appeared in my photo. Honestly, I think dead people have better things to do than show up in my pictures. Probably half these graves are so long forgotten, the ghosts will be glad that they're getting some recognition finally, albeit by a foreign tourist. I mean if you were
dead for a hundred years and your relatives forgot about you, and your grave gets old and moldy and broken.. And then suddenly one day someone finds it and thinks it's beautiful, how would you feel?
Certainly, I hope, not spiteful. And there were some other people taking pictures to. I noticed that Japanese people bowed before they took pictures, though. I should have done more of that...
Anyway, there are some very famous historical figures buried on Koyasan. Looking at my pamphlet I'll name a few... Taira no Atsumori, Tada Mitsunaka, Akechi Mitsuhide, Maedas of Kaga, Uesugi Kenshin, and Oda Nobunaga. My friend who came with me is studying Japanese history in school and was able to tell me all about all the people who's graves we saw. That was really great. I couldn't have picked a better person to go there with.
The graves ranged from tiny little forgotten bumps of stone, so weathered and sunken into moss that they could barely be distinguished, to giant mausoleums that towered over my head. All the things there were under the cover of giant cedar trees, some of which must have been over 300 years old. The whole place had this sense of being old, ancient, powerful.
I particularly liked the lantern I found, forgotten and covered in moss, uprooted and leaning against a giant tree. There was a moon carved into one side and the sun carved into the opposite side. I wonder if such symbols hold some kind of significance there. I went back to that place a year later and found the lantern still leaning there, with a little more moss than before, and a little more fallen leaves about it. I wonder how long it will stand until it decomposes entirely.
We walked around there until night began to fall.