I reckon the Okunoin Cemetery is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been. After walking the 88 Temple Pilgrimage that circumnavigates the island of Shikoku, a pilgrim can finish the journey with a trip to Koyasan, a small village of 117 Buddhist temples on the holy Mt Koya. In the extraordinary cemetery there, lies the late Kobo Daishi or Kukai, the Buddhist monk who founded the Shingon branch of Buddhist over 1200 years ago… and to whom the pilgrimage is dedicated.
I’ve never spent so long in a cemetery. It's beautiful, but it's also dripping with history with all sorts of different shaped stone shrines, grave heads, gates and pagodas, and everything covered in the moss of so many years and huddled in under a forest of enormous pines. The walking is easy, but there's a lot of it. It's peaceful and the whole site is infused with a tremendous respect for those who have gone before, so it's a solemn place too.
And for me, it was not just a tourist visit. I'm not religious, but I do have a deep respect for 'Buddhism'. Even with that aside, I had invested 45 days of my life and a huge amount of energy completing the 88 Temples on foot, so that moment in Okunoin signified the conclusion of a journey, that great effort, that whole experience. I carried out my rituals; gong, candle, words, incense, words, and that, was a very satisfying moment. As exciting as it was to move on to 'the next thing', I so love the simplicity of a long trek or pilgrimage, and a part of me was also sad to be moving on.