Koyasan: Cemetery and Sleeping in the Temple

Koyasan: Cemetery and Sleeping in the Temple

Koyasan (Mount Koya) is the holy place for Shingon Buddhism, an important Buddhist sect which was introduced to Japan at the beginning of 8th century by Kobo Daishi. Since then almost a hundred of temples were built on the top of Mount Koya. Arguably the most important of them is Okunoin temple, where mausoleum of Kobo Daishi is located, with an adjacent cemetery where more than 200.000 monks were buried. Interesting thing is that you can visit the cemetery at night as it is lit by thousands of lanterns. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to… you’ll find the reasons a bit further in this post.

Another interesting thing to do in Koyasan is sleeping in one of the temples. This activity is known as shukubo and while originally it were pilgrims who were sleeping in the temples nowadays this activity is targeted to tourists many of whom are from abroad. They promise you that you will experience how temple really looks from inside including traditional simple rooms (with TV? hmm), meals and morning prayers. So I was really excited to try it but after actually experiencing it, I have doubts if it was really worth my time and money. Temple was authentic and really beautiful but there were a few problems with this shukubo thing:

  • We almost didn’t see the monks as temples hire other people to deal with tourists,
  • It’s very expensive. Really – it’s comparable to more traditional and definitely more comfortable hotels,
  • Morning prayer service left me a little disappointed as just 3 monks were participating in it and they were separated from us by ugly metal ‘cage’ (despite the fact prayer chamber was outstanding),
  • Many temples close very early in the evening (mine did at 9 PM) so if you intend to visit the Okunoin cemetery at night, you better book one that is really close to it. Otherwise you might not be able to get back to your temple on time as bus services are very limited in the evening and taxi service stops operating around 6 PM. So all in all I haven’t managed to visit the cemetery at night. For some time I considered spending night outside of the temple but as it was really cold I abandoned this idea.

The only thing I wasn’t disappointed with were meals, which were really delicious, although I doubt monks each such fancy dishes every day. Bear in mind that they are all vegan and contain quite a lot of tofu. Despite I’m not great fan of it, it tasted really well.

Today photo was taken in the Okunoin cemetery during the day. It shows one of the numerous beautiful and mysterious alleys surrounded by ancient trees. It’s a HDR image from 5 RAWs, spaced by 1.5 stop. I used Photomatix Pro 5.1 and ON1 Effects 10 to post-process it.

If you’re interested to learn how to make such images yourself, make sure to read my free HDR tutorial.


Okunoin Cemetery in Koyasan

And finally here’s EXIF info for this image:

Technical details:
Camera: Canon 5D MK III (read my review)
Lens: Canon 16-35 f/4 L IS USM (read my review)
Focal length: 16 mm
Aperture: f/14.0
Exposure time: 1/6 s (“middle” exposure)
ISO: 100
Number of exposures: 5
E.V. Step: 1.5 EV
Flash used: no
Tripod: yes
Filters: no
Technique: HDR, Tone-Mapping
Software: Magic Lantern, Photomatix Pro 5.1 (Contrast Optimizer), Capture One 9, Photoshop CC 2015, ON1 Effects 10.5

2017-01-17T19:42:26+00:00 May 25th, 2016|Posted in: Japan|