One of Japan's most intensely spiritual places, Oku-no-in is a memorial hall to Kōbō Daishi deep surrounded by a vast, forested Buddhist cemetery. The tall cedars and thousands of peaked stone stupas along the cobblestoned path can be utterly enchanting, especially in swirling mist.
Any Japanese Buddhist who's anybody has had their remains, or at least a lock of hair, interred here to ensure pole position when the Buddha of the Future (Miroku Buddha) comes to earth.
At the northern end of the graveyard is the complex's the main building, Tōrō-dō . It houses hundreds of lamps, including two believed to have been burning for more than 900 years. Behind the hall you can see the closed doors of the Kōbō Daishi (Kūkai) mausoleum.
Along the way you'll pass the bridge Mimyo-no-hashi. Worshippers ladle water from the river and pour it over the nearby Jizō statues as an offering for the dead. The inscribed wooden plaques in the river are in memory of aborted babies and those who died by drowning.
Between the bridge and the Tōrō-dō is a wooden building the size of a large phone booth, which contains the Miroku-ishi. Pilgrims reach through the holes in the wall to try to lift a large, smooth boulder onto a shelf. The weight of the stone is supposed to change according to your weight of sin. We can only report that the thing was damn heavy!
Oku-no-in is easily reached on foot from the town centre, or you can take the bus east to Ichi-no-hashi-mae bus stop. From here cross the bridge, Ichi-no-hashi, and into the cemetery. Buses return to the centre of town from the Oku-no-mae bus stop (or walk it in about 30 minutes).