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If time is limited, head for this memorial park first. Many Japanese make pilgrimages to the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi or pay their respects to their ancestors buried here. Arrive early in the morning, before the groups take over, or even better, at dusk, when it gets wonderfully spooky.
Exploring this cemetery is like peeking into a lost and mysterious realm. Incense hangs in the air, and you can almost feel the millions of prayers said here clinging to the gnarled branches of 300-year-old cedar trees reaching into the sky. The old-growth forest is a rarity in Japan, and among the trees are buried some of the country's most prominent families, their graves marked by mossy pagodas and red-robed bodhisattvas.
You can reach Okuno-in by way of the 2½-km (1½-mi) main walkway, which is lined with more than 100,000 tombs, monuments, and statues. The lane enters the cemetery at Ichi-no-hashi-guchi; follow the main street straight east from the town center for 15 minutes to find this small bridge at the edge of the forest.
The path from Okuno-in-mae ends at the refined Toro-do (Lantern Hall), named after its 11,000 lanterns. Two fires burn in this hall; one has reportedly been alight since 1016, the other since 1088. Behind the hall is the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi. The hall and the mausoleum altar are extremely beautiful, with subtle lighting and soft gold coloring.
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We are back, and I am jotting down a few things quickly while my mind is still fresh.
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