The Mummy of Dainichibo Temple

Visiting a "living Buddha"

By Alena Eckelmann    - 3 min read

The Dewa Sanzan area is a mystical land of mountain ascentics and of "living Buddhas" – monks who mummified themselves in order to achieve enlightenment – Japan's very own mummies intrigue visitors.

One of them can be found in Dainichibo, a temple near Dewa Sanzan in the Tohoku area of Japan. This mummy is the main attraction at Dainichibo. He used to be a monk here and is now known under the name Daijuku Bosatsu Shinnyokai Shonin. He is one of a number of so-called "Living Buddhas" that can be found in temples in the Yamagata area.

What you see now looks indeed like a mummies in monk's robes. However, different from mummies in Egypt, the mummies in Japan were not mummified after death but people self-mummified their bodies while being alive by following a severe ascetic routine and diet as part of their religious training as a Buddhist monk.

As the story goes, born in 1687, this fellow was attracted to the teachings of Buddhism at an early age and he entered the Buddhist priesthood. His base was Dainichibo Temple. It sounds unbelievable but he aspired to become a “Living Buddha” from his early twenties and in order to do so, he began to follow an austere religious practices that consisted of eating only nuts and seeds and later bark and roots from pine trees.

If nothing else, this diet gave him a very long life. Aged 96, he put himself on an even stricter diet of salt and water only and eventually drunk Urushi tea, a poisonous drink made from bark, which coats the inside of the body with a lacquer-like substance. He then meditated in a stone tomb until he died.

The tomb was sealed for 1,000 days and after it was re-opened the body was found mummified and unharmed by maggots due to its poisonous nature as a result of the monk having drunk Urushi tea. He was given the holy status of “sokushin-butsu”, or “living Buddha”. His body can now be seen in Dainichibo Temple.

Visitors are led to Daijuku Bosatsu Shinnyokai Shonin in groups and a priest solemnly explains how he reached “Living Buddha” status. You find yourself starring at the mummy trying to figure out whether this really used to be a human being of flesh and blood once. You have to decide for yourself!

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Alena Eckelmann

Alena Eckelmann @alena.eckelmann

Born East of the Wall and South of Berlin, I am celebrating my 15th year anniversary in Japan in May 2020, the country that I call home now. I lived in crazy Tokyo for 6 years and since 2011 I call the beautiful Kii Peninsula (Kumano, Koyasan and Yoshinoyama) my home.I have been a JapanTravel Partner since the conception of the platform in 2011! In Tokyo I worked in market research at AIP Corporation and in business education at JMEC. For the last 10 years I have been a guide for foreign visitors at Venture Japan, on top of being a Freelance Writer and a Business Researcher.  Apart from work, I trained at the Yoshinkan Aikido Dojo and at the Oedo Sukeroku Taiko Dojo for several years each, and I ran the 1st Tokyo Marathon and enjoyed cycling around Tokyo. During the last 10 years I am working with local authorities to improve their hospitality to foreign visitors and I have participated in many monitors as a media representative.  My current interest is in Japanese nature and spirituality. I love spending time in the forest and mountains, and I love visiting temples and shrines.   I am a licensed guide for the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails  and for Koyasan, the Buddhist monastery, in addition to being a practitioner and licensed guide for Forest Therapy (Shinrin Therapy).  As a guide for walking tours, I have taken visitors to walk the Kumano Kodo trails, the Nakasendo trail and the Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage trail.  Being grounded during this COVID-19 crisis, I enjoy gardening, baking bread in my new Japanese bread-maker and going for walks around 'my' village.  Take care, keep well, stay safe! 

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