Buddha at Koya-san, Japan


© Jan Oberg 2007

This image is from Koya-san, the centre of the Buddhist Shingon sect high up the mountains, a 3 hours train ride and a lot of walking from Kyoto, Japan. It is one of the most enigmatic places in Japan – which says a lot.

Koya-san is actually a huge cemetery for people high and low in Japanese society. There are temples all around and the best time to visit is in the moon light in the winter season where you may well feel that the thousands of Buddhas come to life.

I took this picture in an extremely cold morning after a night in a wooden temple where only a simple electric heater and tons of blankets around my futon shielded me from the frost on the other side of the very very thin wood and paper walls and one-glass sliding doors.

You walk in this serene, silent milieu surrounded by huge pine trees and you find millions of mossy stones, Buddha figures, Jizos, etc., untouched by human hand for years and years. In this spooky place you will, now and then, encounter silently praying Japanese who will disappear in front of your eyes as smoothly and silently as they appeared.

‘Buddha figures’ is a very general term. A sculpture like this is a Boddhisatva, an enlightened being on the way to Nirvana. There are uncountable gods – gods for compasion, practice, love, protection, etc.

I’ll never forget the morning mist and the rays of light falling down through the trees and the graves. It was as if time stood still – a profound feeling of being in a film-like dreamland combined with a very real sense of feeling the majestic reality of the trees, stones, Buddhas and graveyards – and the icy cold.

This Buddha melts so beautifully into the surroundings, and vice-versa. I found an angle from which the huge trees shape a gate or frame around the lightly moving Buddha. I deliberately changed the colour tones a bit to preserve the colours but reduce their importance in the overall impression. And of course, the basic colours of Koya-san, as I saw it, are brown, moss green and red.

To the extent that a memorial place for the dead can make you feel vibrantly alive and adventurous, this is it! Mystic beauty in the twilight of life and death.


“Koya-san # 1” – 2007
Inkjet print on Canson fine arts paper or on canvas
Formats & prices (excl postage):
A5 (148 × 210 mm) – Edition unlimited, 20 US$
A4 (210 × 297 mm) – Edition 50, US$ 115
A3+ (329 x 483 mm) – Edition 25, US$ 225
A1 (610 x 910 mm) – Edition 10, US$ 750
Signed and numbered.
Comes with print authenticity documentation.
Information/Order: janoberg@mac.com
© Jan Oberg



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