Perched cross-legged on an altar in one corner of Churenji Temple, cupped palms facing upward, the monk Tetsumonkai is set up for perpetual meditation — just as he intended as he lay dying nearly two centuries ago.

The skeletal figure draped in clerical robes is one of eight self-mummified monks — sokushinbutsu — found in the northeastern prefecture of Yamagata, among 18 thought to exist in Japan as a whole.

Several of these emaciated remains of zealots who endured extreme fasting to attain Buddha-hood are enshrined in old Shingon Buddhist temples sitting in the shadows of sacred Mount Yudono.