Sokushinbutsu were Buddhist monks or
priests who allegedly caused their own deaths in a way that resulted in
their being mummified. This practice reportedly took place almost
exclusively in northern Japan around the Yamagata Prefecture. Between 16
and 24 such mummifications have been discovered.
For three years the priests would eat a special diet consisting only of
nuts and seeds, while taking part in a regimen of rigorous physical
activity that stripped them of their body fat. They then ate only bark and
roots for another three years and began drinking a poisonous tea made from
the sap of the Urushi tree, normally used to lacquer bowls. This caused
vomiting and a rapid loss of bodily fluids, and most importantly, it
killed off any maggots that might cause the body to decay after death.
Finally, a self-mummifying monk would lock himself in a stone tomb barely
larger than his body, where he would not move from the lotus position. His
only connection to the outside world was an air tube and a bell. Each day
he rang a bell to let those outside know that he was still alive. When the
bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed.