Japan is a country steeped in ancient spirituality and offers many opportunities for enlightenment.
The country is replete with stories of ancient spirits as well as monks who founded Buddhist sects and unique spiritual practices.
Here are just some of the spiritual places you can visit to heal both your body and soul, according to the Japanese National Tourist Organisation.
Discover Shugendo in Yamagata
On the northwest coast of Honshu are the Yamagata mountains, home to those practising a unique faith called Shugendo.
Shugendo combines Shinto, Buddhism and Animism, with the proponents (called Yamabushi) seeking the essence of existence by trekking in silence through the grandeur of three of Yamagata’s mountains, known locally as the Dewa Sanzan.
Using English interpreters, you can train in exactly the same way as these mountain mystics with Master Hoshino sharing the secrets of Shugendo.
The six-hour experience offers the chance to feel the wind caress your cheeks, touch the bark on old-growth cedars and hear the song of birds and calls of the wild in ancient forests.
A lunch of Buddhist vegetarian cuisine is included, as are the white robes worn by all pilgrims.
Try some Zen healing in an Eiheiji Temple
The Eiheiji Temple is one of the two head temples of the Soto Zen sect of Buddhism.
Founded in 1244 by Zen Master Dogen, the ‘Temple of Eternal Peace’ trains followers in achieving a state of Zen in everyday life. Here, monks have practised Shikantaza, or ‘sitting single-mindedly,’ for nearly eight centuries.
You can try this out for yourself by staying at the Hakujukan Hotel, which offers you an opportunity to take part in services and activities to experience Zen.
In tatami rooms facing a traditional Japanese garden, ‘Zen Concierges’ who have trained at Eiheiji Temple will guide you in meditation. The monks’ vegetarian cuisine is offered as a part of the Zen experience, but locally sourced crab and beef are also available.
Unlock Mount Koya’s nocturnal mysteries
Japanese Buddhism has many sects to explore. After sunset, you may discover untold mysteries when you explore Koyasan Okunoin cemetery by night.
Licensed English-speaking monk guides tell funny and haunting tales about Kobo Daishi (or Kukai), the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism.
Visit his grave to learn why Shingon adherents believe that Kukai has not actually left this world, but is just in a permanent state of meditation. You might even encounter flying squirrels or fireflies!
Take a temple pilgrimage tour
The spirit of Kobo Daishi, founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism at Koyasan, also lives on in the Henro, a tour of 88 temples encircling the island of Shikoku.
While the whole pilgrimage takes from one to two months, it can be distilled into a four-hour journey through sacred sites of Shikoku. This six-kilometre English-guided tour takes you to three of the Henro’s highlights: temples 49, 50 and 51.
Jodo-ji, temple number 49, features a Hondo (main hall) over 500 years old. It houses a wooden statue of a monk with six mini Amida Buddhas emanating from his mouth!
Temple 50, Hanta-ji, boasts breathtaking views of Matsuyama city, the city’s iconic castle, and the Seto Inland Sea.
Last but not least on the tour is temple number 51, Ishite-ji. Founded in 729, this is where the Henro is said to have started.
What is the most spiritual place you have ever visited? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?
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