Shugendo is one of Japan’s ancient religions and as an ascetic religion based on mountain worship, the mountains are considered to be the training ground.  It began some 1300 years ago and integrates the teachings of ancient Shinto, Buddhism and Chinese Taoism. Mountain priests or monks engage in both spiritual and physical disciplines such as sitting under cold mountain waterfalls, mountain treks, fasting, and meditation. Experiencing these hardships enables them to develop spiritual powers. Shugendo stresses physical endurance as the path to enlightenment.

On this Trek a monk who is a Shugendo practitioner takes people on a 12km walking and hiking tour. The trek does not include difficult mountain climbs but instead covers a long stretch of walking, hiking and meditation.

The activity starts at the information center in Hidakamura and walks through Gokokuji temple where the monk resides. After taking a rest at the temple, the trek climbs Mt. Otaki where mountain monks used to train. This climb is suited for families including children. The monk is an experienced and friendly guide and will provide interesting regional stories and explain why he lives in the area and how he became a monk.

The top of the mountain provides a perfect venue for lunch, which includes a specially prepared lunchbox of locally grown vegetables and the famous Inaka-zushi that we featured in a recent article.

After lunch, a short trek is made to the next spot, Saruda Cave, which is about 1.5kms in length. The cave was the training ground for the famous Ninja Kusaka Mohei, who during the Edo period supposedly stole large amounts of gold and rice, amassing a fortune to give away to the poor. He was eventually caught, and legend has it that at the moment of his execution, he turned himself into a rat and escaped. Hence, he is beloved by the local people.

The trek within the cave takes about 30 minutes and once in the middle of the cave, your guide will turn off the lights so that you can experience meditation in complete darkness as the monks did during training. This cave was the perfect hiding spot for Ninja who used the resident bats as a warning sign of any approaching intruders. This is the exact same spot that the legendary Kusaka Mohei trained hundreds of years ago is truly a place to immerse oneself and escape from life’s everyday norms. Helmets and gloves are provided for this part of the trek.

After exiting the cave, there is a 4km walk back to the departure point, Hidaka Village Tourist Information Center.

Religious tours or treks in Japan have become popular in the past few years and we feel that post COVID it’s a wonderful way to reflect upon oneself and forget about the experiences of the past couple of years.

For further details on this tour and bookings please contact Japan Holidays.