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Escaping to a Secluded Mountain Temple

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In my 7 years of travelling Japan, I’ve been fortunate to visit 40 of the country’s 47 prefectures, travelling from freezing Hokkaido to the turquoise seas that lap the shores of Okinawa. These are the memories, moments and experiences that I frequently find myself going back to; the ones that put a smile on a face that is typically riddled with cynicism and despair. Hopefully they’ll give you some fresh ideas and inspire you to go off the beaten path and experience Japan your own way. Memories travelling Japan is an ongoing series.

Escaping to a Secluded Mountain Temple | Mount Haguro, Yamagata

In a world where switching off is all but impossible, sometimes we need to retreat to a secluded mountain temple and pretend like we’re in the movie “Batman Begins”. (The bit where Batman is training in Bhutan. Not the bit in Gotham City).

And if you were to do that, there’s no better place than Mount Haguro in Yamagata, where for hundreds of years Yamabushi Monks have practiced the ruthless art of self discipline, meditating in silence - often for days at a time.

I’d visited Mount Haguro on dozens of occasions as I had the very good fortune of working just 45 minutes away, for the three years I was an English teacher. I quickly discovered that Haguro is the place to go to if you want to feel like you’ve stepped into a Hayao Miyazaki movie. Or at the very least, to impress your friends by showing them “the real Japan”. (Sarcastic undertones aside, I genuinely mean that).

As you descend down the steps into the dense and luscious forest at the base of Mount Haguro (414m), across red lacquer bridges and majestic gushing waterfalls, you emerge into a clearing with a towering Five Storey Pagoda, which has stood for hundreds of years and has been designated as a national treasure.

If you’re brave and fit enough, you may even climb the 2,446 stone stairs to the summit, where Japan’s largest thatched roof awaits you; a sprawling secluded temple that’ll make you feel a sense of awe and wonder so spectacular, you’ll forget to look at the notifications on your phone for the rest of the day.

After being burnt out after a hectic year, Ryotaro signed me up for a cwalking meditation session, where we adorned pure white robes and trudged through the snow in silence for a few hours, as the Yamabushi Monk guided us over bridges and through trees, all the while with the snow falling peacefully around us.

It may sound like a bit of fun, but it’s no gimmick. The Yamabushi Monks feel a strong connection with nature, eating only Vegan foods sourced from the very mountain we found ourselves on and showing a level of appreciation for their surroundings that was remarkable to witness.

At the end of our journey, despite my feet being almost frozen solid in the traditional wooden sandals, I realised that for the entirety of our two hour meditation session through the forest, for the first time in a long time I’d found myself truly in the moment.

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