Source: Gaijin Pot
As soon as the water hit my head, I gasped for air in a panic. Closing my eyes tightly and taking deep breaths, my heartbeat slowed and everything else ceased to exist—there was only me and the water.
Jumping into a freezing cold waterfall isn’t really my idea of fun, but it’s what I signed up for when I decided to train as a yamabushi (mountain monk) in Yamagata Prefecture. Waterfall meditation is one of the practices they believe will guide them towards enlightenment.
The yamabushi use their natural surroundings—forceful rivers pumping life into everything around them and mountains stretching towards the gods—to elevate themselves to a higher understanding of self. They become one with nature.
Ever since coming face to face with the self-mummified monks at five temples across Yamagata, I’ve been spellbound by the area and wanting to return.
My second trip to this northeastern prefecture took me on a voyage filled with lots of sake, a boisterous cabaret club, and a date with fugu (highly-poisonous pufferfish). The Hidden Japan, a company working to promote tourism in Yamagata, led the way.
Spoiler alert: the fugu, which was damn delicious, didn’t kill me but I did experience a symbolic death and rebirth amongst the mountains.
The transformation into a Yamabushi mountain monk
My journey began in isolation at the rustic Miyatabo lodge tucked in the mountains of Shonai—an area made up of two small Yamagata cities, Tsuruoka and Sakata.
The lodge, where the monks stay during their …continue reading