Japan // Kyoto & Nara //

Marathon monks


Followers of the Buddhist Tendai sect believe that the route to enlightenment lies through chanting, esoteric ritual and extreme physical endurance. The most rigorous of these practices is the “thousand-day ascetic mountain pilgrimage”, in which marathon monks, as they’re popularly known, are required to walk 40,000km through the mountains and streets of Kyoto in a thousand days – the equivalent of nearly a thousand marathons. The thousand days are split into hundred-day periods over seven years; during each period the monk has to go out every day in all weathers, regardless of his physical condition. He must adhere to a strict vegetarian diet and, at one point during the seven years, go on a week-long fast with no food, water or sleep, just for good measure.

Not surprisingly, many monks don’t make it – in the old days they were expected to commit ritual suicide if they had to give up. Those that do finish (nowadays, about one person every five years) are rewarded with enlightenment and become “living Buddhas”. Apparently, the advice of modern marathon monks is much sought after by national baseball coaches and others involved in endurance training.

Read More

Travel Offers

20% off ebooks

Subscribe to the Rough Guides newsletter and get 20% off any ebook.

Join over 50,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month.