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Mitakesan Buddhist monastary

From a train to a bus to a tram car up a steep mountain incline, into a ramshackle wooden home set back off a dirt path, sat the Tendai Buddhist monastery that I would be staying the weekend.

Combining Shinto and Buddhist tenets, I ate well, relaxed, practiced concentration sessions with another five guests, all of whom were Japanese men, and, on the final morning, put on a very light robe and followed two priests and the five other guests without much understanding of where we were going.

Down a wooden path, we passed beautiful views and came to an old settling, with prayer flags, some sitting stones and a beautiful waterfall. It wasn’t more than 45 degrees. There wasn’t much speaking, and when there was, it was in fast-paced Japanese.

Finally, I watched others allow a frigid waterfall (a small tributary of the noted Tama-gawa River) wash over their mostly naked bodies with a prayer I was trying to parse. It was about spirituality and oneness with nature. I stepped up, thought of my ancestors and the beauty and nature around me. …It was also admittedly cold, but refreshing and cleansing in a remarkable way.

Mitakesan is a highlight of the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park for many who aren’t trying the religious.

I think I can already call this my favorite experience.

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