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.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Japan features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

An expert's guide: the best homestays in Japan

An expert's guide: the best homestays in Japan

With a reputation for expensive hotels, Japan is the perfect place to try a homestay. There’s no better way to experience the real Japan than with a stay with…

15 Dec 2017 • Joe Minihane
All aboard: the most incredible sightseeing trains in Japan

All aboard: the most incredible sightseeing trains in Japan

None of this choo-choo stuff – Byun! Shu! are the sounds that a Japanese train makes. And while bullet trains – shinkansen – are one of the symbols of mod…

28 Nov 2017 • Neil McQuillian insert_drive_file Article
Sipping sake: a dispatch from one of Japan's oldest breweries

Sipping sake: a dispatch from one of Japan's oldest breweries

Sake is quickly replacing craft beer as the cool kid on the drinks scene globally – and a number of breweries have recently opened in the UK, USA and Austral…

10 Nov 2017 • Tamara Hinson local_activity Special feature
View more featureschevron_right