At Tokyo's famous Mt. Takao, get a look into Japanese Buddhism by observing a ‘goma’ fire ritual and enjoying an exquisite ‘shojin-ryori’ meal, prepared and arranged in a way that reflects the Buddhist ideal of honoring life and nature.
Mt. Takao is a popular day-trip destination for Tokyoites, great not only for hiking, but also for getting a closer look into Japanese culture. Meet your guide at Takaosanguchi Station, then take a cable car up Mt. Takao. You’ll alight near the summit and walk to Yakuo-in, a Shingon Buddhist temple, where you’ll observe ‘goma,’ a fire ritual presided over by a priest. During the ritual, the priest will cast your prayer sticks into a fire, so that everyone’s prayers are purified and lifted to the heavens. This fire ritual is an intimate look into Japanese spirituality — participating in it is a rare opportunity, even for Japanese! After the goma ritual, you’ll receive lucky souvenirs: ‘gomafuda,’ wooden tablets that are considered to be embodiments of Izuna Daigongen, the principal deity enshrined at Yakuo-in. Then, your guide will tour you around the temple, and give you insight on the best ways to spend your time in the area. Yakuo-in was founded in 744 on imperial orders, as a base for Buddhism in eastern Japan. Today it is one of the three head temples of a Shingon Buddhist sect called Chisan-ha, and is the central training center in the Kanto region for Shugendo ascetic practice. Afterward, you’ll have lunch in a tatami room — you’ll be served a shojin-ryori course meal. ‘Shojin-ryori’ is Japanese-style Buddhist vegetarian cuisine; it reflects the Buddhist ideal that life should be venerated, and that nature should be used in ways that bring out its bounty and beauty. After lunch, you’ll have some free time. Buy charms and souvenirs if you like, and take photos! Then, walk back to the cable car Takaosan Station, where your tour ends. This only-in-Japan experience is a perfect way to be introduced to Japanese culture!