Japan has an almost-endless list of spectacular tourist attractions.
From ancient ruins to cutting edge modernity, from Mount Fuji to the Tokyo Skytree – there is something for the city lover and the free spirit.
But for some tourists, the main attraction are temples filled with mummified monks who embarked on a gruelling spiritual and physical journey to achieve Nirvana.
As reported by News.com.au, there are 16 Sokushinbutsu monks that can be viewed by travellers in historic temples scattered around northern Japan.
These monks followed Shugendo, which is an ancient form of Buddhism. They tried to copy a ninth-century monk named Kukai, who entered into a state of "suspended animation" when he died.
His followers claim that he will emerge 5 million years after he was buried, having cheated death.
To achieve their final state, of being mummified and worshipped, the followers would have to be prepared to give up nearly every pleasure on earth.
Their journey begins with a three-year diet of nothing but nuts and seeds, whilst simultaneously exercising to strip them of their body fat.
As reported in Atlas Obscura: “They then ate only bark and roots for another three years and began drinking a poisonous tea made from the sap of the urushi tree, normally used to lacquer bowls (its bark contains the same toxic compound that makes poison ivy so poisonous).
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“This caused vomiting and a rapid loss of bodily fluids, and – most importantly – it killed off any maggots and parasites that might cause the body to decay after death.”
After their three-year diet they could move into the second phase – but for some it took much, much longer.
One monk is said to have spent 20-years eating nothing but bark in a bid to ready himself.
After that, they cut out all food and drink. They survive only on a tiny amount of salinized water, and spend 100 days meditating whilst waiting to die.
When the time neared, their followers would lower them into a pit three metres deep and bury them alive.
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Meanwhile, the dying monk would stay perfectly still, and meditate on his back, as he was covered in charcoal.
He would be put into a pine box in a hole three metres deep, with nothing but a thin bamboo air tube.
He had a bell to ring to let his disciples know he was alive.
When the ringing stopped, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed.
If they had carried the ritual successfully, when their tombs were finally opened again their bodies would have been mummified.
They were pulled from their graves and made into statues of Buddha, with their corpses on display to this day.
But for some, their bodies had rotten away and decomposed.
After all their time dedicated to their journey, it ended with them resealed in their coffins. They were not worshipped.
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