When my alarm woke me at 5:30 a.m. on Monday, I quickly dressed, grabbed my camera and crawled out of my capsule hotel room to meet Britnee. Together we walked to the Okunoin cemetery in Koyasan where we passed between more than 200,000 graves and monuments that filled every inch of available ground in an ancient forest of towering cedars.

Our destination was the Torodo, or Lantern Hall, that stands before the Mausoleum of Kobo Daichi, a famous Japanese monk who founded Shingon, or the “True Word” school of Buddhism. It is believed that Kobo Daichi, or Kukai as he was called in life, didn’t die but entered eternal meditation and was entombed on Mount Koya in 835.

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That morning Britnee and I watched monks ritually offer one of two daily meals to Kobo Daishi inside the beautifully decorated Torodo, surrounded by thousands of softly glowing lanterns. Sitting close by with two other local visitors, we listened as three monks chanted while a fourth performed various rites before an alter where the meal was offered. Besides the voices of the monks, it was incredibly quiet and peaceful, the only other sound being that of the waking birds high in the trees outside.

For nearly an hour we sat in silence witnessing this ancient ceremony before walking back through the emptiness of Okunoin to our guest house in Koyasan. There we sat, still quiet and contemplative, enjoying a delicious breakfast and coffee prepared by our host. “Not bad for a case of the Mondays,” I said to Britnee, realizing what day it was. It’s still something I’m getting used to as a full-time traveler–always losing track of time as I move from place to place and suddenly realizing what day it is in a new destination.

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We just passed the two-week mark on this trip, a point when we would normally be heading for home with our 10 days of vacation time exhausted. But here things are only just beginning.

While I sipped my coffee in Koyasan I remembered a remark a friend made at our going away party in the U.S. weeks ago. Having just returned from his own extended vacation to Alaska, and maybe sensing some of my own uncertainty, he said, “Just wait, about 10 days or so into it things will click and you’ll realize, ‘this is my life now, for the next year,’ and it will feel amazing.”

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“Well, today was the day it happened. Sitting amongst an ancient forest filled with tombs, listening to Buddhist monks chant on Mount Koya, it finally all sank in,” I wrote in my journal later that morning. Now more than ever I’m aware of what a blessing it is to be able to continue this journey. Our time in Japan has come to an end but instead of turning back home tomorrow we’re boarding a plane to China and I’m looking forward to more cases of the Mondays in many new places.

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Check out the full gallery of photos from Koyasan and Hiroshima.

About The Author

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Mark quit everything to travel the world for a year with his wife, Britnee. Along the way, he picked up a love for many other things, including illy coffee, Nepal, Bolivianos bills, and Thai beaches. Now happily home in Utah, Mark is a balding marketing professional with a mountain biking addiction.

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