Outsiders

Exploring the ‘women’s pilgrims route’ outside Koyasan, Japan, where women were forbidden for centuries

A temple in Koyasan in Koya, Wakayama prefecture (REUTERS/Hideyuki Sano)

Tracing the perimeter of Koyasan, the mountaintop temple complex that serves as the headquarters of Shingon Buddhism in Japan, is a “women pilgrims route” where female adherents, forbidden from treading on the holy land itself, were permitted to make their offerings.

For more than a thousand years, women were denied access to Koyasan – until 1872, when the Meiji government determined that Buddhist monks should be allowed to marry and have children. Today, women are allowed to take one of the seven UNESCO-listed Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails to Koyasan. But some still opt to take the women’s trail — a 2.5-hour hike through the forest that starts in the final surviving “women’s hall” for female pilgrims, passes by all seven of Koyasan’s traditional entrances, and ends at Okunoin, the cemetery that houses Koyasan founder Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum.

For modern visitors, the trip is a beautiful alternative to the traditional pilgrimage trails — and an homage to the women pilgrims who were forced to the periphery.

Watch video of the journey below.

Read the full story at CNN.

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