“Do you know what shape your mind is?” a monk by the name of Nobuhiro Tamura asks. We’re standing late one autumn night in Okunoin, a thousand-year-old cemetery in Koyasan, the center of Shingon Buddhism. This major sect believes the secrets of life are found through meditation and, in a few, choice words, Nobu has given us a lot to ponder below 600-year-old cedars that scrape together high above this otherworldly setting. A jovial monk, he doesn’t wait for an answer. Our mind, Nobu says, is the shape of the moon. Like the lunar orb, it’s in constant flux. Full one day, ebbing a week later. Yet, wherever we find ourselves in that cycle, eventually, just like the moon, our minds will be full again. These are brain-bending thoughts, surrounded as we are by centuries of Japanese history condensed into more than 200,000 moss-covered markers, tombstones and mausoleums, the immortal remains of once-powerful shoguns, a handful of emperors and, most importantly, Kukai, Shingon’s founder, who is widely seen as the father of Japanese culture.

– Chris Kucway, Editor-in-Chief, Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia

Influenced by religion, history and nature, Japan’s Kumano Kodo pilgrimage is more than a trek through sacred mountains. It’s a puzzle that leads you back to yourself with every carefully chosen step. See my cover feature and read about my experience hiking the ancient Kumano Kodo in Travel + Leisure magazine.