“Searching for a natural high in the mountains of Japan”

VICE’s Fernando Perez has long been fascinated by Shugendo: an ancient Japanese spiritual practice centered on finding enlightenment through nature. The monks who follow it are known to wander through the forests of Japan for months on end, meditate under freezing waterfalls, and stand on the edge of towering cliffs—all in an effort to bring themselves closer to enlightenment.

Determined to learn more about Shugendo himself, Perez trekked to Japan to train with a handful of monks who practice it. They led him in morning prayers, doused him with ice-cold water, and took him on a journey through the mountains of Japan. Along the way, Perez began to feel like the practice could gave him a natural high—making him energized, keeping him focused, and heightening his senses in a way he’d never experienced.

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