On the Mountain Trails of Japan, a Buddhist Monk Runs Towards Clarity
For Yukai Shimizu, a spiritual practice and running routine are in lock-step, one enriching the other.
Moving Mountains is a series about athletes persevering to find personal meaning in sport.
The people who see Yukai Shimizu in the streets of Nagano know him as two things: the friendly runner who greets them every morning, and the monk at their local Zenkoji Temple. And while some are surprised to hear that he is in fact both a devout monk and a devoted runner, Yukai sees these two parts of his life as deeply complementary.
"For me as a monk, to run is to live in the moment".
Yukai's reasons for running are important. His role as a monk often involves advising community members who are experiencing hardship, a responsibility that weighs heavily upon his shoulders. While he sometimes questions whether he is worthy of this position, running gives him the space to centre and enrich his sense of self. "Some carry problems that are difficult to resolve", Yukai says. "If my heart is fulfilled, I can provide them the opportunity to accept their own grief or face their own difficulties". As Yukai uses his runs to grapple with his own self-doubt, his experience helps others conquer theirs.
For Yukai, running is also a way for him to maintain his deep connection to the natural world. His routes—picturesque running trails through the mountains of Nagano—are stunning. And every single time he reaches the summit, he lets himself become awed by its grandeur. "By running, I get to see the most beautiful scenery in the world", he says.
"By running, I get to see the most beautiful scenery in the world".
Now 46, Yukai continues to run every day so he can enjoy and appreciate the things he likes to do most. Spending time around the table with family. Drinking a beer while watching a game. Being fully present. "For me as a monk, to run is to live in the moment. That itself is a teaching of Buddhism, and it has a positive effect on me".
In the film above, Yukai shares his story, and shows how running and the pursuit of spiritual clarity really aren't that different at all.
Words: Nickolaus Sugai
Photography: Will Goodan
Film: Mackenzie Sheppard
Reported: October 2020