I've only just arrived at Mount Koya and I already feel like I've cheated on my pilgrimage.

Backpack-laden foreigners are mingling with Japanese pilgrims sporting walking sticks and conical hats in the town's snowy train station parking area. But my stalwart travel companion, Felicity, and I slowly roll by them in our comfortably heated car, having driven 90 minutes from Ikoma to Mount Koya, Wakayama Prefecture.

I'm not entirely sad to be arriving "in style." The temperature outside is barely topping the freezing mark and the previous night's snow still lies thick on the temple roofs and sidewalks. While I've long wanted to make this trip — and even imagined the beauty of seeing Mount Koya in winter — my fingers are already losing circulation just at the chilly sight.