In some of the most popular cities in Japan, it may be possible to get a unique lodging experience (shukudo) at a Japanese temple that will leave an impression for your lifetime. Although most temples don't offer lodging, some popular pilgrimage locations such as Nagano, Kyoto, Mount Mitake and Dewa Sanzan do. Why would you want to stay at a temple instead of at traditional hotels? Temples can offer an insider's view of Japanese life that visitors may never otherwise get to experience. Experiences such as morning prayers, waterfall meditation or sutra copying may be available. Usually, overnight guests have access to inner temple areas and gardens that aren't open to the general public. Some visitors have found a stay at a shukudo to be even a life-changing experience.
If you're looking for luxurious, five-star accommodations, you'll stay away from temple lodging. However, if you're looking for an authentic experience and a glimpse of how monks live, temple lodging is for you. Usually rooms are private and Japanese style with tatami mats, futons spread on the floor for sleeping and sliding doors (fusuma). However, some lodging is designed for groups, and those have common sleeping and bath areas divided by gender. Even when rooms are private, expect that bathrooms, consisting of toilets and sinks, will be shared, and that baths, segregated by gender, may be shared with monks. A few temples have rooms that are more deluxe accommodations, but they are exceptions. Those can include such amenities as en suite bathrooms and more lavish meals, and come at premium prices.
Let's take a brief overview of temple lodging. The following is general information about shukudo for potential visitors.
Prices per night range from 5,400¥ ($43.47) without meals to 15,750¥ ($126.80) with two meals, priced at the time of this article Two meals a day—typically, dinner and breakfast—are included, but they could be optional. All meals are vegetarian and feature rice, tofu and vegetables. They may be the same as the monks eat (shojin ryori), unless you're in a more hotel-like room. Some shukudo have English websites with Temple contact information (few do business in English), directions to the temple by train, bus and walking and parking availability. Check in time is usually 1500 hrs. Try to check in before 1700 hrs. so you don't miss dinner, which is served an hour later. Check out time is 1000 hrs. The total number of rooms range from 13-81 rooms Websites will give you a better idea of their venues through exterior and interior photos and sometimes even photos of the décor and food. Some include a personal narrative of an actual stay at the temple, written in English, that may include the visitors' activities at the temple and the local area and specific details about the temple accommodations, location or services.
As mentioned, temple lodging is limited and popular, so get your reservations as early as possible You can make reservations through the local tourist associations, Booking.com, JapaneseGuestHouses.com or Japanican.com. Using a website to make reservations is suggested because few shukudo handle business in English onsite. Be prepared to pay for lodging and selected experiences in cash, as that's all some temples will accept Choose the time of your visit carefully. Winters can be very cold, especially at higher elevations, and waterfall meditation is usually available only during warm weather In the winter, heat is provided by gas heaters and heated tables (kotatsu). If you are susceptible to the cold, plan your trip during the summer or bring warm clothing.
Don't expect to find TV, WiFi or other hotel-like amenities. Those are extremely rare at temples. You may find beer and wine offered at the meals, as Buddhists have no prohibition against drinking. Remember that Buddhists do not want to take the lives of animals, so naturally all meals are vegetarian.
Well, I'm out of space for this article, but next time we'll take a closer look at some of the temples that offer English websites, and I'll give you some helpful links. ‘Til then, it's been a pleasure. Thanks for coming along.Previous: Tokyo Entertainment Restaurants