Welcome fellow Japanophiles, whether you're already immersed in the culture, just getting your first taste or simply curious. We'll continue our discussion about Japan's temple lodging (shukubo) with a brief description of the locations that have English websites. I've included the website links so you can see the full descriptions and some photos as well. Prices in dollars are rounded up and subject to change. You might want to plan your temple stay, whether real or in your imagination. With a nod to Roy Rodgers, "Happy trails to you."
With only 13 rooms at this shukubo, advanced planning and reservations are necessities. The average cost of accommodations is 8,500¥ ($69), including two meals (naorai) that symbolically bring men and gods together. This shukudo looks like a regular inn, except for the shrine within. At check in, you'll be given a wooden board to write your name on. That board will be ceremoniously burned amid much conch horn blowing, drumming and prayers for your family in a fire ceremony. Intrepid travelers could arrange a walking tour and mountain worship of the three sacred mountains of Dewa that represent birth, death and rebirth where there are sacred places so secret that no photography is allowed.
Nata-dera temple has many caves, which are symbols of the womb. Believers enter the caves, meditate and emerge cleansed in a what seems to me to be a symbolic rebirthing ritual. Ikumo, the temple's shukubo, is located on Mount Engyo, which has long views of the Japan Sea, Kaga Plain and sacred Mount Hakusan. Harmony is central to this temple, and Ikumo practices what it preaches with an interesting mix of the ancient and modern through their use of eco harmonious solar energy and advanced water and recycling technology. At Ikumo, you can experience musical meditation, sutra copying (shakyo) and a Shinto fire ceremony, this version where people write their wishes on tags that are burned, and the smoke carries their wishes straight to the gods. It couldn't hurt, and it may help, right?
Staying at the Hongan-ji costs from 6,300¥ ($57) without meals to a range of 9,450¥ ($51) to 11,500¥ ($93) with two meals. Hongan-ji represents Rinzai Zen Buddhism as well as being the name of particular temples, including this one—the head temple of about a 3,500 Japanese temple complex, including a few in other countries. Approaching the temple, you'll first notice the giant Founder's Hall Gate, one of the world's largest wooden structures, which survived since the late 1800s. When you get inside, you'll think that you're in a modern hotel with large guest rooms in either Western or Japanese style with amenities such as TV, AC, a safe, refrigerator and the rare en suite bathroom. If you choose a dinner plan, you'll have a Kaiseki style dinner (http://www.japaneseguesthouses.com/japanese-kaiseki/) and a buffet breakfast. Guests are welcome to listen to the twice-daily sermons and participate in the morning services. So, if you're worried about jumping into a temple lodging experience with both feet, you can get your feet wet a little bit at a time at this shukubo.
The Daishin-in shukubo has only 10 rooms that house a maximum of 50 guests, but the cost is a reasonable 4,700¥ ($38), including breakfast. You won't starve in the evening; there are many restaurants around the area for dinner. Say, you didn't expect two meals at this price, did you? Myoshin-ji is a part of the same temple complex as the Hongan-ji and is the head temple of the Rinzai Zen Buddhism. Guest rooms have air conditioning and kotatsu heaters. Screens separate the rooms and bathrooms are shared. Morning services are long—very long—with a sermon paused for the group to chant the Heart Sutra. You do know that one, right? I suspect that one side benefit of the chanting intermission is to ensure that everyone is awake for the second half of the sermon, but that's just my practical side speaking.
This shukubo is one of the largest with 81 guest rooms for a maximum of 220 people. If you're looking for religious services in addition to a place to stay, this one is not for you, for they only offer accommodations at 6,500¥ ($52) per night. However, those accommodations are more like a hotel than most, complete with private baths.
Muryoki-in is a ryokan-style of temple lodging with 30 large rooms, several meal plans (and you can eat meals in your room!) and amenities such as a bottomless pot of tea that you can sip while wearing the provided yakuta robe and surf the web using their WiFi, which to many of us could qualify this as a true temple of the gods. OK, it may not be comfortable in the dead of winter, where portable heaters located only in the rooms can't defeat the bitter chill enough to permit comfortable bathing elsewhere. And, yes, the walls are not only thin screens between rooms; they do not reach all the way to the top, so privacy is non-existent. I guess you could embrace this as an ascetic experience. When "your" monks come in, carefully prepare your bed and you survive the night in relative comfort, you'll have a chance to take in the 6 a.m. morning services. You're really lucky at this shukubo, because a polyglot scholar monk likely will translate the service into English and Chinese. The morning service may feature a ritual dedication of a cup of water to the Kobo Daishi statue of a founder of Japanese esoteric Buddhism. Ask about their fire ceremony, too.
Rengezyo-in, with 46 guest rooms limited to 200 people, is particularly popular with English speaking tourists, as are the other shukubo at Mount Koya. The head monk here speaks English and gives the morning service in English. The young high school and university monks speak English, also, which probably gets better the more time they interact with those guests, a win-win situation, indeed. It costs 9,400¥ ($76) to stay in this welcoming environment where you're surrounded by history. Yukimura Sanda lived here with his family. He was an important warrior in turning-point battles in the area. The shukubo honors his memory by displaying his family crest on lanterns and elsewhere and preserving his upstairs room and belongings, which guests are allowed to view. Although the amenities at Rengezyo-in are very similar to that of others, the history that is represented there and the English-friendly atmosphere lures many visitors, so be sure to book early.
Staying at the Yochi-in, the shukubo of the temple of the influential Takeda family, will cost 6,500¥ without meals or 11,000¥ for two modest meals—vegetarian, of course. The (up to 80) guests eat together in a tatami room and can order sake or beer with lunch. Reservations can be made for copying sutra (shakyo) and copying images of Buddha (shabatsu). Short morning services when monks chant a sutra begin at 6:30 a.m., and guests can offer incense.
To stay here without meals is only 5,400¥ ($44), or with two meals 8,600¥ ($70). This temple offers Takigyo in good weather at an additional current cost of 7,000¥ ($57), which is a kind of ascetic training cum waterfall meditation that I previously described in excruciating detail that some enthusiasts swear enhances their energy. At this shukubo, guests can choose between a Western and Japanese breakfast. The inn's shrine is minutes away. Hint: The view from the Bupposo room, which is the best at the inn and a bit pricier, is priceless.
When you stay at this shukubo, you're in the midst of history. That's a recurring theme, isn't it? It's in Yoshino, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The temple itself is the founding training hall (dojo) of the Shugendo religion. The cost of staying here is on the higher end of the range: with two meals, you'll pay 13,000-15,750¥ ($73-$127) for one of the 55 guest rooms. Gardens surround this luxurious shukubo. Men and women alternate days relaxing in the two communal baths with different views, which, given that women are from Venus and men are from Mars…or is it the other way around...whatever, that explains a lot.
Historic Katsuou-ji, is nestled in peaceful Mino Park, which is replete with waterfalls, museums and several other temples. Katsuou-ji, founded in 727, is well known for good fortune in battle, so it was where many famous warriors came to pray for supremacy in battle. The shukubo now offers 20 guest rooms for up to 250 people and especially appeals to those who want a quiet place for meditation and contemplation amidst a beautiful natural setting. That must be at least one good reason to pay 9,000¥ ($73 without meals) for the privilege of staying overnight.
Confession time. The really difficult part about writing about Japan is that now I can't wait to get on the road again. BTW, here are the booking sites again: local tourist associations, JapaneseGuestHouses.com, Booking.com, or Japanican.com. Won't you join us next time to check out some more unusual Japanese lodging experiences? See you then.Previous: Japanese Temple Lodging: Shukudo