The Best Temple Stays in Japan
Japan 21.05.2015 Transindus
Visiting temples is one of the main activities that people wish to do when they visit Japan, but there are opportunities to have a more extended experience of these sacred places. This can be achieved through shukubo, which are temple lodgings where visitors can learn much more about the life of a monk by spending a period of time living it.
As well as enjoying the peace and serenity of these incredible places once the tourists have left, guests eat the same vegetarian meals as the monks and rise early for the daily meditation and chanting sessions.
One of the best places to stay in a shukubo is Mount Koya, otherwise known as Koyasan. This temple town has grown from one, which was founded around 1,200 years ago, to encompass more than 100 and is an important centre for Buddhism in Japan.
There are many temples on Mount Koya that offer shukubo, but they all require travelling the 800 metres up the hill by cable car to reach the pilgrimage site. This ascent is like venturing into a different world and can lead to one of the most rewarding experiences of an entire trip to Japan.
The site of Mount Osore, or Osorezan as it is often referred to, was chosen as a sacred place some 1,000 years ago due to the mountain resembling the world of the Buddha. It is an incredible place to visit due to the high level of volcanic activity, which has left the ground grey, with air vents and bubbles coming out of the earth. This contrasts with Lake Usori, which has a high sulphur content, making the water a vibrant blue.
It is not surprising that the area is considered to be the entrance to the afterlife and the bereaved come on pilgrimages to the site in a bid to communicate with the dead. The Bodaiji temple has fascinating grounds, so staying at the shukubo here is particularly unique and comes with the opportunity to bath in the hot springs or onsen close by.
The whole of Mount Hiei, or Hieizan, has become a temple complex, with more than 200 towers covering the area. It was first established in 788 by Saicho, who founded the Tendai sect and has since become known as the most important place for Buddhism in Japan. This is reflected in its status as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.
Hieizan is split into three main areas - the East Tower, the West Tower and the Yokogawa River - with several options for shukubo. Shukubo Enryaku-ji Kaikan is near the East Tower, which has a prominent role in life on the mountain, making it a good option. Services are held in the Konponchudo Hall each morning, where the Kiezu-no-Tomoshibi or Eternal Light has been burning for 1,200 years.