Are you bored with the standard travelling experience? Are you bored of regular hotels? Would you like to experience something different and memorable during your travels? If you are planning to explore Japan, then try the shukubo!
Shukubo means staying overnight in a temple, typically a Buddhist temple. In the beginning, staying overnight in a temple is done by pilgrims who are going through a spiritual trip.
That’s why some temples – especially those that are popular for spiritual destinations – often provides a place to stay for their guests. Nowadays, more and more temples around Japan are open for the public tourists, and anyone can do shukubo.
Don’t you want to know more about shukubo? Of all temples in Japan, shukubo in Koya-san (or Koya Mountain) is believed to give you the best spiritual experience. Koya-san is a mountain in the Wakayama prefecture and it’s the center of an important Buddhist sect in Japan, the Shingon Buddhism.
The sect was formed in the 805 by Kobo Daishi (or Kukai), one of the most influential religious figures in Japan. In the beginning, there is only one temple build by Kobo Daishi on this mountain.
Nowadays, there are dozens of other temples surrounding this temple as well as Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum. Koya-san is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range” in 2004, which proves how special this place is.
There are several reasons why shukubo at Koya-san is the best in Japan.
First, because Koya-san itself is a site for spiritual pilgrimage. Therefore, it has a stronger spiritual atmosphere compared to other places. This is perfect for anyone who is looking for an inner enlightenment and tranquility during your visit to Japan.
Second, Koy-san is indeed a favorite destination for shukubo, so the Buddhist priests are relatively used to dealing with travelers and all of their culture shock.
Third, the temples in Koya-san are equipped to welcome foreign travelers who are interested in shukubo. More and more temples are offering online reservations who those who would like to do shukubo, and some do accept reservation through international booking sites like Agoda.
Well, for all of you who are looking for a spiritual trip experience in Japan, try considering Koya-san as your destination. There’s no harm in running away from the hectic metropolitan life like Tokyo and Osaka. In fact, after shukubo, you might even feel refreshed and find a cooler, different way to look at the world and life. Don’t you agree?
Let’s check out some temples in Koya-san that are available for bookings through international booking sites:
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1. Kongo Sanmai-in, A Temple with Kamakura Architectural Style that Welcomes You to Koya-san.
Of all temples in Koya-san, Kongo Sanmai-in is the most unique. This is due to its Kamakura period (1185-1333) architectural style, and not a lot of temples in Koya-san bears the Kamakura style.
It’s not a wonder that Kongo Sanmai-in has such a strong Kamakura style-architecture. This temple was built in 1223 in memory of Minamoto no Yoritomo, an influential general in his day.
The person who initiates it is the wife of Minamoto no Yoritomo, one of the most influential female figures in Japanese history, Hojo Masako. Other versions claim that the temple was build in memory of Hojo Masako’s son, Minamoto no Sanetomo, the third shogun of Kamakura period. This is the ambience of the temple:
Kongo Sanmai-in regularly takes in shukubo guests. Each guest may stay in a room with tatami floor, at 6-8 tatamis wide or 8-10 tatamis wide, and several rooms have a view facing each other. Of course, since this is a temple, there is no entertainment offered here. However, you can pay extra to participate in their activity packages, such as calligraphy, morning prayers, meditation and several other religious activities.
FYI, one of the best times to stay at Kongo Sanmai-in is in the end of April – beginning of May. During that time, the Syakunage flowers (Rhododendron) surrounding the temple will bloom, and the temple will look festive with its pretty pink flowers.
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2. After Centuries Being Known as the Temple of the Emperor’s Family, Now You Too Can Stay at Koyasan Fudoin
Fudoin is one of the 12 temples built by a high priest called Saiko in 906. This temple plays an important role for the Japanese royal family in the past, because it was the main temple for Yamashina family, a line of the Japanese royal family. The empress of Emperor Toba, Bifukumonin, was even buried in this temple.
At the moment, Fudoin is quite active in welcoming travelers who are interested in shukubo. At the temple, travelers can do many activities (some of them are subject to extra charge), such as the morning prayer, calligraphy and Ajikan.
Ajikan is a meditation technique developed by Kobo Daishi. By performing ajikan, guests are invited to look into their own self, to feel the presence of Buddha, and finally to find their inner peace. For all of you who are getting tired of your daily lives, maybe it’s time to try shukubo at Fudoin and find you rinner peace here.
Are you curious what kind of facilities are available at Fudoin? Check out these pictures:
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3. Houzenin, A Temple with a Two-Star Hotel Amenities.
Another temple in Koya-san is friendly with foreign travelers is the Houzenin Temple. Friendly here means you may find it at many international booking sites, so you do not need to go through the hassle of making phone reservation or going through their official website that is only available in Japanese.
Houzenin has 20 guest rooms, 1 large hall, 2 medium halls, and all of them can fit up to 60 individual guests or 100 guests (if you book as group). All guests will stay overnight in a room with tatami, and the rates include breakfast. You can check out the ambience of this temple in the following pictures:
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4. Located Across Danjo Garan is the Saizen-in Temple with Its Legendary Garden.
According to history, Kobo Daishi is the first Buddhist priest who built a temple in Koya-san. The first temple built by Kobo Daishi is the Danjo Garan. Afterwards, hundreds of temples were built around Danjo Garan, which leads Koya-san into a main spiritual destination in Japan.
One of the temples near Danjo Garan that offers shukubo is the Saizenin Temple. It is located right across of the Danjo Garan Temple, so you can say that Saizenin is quite conveniently located.
Other than that, Saizenin offers some interesting elements. Saizenin has a room donated by the founder of Panasonic, Konosuke Matsushita (1894-1989), and he wrote 44 books in that room. This temple also bears a garden designed by a well-known landscape architect, Shigemori Mirei (1896-1975).
Sainzen-in has 28 guest rooms, 1 large hall and 1 medium hall that fits 70 individual guests or 120 guests (if you book as a group).
All guests will not only be served a vegetarian menu, but they can also participate in morning prayers at the hondo (the main hall of the temple), listen to morning sermons and walk around the garden. Appearance of the bedroom and other amenities are as below:
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5. At Fukuchiin Temple, You Can Experience Shukubo and Spa in One Spot!
In Koya-san, there are approximately 50 temples that offer shukubo. Of the dozens of temples, Fukuchiin might steal your attention because it offers a relatively rare facility (for a temple, especially in Koya-san): a spa and an outdoor onsen. Hmm, isn’t that great?
Aside from their onsen, Fukuchiin is also known for their amenities. The temple has a banquet room, conference room, gallery, main lobby, and a coffee shop! Wow, is this a temple or a hotel? And even more exciting, this temple has several gorgeous gardens. You can enjoy a view of the garden while talking a walk, or perhaps simply immersing in it from afar while sipping a cup of coffee or hot tea.
Compared to other temples, Fukuchiin makes an effort in managing shokubo as a tourist attraction. That’s why they offer several types of rooms to choose from. They offer the standard rooms, rooms with a view of the garden, and rooms with a private bathroom. They look pretty much like this:
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6. Can’t Stay Away from the Internet? No Doubt the Ekoin Temple will be Your Favorite!
Shukubo signifies a ritual, the search of enlightenment and the exploration of tranquility. However, you may not necessarily have to get away from all worldly things, such as the internet.
Take the Ekoin Temple for an example. This over-1000-years-old temple may be a favorite among modern life lovers, because they provide a specific spot to access the internet. Isn’t that neat?
Aside from the internet corner, Ekoin Temple also offers a variety of activities you can participate in. They include morning prayers, silk painting, meditation and many more.
For extra charge and by reservation, you may also request for a specific prayer, either for a deceased family member, for your safety, for your wealth, etc. The temple has a library and a quite large joint bath house.
The amenities in the temple is quite attractive too, especially for a temple. The rooms are relatively bigger compared to other temples, and they are comfortable. The room rates include dinner and breakfast, so it is considerably economical. These are the rooms:
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7. Don’t Forget to Check out the Yochi-in Temple, a Temple Built by A Prince Nearly 1000 Years Ago.
Yochi-an is an old temple in Koya-san. It was built in 1127, which means it’s almost 1000 years old. The initiator is a prince named Kakuho, who is the fourth son of Emperor Shirakawa. Even though it is built by a royalty, this temple is open to anyone. So do not hesitate to visit it!
Yochi-in is one of the temples in Koya-san that takes specific effort to target foreign travelers who would love to experience shukubo. It is easier to reserve a shukubo experience at the Yochi-in Temple as it is available on many international booking sites.
And, even though the local priests do not speak much English, all guests can find a brochure and directions in English, and this helps guests to understand the ritual in the temple.
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Access to Koya-san:
The easiest way to access Koya-san is through Namba Station or Shin-Imamiya Station in Osaka. Here are the shortest route to reach Koya-san from Namba Station or Shin-Imamiya Station:
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