Retreating into the mountains, surrounded by nature, and solely devoting yourself to meditation and self-reflection. Sounds like a dream? Well, a temple stay offers you just that, plus a taste of traditional Japan.
Central Japan is particularly famous for its distant temples where you can stay overnight, such as those on Mount Koya, but there are some easily accessible ones in the Kanto area too. There a few points of attention before deciding whether a temple stay is something for you. First of all, some staff will only have limited English skills but their hospitality is on point regardless. Another thing to consider is that most temples only offer a stay in a shared dorm and only a few actually offer a accommodation for families. And while those point may cause some inconvenience, keep in mind that the price per night at a temple can be considerably cheaper than than many other accommodation options—plus its a unique experience that cannot be compared with a stay at a modern hotel!
Shogakuji is devoted to Soto Zen, one of the largest Japanese Buddhist sects. The temple is surrounded by mountains on all sides making it a retreat for self-reflection for many. In this quiet surreal world, practicing zazen meditation (seated meditation) falls in its place at Shogakuji. Meals are included in your stay as food plays an important role in Soto Zen training. Before enjoying the homemade shojin (vegetarian) food, you say a phrase of thanks but remain silent afterwards. Another rule is that you always hold the bowl or dish to truly feel grateful. Even cleaning your bowls is part of the meal as you clean them by using slices radish pickles with water that you drink at the end. The morning service starts at 5:00 with chanting the Heart Sutra, some more zazen practice, a sermon and finally cleaning duties.
Price: 7,000 yen per night including 2 meals
Reservation by phone: 0429-79-0235
Access: From Hanno Station on the Seibu Ikebukuro Line, take the bus to Nago bus stop. Short walk from there.
Komadori Sanso, Tokyo
Komadori Sanso is one of the most popular temple stays around Mt. Mitake for its rare takigyo practice. Takigyo, waterfall meditation, starts in the early morning after a short walk that brings you past a cedar tree that is said to have served as a seat for the Shinto god Tengu. Before starting your meditation at the Ayahiro waterfall you will be asked to purify yourself, change into a loincloth or white robe and do some exercises. The surging water helps you clear your mind of all thoughts and enjoy the unspoiled nature that changes with the seasons.
Price: 6,000 yen/night for a private room or 6,500 yen/night for a family room with shared facilities
Reservation by phone: 0428-78-8472
Access: From JR Mitake Station take the bus to Cable-Shita bus stop, then take the cable car up to Mt. Mitake
Taiyoji was one of the few temples which allowed women to partake in takigyo practice up to the Edo period. During your stay you do not only partake in services and practice zazen viewing out over the surrounding mountains and forests, but you also learn about calligraphy. At the end of the day you can enjoy some delicious shojin meals prepared by monks who received their training in Kyoto and use locally harvested ingredients.
Price: 9,000 yen/night including 2 meals
Reservation by phone: 0494-54-0296
Access: Finding your way to Taiyoji may seem a bit tricky but once you arrive at Chichibu Railway Mitsuminekuchi Station it is a 40-minute walk along a well-indicated ancient pilgrim’s path.
Opened in 1394, Saijyoji is devoted to the legendary creature Tengu. During the frequent zazen practices you can hear the sound of waterfalls in the distance. The surroundings’ tranquility is even better during autumn when the leaves change their colors. A session lasts about 40 minutes and even welcomes beginners. As is common during temple stays, the meals are shojin vegetarian meals which at Saijyoji includes a bowl of soup with three separate dishes.
Price: 5,000 yen/night including 2 meals
Reservation by phone: 0465-74-5880
Access: Head out to JR Daiyusan Station and take a bus ride to Doryoson bus stop