If it has been your 4th or 5th trip to Japan, business hotels get too clinical and ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) get too common. What is a seasoned traveller to do? One option that is getting popular is temple lodging, or shukubo, where you get to experience zen living for your stay in Japan.
There are several areas where shukubo lodging is available, with one of the most popular areas being Mount Koya area, near Kyoto in West Japan. Mount Koya is home to a famous historical Buddhist monastic area, populated by a Buddhist sect called the Koyasan sect of Shingon Buddhism. Temples make up the area called Danjo Garan, and a handful of these temples allow for overnight stays from guests who come to Mount Koya.
There is some common etiquette to follow when staying in a shukubo, which is stricter than hotel etiquette and also ryokan etiquette. This is expected since it is also the living quarters of monks, and we have to follow rules that do not interrupt their daily routines and damage the sacred atmosphere of these temples. Here are some points to take note of before you book your trip to a shukubo:
Early rising and early nights: Monks wake up early to do their one-hour ceremony every day and also retire early in the night. Temples do offer guests the experience of the one-hour ceremonies though it is rarely compulsory. In any case, you may be awaken from the sounds of the procedures in the early morning. Breakfasts are also served before 9 am. Likewise, gates to the temple are usually closed before 10 pm.
Quiet atmosphere: Because temples are sacred grounds, loud noises that disrupt the calm environment are strictly prohibited. This means no parties or loud chatting, especially at night. Many temples also do not provide amenities like television sets to preserve the quietness of the area. It is a great opportunity to unwind and tune out of the constant buzz of busy modern life.
Vegetarian food: Buddhist monks are strict vegetarians, and will prepare only vegetarian food for their guests known as shojin-ryori. For those who swear by meat, there may be some adjusting that you need to do. However, Japanese temples have a good overall reputation for very delicious and clean-tasting dishes, a lot of it based on tofu skin.