When I visited Koyasan in Wakayama prefecture last year, I spent two nights at a Shukubo Temple Lodge – one of the 52 temple accommodation options in the town. The temple lodgings, run by Buddhist monks, allows you the opportunity to get a glimpse into temple life by dining on their unique and divinely delicious vegetarian cuisine (shojin-ryori) and witness the early morning meditations and Goma fire ritual.
Spoilt for choice, I chose my temple lodge based on its central location and if it did the fire ritual, as I have heard that some of them do not have the facilities to do one. I ended up on Booking.com and secured my Japanese-style room at Kumagaiji. I highly recommend this temple lodge as it only has a few rooms and during my stay I only ever saw the other guests at the morning meditations – I even managed to have the public bath to myself on both nights!
Vegetarian Cuisine and Sesame Tofu
Koyasan has distinctly unique dishes such as their traditional vegetarian cuisine (shojin-ryori) and their sesame tofu (goma-dofu). Fortunately, if you stay at a temple lodge then you will get to taste these amazing dishes for breakfast and dinner.
Morning Meditations and the Goma Fire Ritual
As part of the stay at a temple lodge, you get to wake up at around 5:30am to join the monks with their meditations. Waking up that early might sound like a mission, especially when on a break away from work, but it is an experience not to be missed.
After the meditations you are led outside the lodge to where they do the Goma fire ritual. The ritual is very symbolic as the fire represents the wisdom of Buddha, while the sticks that are used to fuel the fire represent human desires, or the root of suffering. So during the ritual Buddha’s wisdom (the fire) destroys the suffering of humans (the sticks) while prayers are made for wishes to come true.
Koyasan is in itself a great place to visit, though with the added bonus of glimpsing into the life of practising monks it is even better. This is something I will definitely do again when I find myself back in Japan one day. 🙂
You can see all the available temple lodgings here on the official Koyasan website.