Japan · JET Programme · Life in Japan

Buddhist Temple Lodge Experience

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!

The entrance to Kumagaiji Temple Lodge
The view from my room
My welcome green tea and snack upon arrival at Kumagaiji


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.

My dinner on the first night…
…that came with the most gorgeous view ever.
The sesame tofu. It was so smooth and creamy – absolutely divine!
Dinner on the second night included a selection of vegetarian tempura. This particular piece I was holding looked like the monks went out in to the garden and picked a piece of fern and turned it into tempura – though it was actually really nice.


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.

The building where the fire ritual takes place every morning
During the ritual
What starts off as a small fire ends up with flames almost reaching the roof! Along with the chanting and the drumming, the fire ritual can become quite intense.


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.


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