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Retreats at Buddhist Temples Grow in Popularity (March 29, 2007)

A temple at Mt.Koya (Wakayama Prefecture)
When it comes to weekend getaways, the fun and excitement of theme parks is always appealing, and gourmet tours, which give you a chance to enjoy an array of excellent food, are also great. But sometimes you just want to enjoy a quiet trip that lets you step back and reflect on the world and your place in it. More and more Japanese take this view, and the country is witnessing a boom, primarily among young women, in overnight stays at Buddhist temples.

A Hands-on Experience
Shukubo (facilities for overnight stays located within temple grounds) were originally used by monks visiting for ascetic training, but during the Edo period (1603-1868) their use was extended to samurai and townspeople visiting on pilgrimages. Today, the facilities are open to anyone, including tourists.

Although lacking fine restaurants, swimming pools, or other recreational facilities, shukubo offer an appealing combination of inexpensive accommodations and peace of mind. Moreover, many are located near buildings and gardens that are designated national treasures or important cultural properties and boast healthy vegetarian fare. There are also opportunities to participate in ascetic training activities under the direction of resident monks. Such activities might include zazen, a type of Zen meditation, or takigyo, a purification ritual that involves standing beneath a chilly waterfall for an extended period of time.

At present, there are few travel guides focused on shukubo and little information concerning the type of facilities and food offered at specific monasteries. A website devoted to collecting information on shukubo across Japan has been created, however, and travel agencies have begun planning tours, thus making shukubo even more accessible to first-time visitors.

A monk (Wakayama Prefecture)

Monk for a Day
At Shogakuji Temple, located two hours northwest of central Tokyo in Hanno, Saitama Prefecture, one can participate in monk-led zazen sessions during a one-night stay with breakfast and dinner for ¥6,500 ($54 at ¥120 to the dollar). Visitors to Shogakuji can also take part in ritualized recitations of the Heart Sutra and assist in temple-related chores.

In Wakayama Prefecture several temples possessing numerous shukubo are clustered on Mt. Koya at a site founded 1,200 years ago by the monk Kukai, founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. Many of the shukubo boast important cultural properties and expansive Japanese gardens, and their traditional vegetarian cuisine, which features sesame tofu and Koya tofu, is also extremely popular.

At other shukubo around Japan, visitors can soak in hot spring baths or follow mountainside pilgrimage routes, while female guests can partake in the daily routine of Buddhist nuns. In short, each shukubo has its own unique character. The shukubo at Shogakuji, Mt. Koya, and other temples cater to foreign guests as well, with some even offering zazen sessions directed in English.

In Japan, deciding to enter a monastery is often called "renouncing the world." For today's young women who cannot quite make the commitment to a lifetime of austere religious service, shukubo offer a few days' respite from the workaday world and time to soothe both body and soul.

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Copyright (c) 2007 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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