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Guide to Japanese Temple Accommodation
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Guide to Japanese Temple Lodging. Japanese temples, like some churches and monasteries in other countries, have a long tradition of taking in overnight guests. In the past these people were generally connected to the temple - they included itinerant monks, journeying scholars, pilgrims. But since the war rising costs have forced many temples to seek novel ways of raising funds to maintain their buildings. More and more temples are now opening their premises to members of the public regardless of religious affiliation. In Japan these are normally referred to as shukubo.
Some of these temples are associated with the Japan Minshuku Association, a group of family inns. Over eighty shrines and temples are affiliated with the youth hostel movement, and are listed in the annual handbook (partly in English). Other Japanese guidebooks have listed up to four hundred temples and shrines in ever part of the country which offer accommodation.
In most cases they are cheaper than hotels and can offer the foreign visitor an exotic experience in large, ancient, wooden beamed rooms, sometimes containing Buddhist antiques and overlooking a picturesque garden. At some temples overnight guests are allowed to join the morning sutra and prayer service. In a few cases this is compulsory.
Nevertheless, temple accommodations are mainly for the adventurous. Some people will not find the spartan conditions to their liking. Often the guest rooms are antiquated and dirty, with few facilities. The bedroom may be large, but you can find yourself separated from a group of noisy students in the next room by just a thin, unlocked, sliding paper door. If the temple is crowded you may be expected to share your room with strangers. Do not expect any security. There will probably be no locks on the door and no front desk at which to deposit your valuables.
Everything will be Japanese style. This means guests may have to lay out their own futon mattress and quilt at night and fold them up again next morning. The toilets will be Japanese style, and the bath, if it exists, a communal one, perhaps even shared with the priest’s family. Do not expect a television.
Most temples have an evening curfew of about 9.00 pm, and guests will probably be woken at around 7.00 am or earlier. Some places do not allow smoking or alcohol. All meals will be vegetarian.
Basically, you are expected to behave as if you are a guest in someone’s home (no matter how much the fee). Do not expect anyone at the temple to speak or understand English, and if you are unable to make yourself understood in Japanese you may be refused admission.
Reservations should be made in advance, preferably by mail, but telephone reservations are usually accepted. You may not be welcomed if you turn up without a booking. The temples and shrines that are listed in the youth hostels' handbook could be considered an exception to this rule, although even there, most Japanese will book in advance. And some temples which are listed as accepting guests in fact take only women. Finally, do not expect all temples to be old and exotic. Some look little different from modern office blocks.
The Tourist Information Centres in Tokyo and Kyoto can give up up-to-date lists of temples where foreigners have stayed. Expect to pay ¥2,000 to ¥4,500 per night and up, sometimes with meals, usually without.
Zen Guide - Where to Meditate in Japan, by Martin Roth and John Stevens.
Published by John Weatherill Inc. (1985)