Stay at a shukubo and be exposed to the heart of Buddhism
If you have interest in shrines and temples, you must experience staying at a shukubo. The “bo” of shukubo refers to a priest’s dwelling and its facility for lodging followers and shrine visitors or for shrine visitors to purify their minds and bodies was called shukubo. However, these days more shukubo are accepting tourists, having improved facilities and services and allowing you to experience the culture of shrines and temples and such. Not all shrines and temples offer a shukubo experience but searching for and staying at such a shukubo should be a wonderful experience. The things you can experience differ depending on the shukubo, but here are some common things that can be experienced.
“Shako” and “zazen” that calm the heart
Shakyo (sutra-copying) is a type of training in which you just hand-copy sutra, the teachings of Buddhism. It is only about correcting your posture and using a brush and ink to hand-copy the Chinese characters of sutra, but it calms your heart and is said to grant your wish. Zazen is a type of Zen training of controlling your posture and breathing. You correct your posture by sitting with your legs folded and straightening your back as if extending your head toward the ceiling. Your hands are placed palms up and folded on your legs, and with eyes half-closed, you breathe slowly. Zazen is a type of mental training of looking at yourself without paying any attention to distractions. It is said to relieve stress and have a healing effect.
“Buddhist cuisine”, vegan food friendly to the mind and body
Commonly, food provided at a shukubo is “Buddhist cuisine” meant for priests that does not use meat. It is essentially cooked using only plant-based ingredients, such as grains, carbohydrates, and vegetables, and proteins are contained in “imitation foods” that use tofu and wheat gluten made to look like meat or fish. Also, to make the best use of the flavor of the ingredients, seasoning is reduced. Making full use of ingredients without leaving any remains, is also fundamental to Buddhist cuisine. With good nutritional balance, it is said it is also good for beauty and health Since it does not use meat or fish even for soup stock, vegans can try it without worry. But recently, there are shukubo that provide food that is not Buddhist cuisine, so please check beforehand.
“Howa” and “dokyo” experienced in the early-morning air
“Howa”, listening to the priest’s sermons, and “dokyo”, reciting of sutra, is also recommended. These are often conducted in the early morning as “morning recommendations”, so even if you do not understand Japanese, it is okay to just sit and listen to the sutra. You will be able to fully experience the shrine’s atmosphere wrapped in a still and commanding air.
More intensely! “Takigyo” and “gomagyo”
Some temples also offer takigyo and gomagyo experiences. Takigyo is a type of training in which you sit under a harsh waterfall to purify your mind and body. Gomagyo is a type of training to shake off worldly desires and evils by using fire.
Differences from typical accommodations?
Shukubo accommodation fees are very reasonable, from around 4,000 yen for a simple night’s stay and from around 7,000 yen for a night’s stay with two meals. The rooms are spacious, and some shukubo have facilities like that of a ryokan. The biggest differences from a business (economy) hotel or an ordinary ryokan are that meals must be eaten quietly without speaking and that you must go to bed early at night and wake up early in the morning. These are not obligatory rules, but shukubo are a place of training. So, adhere to the manners of shukubo and enjoy a quiet time. Also, some temples regard cleaning the temple and the room you used as part of a training called “samu”, so those staying at a shukubo may also be required to clean. In such cases, make sure to clean thoroughly. Cleaning also leads to cleansing of the mind and body.
Incidentally, there are almost 300 shrines and temples nationwide at which you can stay. Shukubo are concentrated around Mt. Koya of Wakayama and Zenkoji Temple of Nagano. Furthermore, they are also located around Dewa Sanzan of Yamagata, Mt. Mitake of Tokyo, and Chichibu of Saitama, as well as some scattered in Kyoto and Nara. The things you can experience depend on the shrine or temple, so you should decide where to stay after checking their websites.