Nowadays, visitors may escape Japan's busy cities and experience life as a monk with Buddhist cuisine and meditation at temple stays, which were once a haven for pilgrims and nobility. In search of knowledge and enlightenment, holy men, pilgrims, and aristocrats travelled the sacred roads that spanned Japan for centuries.
They always looked for a "otera," or temple, to rest their weary bodies after a hard day of hiking the mountain trails. "Shukubo" came to refer to the basic lodging that temples may provide together with customary meals and prayers. And while pilgrims are becoming less common in Japan, the temples are welcoming visitors from all around the world through their sliding wooden doors.
Kaiji Yamamoto, a senior monk of Takayama's Zenkoji Temple, which is situated in central mountainous Gifu Prefecture, said: "Some individuals still use the rooms while they are on excursions to display their faith, but the number of those people is dwindling." He told DW that more and more tourists are now choosing shukubo as a special spot to stay since it offers a serene atmosphere.
In the early years of shukubo, the lodging might be fairly basic in keeping with the austere practises of the pilgrims. Visitors frequently shared rooms while they slept and joined the resident monks for meditation and prayer sessions throughout the day and night. The traditional Buddhist cuisine known as "shojin ryori" did not include any meat, fish, or other animal items.
A multi-course lunch typically consists of tofu and meals made from soybeans, as well as seasonal vegetables and herbs that have been collected from the mountains that surround the temple. These components are said to work together to bring harmony and balance to the body, mind, and soul.
Shukubo accommodation has advanced significantly from these fundamental foundations. While maintaining the ambiance of the traditional temple surrounds, some temples provide lodging on par with high-quality hotels. Visitors now can participate in yoga, meditation classes, prayer gatherings, sutra copying, and guided hikes in the nearby mountains.
Visitors may also be able to participate in cleaning procedures that involve standing beneath waterfalls and reciting prayers on particular times. Yamamoto asserted that the rise in interest in shukubo is a result of people's increased desire to understand more about Buddhism, engage in practises like "zazen" meditation, mindfulness, and other types of physical and mental conditioning, as well as encounter new cultures.
He went on to say that the fact that many of Japan's temples are found in rural areas is beneficial because it attracts foreign tourists who have already visited the city and are eager to experience the country's historical traditions.
A number of temples have also started to provide corporate retreats, team-building stays, conventions, incentive trips, along with remote-working opportunities in an effort to capitalise on the increased demand from businesses both domestically and overseas.
Houkouji Temple, located in rural Shizuoka Prefecture to the southwest of Tokyo, is one of the locations that has hosted corporate events. Meditation sessions, talks, and meetings have taken place in the beautiful main hall, which can accommodate several hundred people.