Koya-san, Japan: A Night in a Monastery


Koya-san is a religious retreat placed on the top of a remote mountain in Japan. Buddhist monks and nuns here practice Shingon Buddhism, a practice dating back to 805 AD. One of the draw cards that brings many to Koya-san is that there are over fifty temples here that operate shukubo, this means that they welcome travelers to spend a night.

Staying at a temple is affordable, It’s cheaper than a hotel but more expensive than a hostel. The rooms are simple while being cozy and clean. The temples are built in a traditional style, you will need to wear slippers inside. Inside you will find wooden floors, tatami mats and shoji sliding doors. The bedding is a Japanese futon. In most temples, the monks come in and rearrange the room so as best to accommodate eating and sleeping. Bathroom facilities are open and shared, it is likely that you will not be allowed to shower before 16.00.

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flickr image by kanjiroushi

Most rates will include two meals, the cuisine is vegan, cooked without onion and garlic, in line with Shingon practices. There is plenty to eat and the food is delicious. In the morning you will be welcomed to join the monk’s religious ceremonies. Most temples have a morning prayer ceremony followed by a fire ceremony. Those experienced with mediation may take this as an opportunity, however it’s just as enjoyable to watch how the monks conduct their ceremonies.

To reach Koya-san you will first need to take the Shinkansen to Osaka to reach the regional train network. When you reach the base of the mountain you transfer to a cable-car which will take a trek upwards at no less than 45 degrees. Getting to Koya-san is part of the fun, you will wind your way through some beautiful mountain scenery. Don’t worry, if you get lost there is always a friendly local to help you out.

Date posted: 1st November, 2010

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