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Spend the Night at a Temple! 5 Temples in Nara That Allow Visitors to Stay Overnight

Some Japanese temples offer guesthouse facilities called "shukubo" for visitors. Traditionally, only monks and pilgrims were allowed to spend the night at the temple, but it has become a recent growing trend that even temple visitors are being allowed. Here are 5 temples in Nara that have guesthouse facilities.

Shukubo Life and Things To Pay Attention To

While the contents may vary from temple to temple, the following section explains the general flow of things, as well as the do's and don'ts of staying overnight.

Firstly, a reservation is required for staying overnight at any temple. Dinner time is fixed, and vegetarian food (following Buddhist teachings, neither meat nor seafood can be served, thus the main ingredients are vegetables and grains) is usually served. Bath time and bed time are usually early, and strictly adhering to the time schedule is considered basic manners.
When you wake up on the following morning, you have to attend the morning scripture session, following which breakfast is served and the remaining time until check-out is spent taking part in Buddhist training as part of the experience.
The purpose of staying at a shukubo is to detach one's self from their daily worries and calm their minds, so many shukubo do not provide modern amenities such as televisions and internet. Also, causing a commotion or making loud noises is frowned upon as a breach of etiquette, so please abide by the rules in order to fully enjoy your shukubo experience!

1. Shigisan Gyokuzoin Temple

This is a Shingon Buddhism temple that was constructed on Mt. Shigi, a mountain in northwestern Nara. This temple is believed to have been started by Prince Shotoku (a politician and religious philosopher of the Asuka period which thrived around the years 593 - 629).
Out of the many buildings lining the temple grounds, 3 of its sub-temples have been designated as shukubo. Out of the 3 is Gyokuzoin Temple. This spacious shukubo accommodates up to 200 guests, and has a variety of large and medium-sized shared rooms and single rooms. There is also a public bath area and a tea house. The meals served here are traditional and vegetarian, but there is also a kaiseki meal course for those who might be interested.

1. Shigisan Gyokuzoin Temple

2280 Shigisan, Heguri-cho, Ikoma-gun, Nara

2. Shigisan Senju-in Temple

Senju-in Temple is the second sub-temple located in the same grounds as Gyokuzoin Temple. The oldest of the 3 shukubo in this mountain, both the main building and the annex building can house up to 100 guests in a total of 18 rooms. The main building is full of historical value, having existed since the Edo period (1603 - 1867), and many things, such as its fusuma (Japanese sliding door) paintings and splendid Japanese-style garden are worth a look.
Furthermore, traditional vegetarian food is arranged with a touch of modernity, and the considerations taken in portioning and making the food easy-to-eat creates a pleasant dining experience. There is also a public onsen bath available round-the-clock. Taking part in the Buddhist training experience (for a fee) through activities such as zen meditation and scripture writing (copying of the Heart Sutra in order to train one's concentration) is recommended!

※Photo is for illustration purposes.

2. Shigisan Senju-in Temple

2280 Shigisan, Heguri-cho, Ikoma-gun, Nara

3. Shigisan Jofuku-in Temple

The third shukubo on Mt. Shigi is Jofuku-in Temple. Situated in the center of the temple grounds, this temple was designed by famous architect Togo Murano. A special characteristic of this shukubo is the modern atmosphere that blends with the long history and traditions of Mt. Shigi.
Vegetarian or kaiseki meals are served at Jofuku-in Temple, and guests can look forward to having a taste of the four different seasons with its seasonal menu.

3. Shigisan Jofuku-in Temple

2280 Shigisan, Heguri-cho, Ikoma-gun, Nara

4. Chikurinin Gunpoen

Chikurinin Gunpoen is built upon the world heritage site Mt. Yoshino. This shukubo was established by Prince Shotoku, and was popular among famous military generals and writers in the past. However, in present day, this temple's shukubo has transformed into an authentic Japanese-style inn that is featured in the Michelin Guide.
Within the vast 33,000 sq.m. grounds, there is a famous Japanese garden with a long history, said to be created by Sen no Rikyu (the tea master that founded the Senke-style school of Japanese tea ceremony). You can enjoy the splendid view of this garden at no extra cost, which is the true charm of spending a night in this shukubo. The public bath, with its panoramic view, is also another plus point! Chikurinin Gunpoen is recommended for visitors who might want to have a feel of the atmosphere before participating in an actual shukubo experience.

4. Chikurinin Gunpoen

2142 Yoshinoyama, Yoshino-cho Oaza, Yoshino-gun, Nara

5. Yamatokoku Tomiyama Bikou Ryosenji

Ryosenji is a Shingon Buddhism temple that was built in the year 736. Buildings home to national and cultural treasures line its spacious grounds, and out of these, 2 of them are used as shukubo.
A variety of room types are available, in order to meet the needs of both small and large groups of visitors. A public medicinal bath, whose waters are infused with 8 types of natural ingredients, is also available. Furthermore, for guests who may not find vegetarian food to their taste, Ryosenji also provides kaiseki cuisine (a course meal whose style reflects Japanese tea ceremonies), which makes use of plenty of seasonal ingredients. Guests can enjoy not only the appearances and smell, but also the excellent taste of the food served here.

※Image is for illustration purposes.

5. Yamatokoku Tomiyama Bikou Ryosenji

3879 Nakamachi, Nara-shi, Nara

Do you think you're game enough to spend a night at a shukubo? From cuisine that can put restaurants to shame, to Buddhist training that can improve your concentration, each and every shukubo has their own personality. Why don't you try this very unusual experience for yourself?

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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