I’ve slept in many interesting places, from a cave in Turkey to a tent by the beach in St. John, but this summer was my first time sleeping in a Buddhist temple. At Daienin Temple in Koyasan, up in the mountains, visitors can live the monk life for an evening.
To get there, many people hike up into the mountains, following these special posts, representing earth, water, fire, wind, and space.
I got there by train and car, thanks to my friend, Masa, who lives nearby. The journey was a little long, but we were grateful to be driving uphill into the mountains, where the weather was much cooler.
You see that I was reunited with my friend Tofu San, brought for a visit by my Japanese friend, Omi, who joined us for the adventure. I am lucky to have such great friends in Japan!
After arriving at the temple, we took off our shoes and headed to our rooms. The temple gave us special slippers to wear, so we kept the inside of the building clean. One size fits all?
Next, we checked out our room. It was beautiful! It was very traditional, but with some modern conveniences, like a TV.
When we first arrived, there were no beds! It is traditional in Japanese hotel rooms to have a futon mattress that is put out later. The mattresses were tucked away in the closet behind the black and white mural. While we had no beds yet, we did have welcome cookies, which were yummy.
Also, we had a view of the beautiful courtyard:
We also found a photograph in our room showing the Dalai Lama. At first, we were confused, because he leads a different branch of Buddhism. Then, we found out that the Dalai Lama actually stayed in our room! Here I am standing in the same place he stood in this picture.
Photos probably don’t do it justice! Here’s a little video tour of the room:
You might notice that there is no bathroom. That’s because in traditional Japanese hotels, they have shared bathrooms. There’s a toilet room that is separate from the place to bathe, called an onsen. Here’s a picture of the women’s onsen. It’s traditional to take a seated shower in front of a mirror, soap and rinse there, and then soak in the hot tub.
We didn’t relax in our room yet though! We did some exploring before dinner, checking out the local temples, where many years ago, a monk named Kukai founded this town as the headquarters for this particular branch of Buddhism. We had a lot of fun seeing all sorts of new things, like this giant bell. As you can see from Omi’s face, it was very big and loud.
All of the food was vegetarian, because the monks don’t eat meat. It had lots of different tastes and it was delicious! My favorite was the soup in a paper bowl, cooked right in front of us with a flame under the paper. I don’t know how it didn’t burn the place down, but it didn’t!
While we were at dinner, the monks prepared our beds for sleeping. We got back to our rooms, and they were all ready for sleeping.
I decided not to wake up early in the morning for the morning prayer at 5:50 AM, and went to breakfast the next morning a little bit better rested. Again, there was a feast prepared, with no cereal or eggs. Instead, there was rice, miso soup, and some interesting veggies.
After breakfast, we got to explore more of Koyasan, going to hear some very prestigious monks chanting their ceremonial prayers. It felt very special to be there, seeing a real Buddhist ritual. There were no other foreign tourists there; only Japanese people knew to come see this ceremony.
Koyasan is a place where Buddhist people from all over Japan, and beyond, visit to connect with their spiritual side. I’m not Buddhist, but I made some wishes alongside the Japanese people there. Locals write their wishes on little strips of paper called O-mikuji and tie them to shrines.
Spending a night at Koyasan was very special, and I hope I was able to bring some of that good fortune back for you.