There are many Buddhist temples in Japan and tourists, both Japanese and foreign, enjoy taking photos of these holy places. But one remains on the fringes of Buddhism by just taking photos. There are many ways you could take a step further into the world of Buddhism and one of the most fun and informative ways is to actually become a Buddhist monk for a while. If you are looking for such a unique experience, here are some tips to help you become a monk at Zenko-ji temple, Nagano’s spiritual center!
Participate in morning ceremony
The temple opens around 4:30 and from that time on, a monk’s working day starts. Every morning begins with a morning ceremony conducted in the main hall of the temple. All monks who work at Zenko-ji Temple gather and read a Buddhist sutra as a greeting to the main Buddｈa, Amida-Nyorai. The sutra accompanied by drumming echoes throughout the main hall and creates a austere atmosphere. The ceremony is open to the public. You only need to buy an entrance ticket sold at the main hall for ¥500/person and you can enjoy this beginning of a monk’s day!
Stay at Buddhism Inn – Shukubo
A Buddhism inn, referred to as Shukubo (宿坊) in Japanese, is a traditional inn for pilgrims heading to Zenko-ji Temple to stay in. The inn however, welcomes any and all visitors, regardless of nationality or religious belief. There are 39 different Shukubo around Zenko-ji temple with each their own enshrinement hall and master monk. The history of Shukubo is intertwined with the 1400 years old history of Zenko-ji temple. This over a 1000 year old history gives each Shukubo an established atmosphere of Japanese tradition and Buddhism culture.
Enjoy various experience offered at Shukubo
While you stay in a Shukubo, staff will provide you with the chance to experience some Buddhist practice like Zazen (sitting meditation) or Shakyo (hand-copying Buddhist sutra). Also, guests can try food called “Syojin Ryori” meaning “Buddhist cuisine.” Buddhist cuisine is a type of food which is prepared according to Buddhist commandment of non-violence and therefore vegetarian of vegan. Syojin Ryori is made of organic food in Japanese style.
Something to be aware when staying at a Shukubo of is that many Shukubo have a curfew and going out late at night is not allowed. However, staying at a Shukubo for one night will give you a taste of living the life of a monk, which you cannot experience at a regular hotel or hostel.
There is not much English information on Shukubo available online. Information in Japanese provided by the Zenkoji-Temple can be found here. There is also a possibility that we can coordinate a private tour in which we could combine a day trip, or two with your stay at a Shukubo. If you are interested please send us an inquiry regarding your interest.