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Discover Kansai

Shukubo and Shojin ryori

Mt. Koya, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a complex of temples, shrines, and pagodas in Wakayama Prefecture. This site is the religious center of Shingon Buddhism and was founded by Kobo Daishi in 816 AD. With over 1,200 years of history, Koya attracts visitors of all races and religions who are wanting to experience unique and genuine Japanese Buddhist culture: Shukubo.

Shukubo, or temples which provide lodging to pilgrims and traveling monks, were abundant in the Edo era. Around the year 1832, there were 1,812 recorded temples in this complex. Unfortunately, due to fires over the centuries, this number has dwindled down to 117, 52 of which offer shukubo. However, that means today there are 52 temples to choose from when looking for a place to stay.
Like a traveling Buddhist monk in the Mt. Koya's past, you can experience shukubo as well as eat the unique cuisine shojin ryori which is offered to guests. Luckily, I was given the opportunity to experience shukubo and shojin ryori myself to report to all of you.

Going to Mt. Koya

To get to Mt. Koya, take the Nakai Limited Express train from Nankai Namba Station. Take the Super Express Train Koya and buy the Koyasan World Heritage Ticket. This will cost 2,860 yen for two days and includes free bus travel around Mt. Koya. This includes a bus pass that you can use when you get to Mt. Koya, which makes traveling very convenient. The seats on the train are incredibly comfortable and can be reserved, so make sure you’re in the right seat!

Tickets can be bought at the ticket service window.
See here for more details:here
Here are the prices for tickets:here
Note: Right now (18/12/2017), there are some areas which the railroad service is unavailable, but there is a substitute bus departing from Hashimoto station to Koyasan.
Please check Nankai Railway's website for the latest information.

Arriving at Mt. Koya

When you arrive at Mt. Koya, you will see buses parked outside of Koyasan Station. First, I recommend asking for a Mt. Koya map at the bus station information center. This is to familiarize yourself with the area and find out where your temple is. Temples are numbered from 1-52 while bus stops are numbered 1-22.
Make sure that your bus is going the right direction!Once you know what bus stop your shukubo is near, you can use the Koyasan World Heritage Ticket as your bus pass. In my case, I was going to a temple called Jimyoin which was shukubo #38 near bus stop #8.

Shukubo Jimyoin

Getting off the bus and fidning Jimyoin was fairly easy. I was thankful that I made it safely up the 900m (3,000 ft) tall mountain. My pilgrimage took almost two hours. It was 5 pm, which is time for regular check-ins and I was tired. I can’t imagine how many days it would take for the average person to get up here without the use of buses, trains, and cable cars. However, I understood their motives as I realized the beauty of this place. The main entrance to the temple. The little monk figure standing there is the mascot of Mt. Koya.

At last, I’ve arrived at my room! A simple wafuu (Japanese-style) room with tatami mat floors, shoji (paper screen doors) as well as a stunning view of the garden outside. Once I got in, I heard several knocks on my door. A monk came in and served me tea and notified me that dinner would start in an hour. This was a good time to explore the area and relax while sipping on Japanese green tea and viewing the garden.

Shojin Ryori

Dinner was served shojin ryori (vegetarian Buddhist monk cuisine) style. No animal products are used at all. Here is an aerial shot of this beautiful meal. I also ordered a 700 yen bottled beer. Although I am not a vegetarian, this was more than enough food for me to be satisfied and it was quite delicious.In Buddhism, living a life without killing is encouraged. Therefore, monks often eat vegetarian meals. Shojin ryori is based on five flavors, five ways of cooking, and five colors. This includes soup, pickled, grilled, and deep-fried dishes and one that contains tofu, all served with white steamed rice and tea. As you can see, shojin ryori has a variety of flavors and tastes that anyone can enjoy. After the meal, I felt the karma-free food I had just eaten had cleansed my soul.

After the meal, I went to a nearby shop which serves a variety of Japanese confectionaries with free tea. I got the amazake manju (sweet sake dumblings) and the kurumi mochi (walnut rice cake). Afterward, I went on a night tour, which I highly recommend. You are given a one-hour walking tour through Okunoin which is a mausoleum of over 200,000 graves. Throughout the tour, you learn about Shingon Buddhism and enjoy a romantic walk through a cemetery lit with lanterns. It’s not scary at all! Go here for more details.After I went back to my shukubo, it was 8:30 pm. As I mentioned earlier, all temples will close their gates around 9 pm.
In the mornings, there are Buddhist rituals that start at 6 am. Monks chants are performed during this every morning. Guests are welcomed to join. It is not mandatory, but expected. I highly recommend it as it can be moving for people who aren’t familiar with Buddhist practices. When you get back to your room, breakfast will be waiting for you.

In the mornings, there are Buddhist rituals that start at 6 am. Monks chants are performed during this every morning. Guests are welcomed to join. It is not mandatory, but expected. I highly recommend it as it can be moving for people who aren’t familiar with Buddhist practices. When you get back to your room, breakfast will be waiting for you.

After breakfast, I took a walk through my shukubo. Here are the sites that guests can see at Jimyoin.Since 11 am was the check-out time, I took my last shots of Jimyoin. This whole experience summed up in one word: alluring. This is an experience for anyone looking for something authentically Japanese. From the aesthetic and designs of the temple to the quality of the food and service, I couldn’t have asked for more. Although it was my first time at Jimyoin, I felt right at home. If you are looking for a home away from home and to experience, as well as eat, something unique to Japan, you should try the shukubo experience at Mt. Koya’s Jimyoin.

CHRISTIAN BATOON

From a small city of Hawaii now living in my favorite city Osaka for 3 years, Chris is now touring Japan and seeking for life's answers through his travels. Come follow him on his adventures!