Staying at Hongaku-in, Koyasan, Japan

Staying in a Shukubo, temple lodging, is considered one of the highlights of a visit to Koyasan.

We found the experience interesting but not terribly remarkable mostly because there were very few people at the temple. Despite the size of the establishment, a big rambling place with long corridors, there were only one or two other guest rooms occupied.

I reserved a room at Hongaku-in through the Koyasan Tourist Association’s on-line reservation system which can be used to book more than 50 Shukubo in the area.

Our room was a large ryokan style room with a private bath on the second floor overlooking the temple garden. The room was nice and spacious with a small sitting area with comfy chairs, a rarity in Japan, next to the garden window. The private bath was OK but carpeted in the sink area and smelly, probably due to poor ventilation. The futon sleeping mats were on the thin side compared to other places we’ve stayed but topped with cozy down comforters.


The all vegan meals were served in our room. This is not a typical ryokan however. Meals were trudged out from the kitchen all at once. You could hear the attendant’s heavy footsteps down the long empty hall’s wooden floor long before he arrived at our room.

The vegan dinner included mostly cold dishes. Even the soup was barely warm. However, the dishes were well prepared and flavorful.

They included blanched vegies and gelatinous squares served with a dipping sauce, cold tempura vegies (mushrooms, baby corn, etc) served with green tea salt, soft tofu in a soy flavored sauce, spinach and mushroom with citrus, fried tofu in broth with mushrooms ( one of the few warm dishes), cold boiled vegies with tofu, and miso soup (warm). For dessert, orange slices and grapes.

Breakfast was more meager than at other places we’ve stayed. Dishes included – shredded gobo (burdock root), pickled vegies, beans, meat substitute with a sweat teriyaki flavor, miso soup with soymilk skin, rice and tea.

Morning Prayers

Morning prayers were the highlight of our stay. They give you the opportunity to attend 6AM morning prayers, a worthwhile experience and an chance to see the inside of the main hall, a beautifully decorated chamber filled with flowers, offerings, intricate gold objects, lanterns hanging from the ceiling, red carpeting, painted screen doors, and carved and painted wood beams.

I’m not Buddhist and don’t understand much of this religion so for me it was an hour long chant with the occasional gong or cymbal struck. The main monk spends most of the time with his back to the worshipers chanting along with another monk that sat to one side. Besides us there were just two other guests and one other person from the temple. At the end the monk did turn towards us and say something in Japanese but I have no idea what. The ambiance was, however, very friendly and welcoming and a good opportunity to get an inside view of Buddhist tradition.

October 5, 2017

For links to all the posts in this series see the Japan page.

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