Japan’s Most Serene Buddhist Retreats

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WELLNESS: Japan’s most serene Buddhist retreats

Once you’ve had your fill of neon-lit streets and karaoke bars, Japan’s tranquil temple retreats offer the chance to slow down, switch-off and immerse yourself in the quieter side of Japanese life.

Read on for three of Japan’s most serene escapes.


1. Mount Koya, Wakayama Prefecture

Thick with cedar forests and ancient temples, Wakayama Prefecture’s holy mountain is perhaps the ultimate destination for those in search of a spiritual escape. Make the pilgrimage to the UNESCO world heritage site and home of Shingon Buddhism and you’ll find over 120 temples, many of which offer guest lodgings. Choose your shukubo (temple lodgings) carefully and you’ll get the chance to take part in ajikan, an esoteric strain of Buddhist meditation, practice calligraphy, observe resident monks as they go about their daily rituals, and best of all – enjoy specially-prepared plates of seasonal vegan delicacies.

For two of the best temples in town with over 2000 years of history between them, try Eko-In and nearby Muryoko-in.

Images: Andrew Faulk for the New York Times


2. Horakuan Temple, Nagano Prefecture

Nestled in the Suzaka mountains, just two hours by train from Tokyo, German-born Dorothee Eshin Takatsu leads creative retreats in an eighty-year-old traditional farmhouse which she converted in 2004 into a practicing Zen dojo. An ordained Buddhist priest, Takatsu’s retreats focus on expressing Zen spirit through art and alongside meditations, chanting and temple chores, guests can expect to find themselves writing poetry or painting.

Promising a lighter heart and fresh perspective, retreats at Horakuan Temple’s mountain hideaway take place from April to December – keep an eye on the website for details of upcoming events.

Images: Horakuan Temple


3. Shogani Zen Retreat, Oita Prefecture

Hosted by Rinzai monk Jiho Kongo, Shōganji Zen Retreat opened its doors in 2004 and has quickly become recognised as one of Japan’s best Buddhist retreats. Inviting visitors to experience authentic temple life in the heart of rural Japan, guests at Shōganji will experience a sense of escapism from the off, venturing to a remote fishing village on Japan’s southernmost island of Kyushu. A stay at Shōganji is a minimum of 5 nights, and guests can expect a daily schedule kicking off at 5:30am, incorporating morning zanzen meditation, yoga, Japanese calligraphy, samu (temple service), freshly prepared meals and dedicated quiet time.

Book your stay via the Shōganji website, where $70 per person per night will buy you total temple immersion, a world away from the bright lights of Tokyo.

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