"Shukubo" at Taiyoji – Staying a Night at The Temple of the Sun

If you are in Tokyo and want to experience the Buddhist tradition of temple lodging, or “Shukubo”, you are in luck.  Taiyoji, The Temple of the Sun, has everything you could want in a temple stay, just a two-hour train ride away.

Perched at the top of a mountain, surrounded by pristine forest and waterfalls, is an eighteenth century Buddhist temple and meditation hall where you can spend an afternoon, evening, and morning living the life of a Buddhist monk.

Taiyoji is run by only one monk; laid back, friendly Asami-san. Along with a couple of local volunteers he cooks all of the meals, keeps the place reasonably clean, and cares for a family of golden retrievers, in addition to leading Zazen, and sharing Buddhist teachings.

Taiyoji is popular with Europeans and I could immediately see why.  Asami-san in his rumpled “Samue” (loose fitting Buddhist clothing) and “zori” (wooden sandals) embodies the sort of natural, relaxed elegance I love about France.  He encourages his guests to make themselves at home in the old temple grounds and surrounding woods and to “let nature teach you”.  There is nothing precious or stuffy about him, or the environment at Taiyoji.  It’s earthy and rich.

Asami-san is an actual working monk, so arranging a stay at Taiyoji can be more difficult than you might expect.  Once you have made your reservation, you get the feeling that you were “one of the lucky few”.

His computer is broken so he can’t use the online reservation system on his website. You have to call him on his cell phone and he doesn’t always answer right away.  Once you get through, the connection is often spotty because Taiyoji isn’t near a cell phone tower.  He speaks English, but limited.  In his presence that’s not a big problem, but on the phone it can leave you wondering if you did, in fact make a reservation.

Be prepared to change your dates.  Asami-san can’t predict when he may be called away to officiate a funeral.  Unlike some “Shukubo” in and around Kyoto with their five star hotels and AI Kannon robots, Taiyoji is not run like a business.  Asami-san is just a monk doing his best to make the Dharma available to a western audience, as well as worn out Japanese Tokyoites.

Everything you need to know if you want to go is on their website.

*Just don’t use the contact form (it will never be answered).

Call: +81 (0) 494-54-0296

Once you make your reservation Asami-san will tell you how to take the train from Ikebukuro to the closest station, Mitsumineguchi.  You can arrange for him to pick you up there and take you to Taiyoji, or you can make the beautiful two-hour hike up the mountain on the ancient pilgrim’s path.

When you arrive at the temple (around 3 p.m.) you will be shown your sleeping quarters.  There are two large tatami rooms with futons folded against the wall; one for women and one for men. Private rooms are not available.

Put your bags down near a futon and head out to the main hall where you will be offered coffee or green tea.  If the weather is nice you will be seated at a low table on a long wooden porch outside with a copy of the heart sutra to trace and very little instruction.  It doesn’t matter.  The copying of the sutra is a meditation and doesn’t need to be done perfectly.  Tip:  It goes right to left, top to bottom. If the weather isn’t nice, you will do this in the main hall.

Once you have finished your “Shakyo” (Heart sutra copying) you are invited to explore the temple grounds, get to know the other guests, or soak in the “rotenburo” (outdoor stone hot tub).

After that the schedule is loosely an introduction, zazen, some yoga, a Buddhist sermon followed by a question and answer period. Dinner is “Shojin Ryori” (vegetarian Buddhist cuisine).  If you weren’t able to enjoy the “rotenburo” after you arrived, now is your chance to soak under the stars.  Then off to bed early so you can get up before sunrise.  A special meditation at Taiyoji is to spend some time in the dark, quiet forest before the sun rises over the mountain bathing the temple and meditation hall in golden light.

Then it’s hot coffee and breakfast before heading back down the mountain refreshed and rejuvenated and ready to face whatever the mundane world has in store for you.

At the time of this article the cost for one night is 9,000 yen including dinner, breakfast, Shakyo, and zazen.  Cash only.

*If you are interested in staying longer than one night at a discounted rate in exchange for cleaning up, and helping to cook and serve the “shojin ryori” you can make arrangements with Asami-san.

*Accommodations are rustic and shared. See the website for what is and isn’t provided and take any creature comforts that you absolutely cannot live without (like a towel).  It was freezing when I went in late autumn.  Take really warm clothes, and even a sleeping bag if you have one. 

I imagine there are mosquitos in the summer.  Take repellant.  There are absolutely no stores around.  The Japanese are a stoic people, so what you take for granted, Asami-san and your Japanese companions probably think is a foolish indulgence.

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