Shukubo were originally simple lodgings for monks, however the term now refers to temples that offer overnight accommodation to guests. They are different from hotels and ryokans and are still used by monks.
The number of Shukubo in Kōyasan increased greatly during the Edo period, along with the increase in visits by pilgrims. Today 52 of Mount Kōyas 117 temples offer lodgings, allowing visitors to experience traditional Japanese culture and lifestyle.
Upon arriving at the shukubo guests must take their shoes off and leave them at the entrance of the building. At the entrance, slippers for use inside the building will be found. These slippers can be used for walking around inside the shukubo but should not be worn inside guest rooms or dining rooms with tatami mats, or outside. When leaving shoes or slippers, they are traditionally left neatly placed, pointing away from the room or building.
Guestrooms are usually set out with a kotatsu, which is a low, wooden table that is covered by a heavy blanket and has a heater underneath, in the cooler months. In the evening (usually during dinner), the monks will move the kotatsu and put out the futons.
Guests will find yukatas in their rooms. Yukatas should be worn only inside the Shukubo and can be worn for meals, although not for meditation or prayer ceremonies. It should be put on in the same way one would don a dressing gown, folding the right panel across the body first, followed by the left panel and then fixing it in place with a sash. The sash should be wrapped twice around the body and tied at the front; men should wear the sash at lower back level, while women should wear it higher up at the waist.
Bathroom facilities in shukubo are usually shared and the sentō or onsen are open at set times during the day. Sentō and onsen are essentially the same in that they are both public baths, however sentō use heated tap water, while onsen are natural hot springs. Bathing etiquette is important when using public baths in Japan and hotels, ryokans and shukubo will usually provide information leaflets on their proper use. Tattoos are often forbidden in both sentō and onsen, however alternative shower rooms are usually available. If in doubt, ask instead of taking a chance an inadvertently offending someone!
All of the temples in Kōyasan provide buddhist vegetarian meals, known as shojin-ryori for their guests. Shojin-ryori does not contain any meat or strong smelling vegetables, such as onions or garlic. Typical foods include Koya-dofu (freeze dried tofu), Goma-dofu (ground white sesame seeds and kuzu flour dissolved in water and served in tofu-like cakes) and konnyaku (jelly-like food, made from the starch of devil’s tongue).
Many shukubo invite guests to participate in traditional buddhist activities, including the morning service, fire ritual and meditation sessions.
N.B. We stayed at Kumagaiji Temple, which is a few minutes on foot from Okunoin and well situated for visiting all of the places of interest in Kōyasan. This temple offers a wonderful and intimate morning prayer session and fire ceremony.
- Koyasan and Kumano Access Bus
- UNESCO World Heritage Koyasan Leaflet in English
- Koyasan Reihokan Museum Leaflet in English
- Dai Garan Kongobuki Koyasan leaflet
- Kongobuji Temple Leaflet
- Guide to Koyasan
- Kōyasan – the 1200th Anniversary Since The Foundation