Buddhist Monasteries

Temple stay
The entrance to a Japanese Buddhist temple.

Imagine living among actual Buddhist monks in a beautiful 1000+-year-old temple where they serve good food and sake. Right outside your door, a picture-perfect Zen Garden for you to meditate and relax in, and maybe even an onsen. Oh, and free wi-fi included. It kind of sounds too good to be true, right? Well, they invented a word for this – temple stay, and here we will show you how, where, and how much.

Topics Covered

  • What is a Buddhist monastery?
  • What to expect
  • What does it cost?
  • What are the downsides?

Video is owned and created by The Backpacking Family. Visit their youtube page here.

What is a Buddhist monastery?

A Buddhist monastery is the same as a Christian one and works on very similar principles. It’s a group of monks who have separated themselves from the modern world to live in exclusion while devoting the rest of their lives to religious practices.

What to expect

Upon arrival at the Buddhist monastery or temple, you will be taken to your room. You will also be given traditional robes you can wear. The room itself is very similar or sometimes even identical to the one you will get at a traditional ryokan – in other words, a tatami mat room with sliding doors and a chabudai.

All bathroom facilities are communal, so you’ll be sharing them with monks. In most cases, there will be an onsen for you to use as much as you like, but just remember that the usual onsen etiquette applies. Breakfast and dinner will also be served at most monasteries. The food, however, will be vegetarian.

Monks engage in morning meditation sessions that can last anything from 30 to 90 minutes per session. As a guest, you will be allowed to partake in these morning meditation sessions if you choose to. For the rest of the day, you can take part in various other Buddhist activities such as calligraphy, among many other things, or simply walk around the temple or garden as you please and visit nearby attractions.

What does it cost?

A Japanese temple garden at one of the Buddhist monasteries.
A Japanese temple garden at one of the Buddhist monasteries.

The average cost of a temple stay varies depending on what is included, but in most cases, you can expect to pay anywhere between $90 to $150 US per person a night. It’s not exactly cheap, but for the experience, it’s well worth it. In most cases, payments are done in cash upon your arrival.

What are the downsides?

Koya monks partaking in a ceremony at one of the Buddhist monasteries.
Koya monks partaking in a ceremony at one of the Buddhist monasteries.

Although you may not be a bona fide monk, that still does not exclude you from the rules of the monastery while living there. If not getting ridiculously drunk while swinging from chandeliers for a night or two is too hard, then maybe a temple stay is not for you. It’s important to remember that a Buddhist temple or monastery is a sacred place of worship, just like Christian Churches in the Western world, and therefore showing respect and abiding by the rules is of the utmost importance.

The rules vary slightly from monastery to monastery, but the basic rules are as follows:

1: Noise levels: One of the first things you will notice upon arriving at a Buddhist monastery is tranquility and silence. Try to keep noise levels to a minimum, especially during meditation time.

2: Dress code: When on temple grounds, be clean, relatively neat, and always dress conservatively. Heavy make-up, excessive perfumes, and revealing clothes are not allowed.

3: Religious objects: One of the things you will notice inside the temple and on temple grounds are various religious objects, which can be Buddha statues, stone lanterns, pagodas, etc. These items are the equivalent of the holy cross in the Christian world and should, therefore, be respected. Do not sit on them or touch them

Related Content

Find a list of other places where you can stay while visiting Japan.