JAPAN’S ancient Buddhist heritage has given it an incredible wealth of temples and monasteries, some of which offer a chance to experience more than just a fleeting visit.

Temple stays, or shukubo, are a long-standing tradition in parts of Japan where pilgrims and other visitors can stay overnight and take part in many of the daily rituals of the local monks.

About 90 minutes south of Osaka by train is Koyasan, one of the best locations to stay and witness the traditions and cycles of temple life. Situated on a small plateau at the top of Koyasan, it is a sacred area surrounded by thick cedar forests, dotted with temples, halls and pagodas. With more than 100 Shingon Buddhist temples, Koyasan is a UNESCO World Heritage site and offers at least 50 different options for shukubo stays.

Generally costing between $100 and $200 per night including breakfast and dinner, lodgings typically offer simple, traditional Japanese rooms with tatami floors, sliding doors and shared toilets. Bedding involves futons that are rolled up by day and spread on the tatami mat during the night.

A stay offers a chance to take part in rituals with the resident monks such as meditation sessions, and involves communal dining on the same vegetarian dishes served in traditional monastic life.

In areas such as Koyasan the temples are accustomed to overseas visitors, but still require an adherence to important practices. Times for sleeping, showering, dining and meditating are often fixed, and guests are advised to be aware that temple stays are more than just a form of character accommodation and require a respectful adherence to rules and customs.

Shukubo temple stays can be arranged through several organisations including the Koyasan Tourism Association. n See

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