Spending a night at a temple has been on my list of things to do in Japan. I imagined it to be a mind-cleansing Zen experience but probably a somewhat uncomfortable stay – for example, sleeping on hard wooden floors on futons in a big, unheated room with 20 others and limited facilities. But I like that kind of thing and I was looking forward to it.
But after looking more into it, it actually is very different from what I thought and it far exceeded my expectation after actually staying there – in a good and bad way. Good in that it was a really nice accommodation, bad in that I kind of wanted a minimalist experience.
For sure, staying at Fuchinobo Shukubo in Zenko-ji Temple in Nagano was the highlight of my Japan trip. Visiting this 1400 year-old temple is like traveling back to ancient Japan.
It was a beautiful Spring day, so instead of taking the bus I decided to walk 30 minutes from Nagano Station to Zenko-ji Temple.
I instantly fell in love with the city – the serene atmosphere, the regal mountains in the backdrop, fine architecture, and plenty of great local cuisine.
Once I reached the entrance gate of the temple, I couldn’t take my eyes off the row of houses on the right side. I was mesmerized by one of them.
I stood there for a few minutes taking pictures, admiring the beauty and trying to imagine how much more beautiful it would be if the cherry blossom tree in the front of the house was in full bloom.
I wish I can stay at a place like this for a night, I thought to myself. I stepped closer to sneak a peek of the inside. I did a double take when I saw my name on the welcome banner by the entrance. What?! This is where I will be staying?! I was too happy. I must have smiled to myself.
I was warmly welcomed as soon as I opened the door by Mrs. Shinohara. The smell of the incense, the beautiful artwork on the wall, the flower arrangements and the soft, calming music in the background immediately calmed my soul.
Shinohara-san served me tea and spent the next 30 minutes telling me a little about the shukudo, its facilities, the meal times and what to expect for the next morning’s o-asaji (temple’s morning service). I was impressed with how professional, efficient and genuinely nice the staff were.
After the brief orientation and a little break in my lovely room, I took a walk around the temple premises.
At 7pm, I returned to my room for a my shojin-ryori (monk’s food). Every dish was delicious, even better than the kaiseki meals I had at the hot spring resorts during this trip.
After dinner, I went to shower at the communal bath in the basement. I was surprised again to see how nice it was.
Since I had to meet up with Shinoharu-san for the morning service at 6am, I retired to my comfy futon right after my bath.
I set my alarm to 5:30am but for some reason, the alarm on the TV went off at 4:45am! I am still wondering if they set that for me.
Just like the chirping of birds, it was so nice to wake up to church bells – one of the most beautiful sounds.
Two Japanese families were also participating in the morning service. Mornings are still very cold in March. Even though all of us were already wearing down jackets, Shinohara-san provided us with another one just in case. She even gave us warm patches – so thoughtful and sweet. We were so glad because we sat on wooden floors for one hour and it got really cold.
I was fortunate to receive blessing from the head priest as he entered and left the temple. The one-hour praying ceremony was one uplifting cultural experience. No wonder people from all over the country make a pilgrimage to this national treasure.
If you visit Nagano, staying at one of the 39 shukubo is the way to do it. It is another cultural experience not to be missed.
Zenkoji Shukubo Fuchinobo
Address: 462 Motoyoshi-cho, Nagano-shi, Nagano
30 minute walk from Nagano Station. Very easy to find. Just follow the signs on the streets.
Or you can take the No. 1 bus right outside Nagano Station (100yen). Takes about 10mins.
10,000-14,000 yen per night, includes shojin-ryori breakfast and dinner, tour of temple and morning service.