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Travel & Leisure

The 10 best temple getaways for family vacations in Japan

'Shukubo' inns let kids meditate Zen-style and parents stay clear of city noise

"Zen concierges" at Hakujukan help guests with meditation postures.

TOKYO -- Are the stresses of city life getting on your nerves? How about escaping for a few days to a tranquil temple or shrine in the countryside?

Japanese places of worship have long offered accommodations to devotees and pilgrims, but now more are making it easier for tourists to stay at lodgings called shukubo, with some actively courting families by offering kid-friendly Zen meditation, for example.

Temple lodgings typically have strict rules on guest conduct and do not offer private rooms, but many are upgrading their services to attract tourists.

The reason? Many temples and shrines in Japan are under financial strain as the number of parishioners falls due to urbanization. "More shukubos are opening their doors to the public as they struggle to raise funds," said Hidenori Ukai, head of the Yoi-Otera Research Institute, a consultancy specializing in temple affairs.

For those eager to spend a quiet holiday away from the city and to give their children a chance to experience Zen and other disciplines, here are 10 of the best places to visit.

Fukuchiin (Koya, Wakayama Prefecture)

(Photo Courtesy of JTB)

Located in Koyasan, a sacred Buddhist mountain, Fukuchiin Temple has a lodging facility with 60 rooms, one of the largest in the area.

Guests can take part in making traditional paper cutouts called horai and Buddhist rosaries, and freely attend religious services held from 6 a.m. every morning. It is the only shukubo in Koyasan with a hot spring bath.

Hakujukan inn at Eiheiji Temple (Eiheiji, Fukui Prefecture)

An inn with 18 rooms, Hakujukan opened in July in front of the gate of Eiheiji, a famous Zen temple. The inn is operated by Fujita Kanko Group under the temple's supervision. Qualified "Zen concierges" help guests with meditation postures.

Oyado Suwa (Nagano, Nagano Prefecture)

(Photo by Hideyuki Miura)

A venerable shukubo in Togakushi, an area long popular with mountain ascetics.

Guests can experience such activities as copying written prayers used in Shinto purification rites and making shide -- white paper decorations for shimenawa sacred straw ropes.

The shukubo also offers assistance with outdoor activities, such as winter hiking, by finding guides and lending out snowshoes.

Ryoan Fukinotou at Fukiji Temple (Bungotakada, Oita Prefecture)

The inn is near Fukiji Odo, a temple hall designated as a national treasure. Guests can visit Fukiji Temple to take part in morning services, Zen meditation, sutra copying and goma prayer in an esoteric Buddhist fire ritual.

Enryakuji Kaikan (Otsu, Shiga Prefecture)

Enryakuji Temple opened this lodging facility to the general public 14 years ago. There, zazen (seated meditation) is explained in simple words and easy-to-copy sutras are selected for children.

Shigisan Daihonzan Senjuin (Heguri, Nara Prefecture)

Founded in the sixth century, Daihonzan Senjuin is the oldest temple in Shigisan, or Mount Shigi. Guests can take part in religious rites, such as praying under a waterfall or chanting sutras in front of a flame during a goma ritual.

Saifukuji Kakinobo (Shimogo, Fukushima Prefecture)

Saifukuji is a temple adhering to Jodo Shinshu, or the True Pure Land school of Buddhism. Guests are provided with chairs and are not required to sit cross-legged during the chief priest's sermon.

Ichibata Yakushi Mt. Ichibata Cottage (Izumo, Shimane Prefecture)

A cottage-style shukubo at Ichibata Yakushi Temple overlooks Lake Shinji.

Yasugi Kiyomizudera Koyokan (Yasugi, Shimane Prefecture)

Located inside Yasugi Kiyomizudera Temple, which was founded in 587, the Japanese-style inn serves vegetarian dishes including sesame tofu, broiled soybean "eel" and sliced "raw squid" made of bracken-root starch.

Akihasohonden Kasuisai (Fukuroi, Shizuoka Prefecture)

Founded in 1401, the temple belongs to the Soto school of Zen Buddhism. It has a historical connection to Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. Guests can join monks in their daily work, such as making amulets and cleaning the temple precincts.

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