Spirited Away at Shukubo Kakurinbo Temple Inn

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Shukubo Kakurinbo Temple Inn (Minobu, Yamanashi)

I was recently asked by a friend to visit a traditional temple inn located deep in the ancient temple district of Minobu, Yamanashi, in order to help the proprietress, Junko Higuchi, attract more international guests. I went willingly as I am quite passionate about the Yamanashi area and I am also quite fond of traditional Japanese culture. I had been told that lunch would be served, but I was not expecting the elaborate meal and genuinely warm reception that I received.

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Ms. Higuchi welcoming me to her temple inn

The first thing to strike me as I approached the temple inn was the bird song and faint sound of monks tapping on a mokusho, a type of round wooden drum. The scent of tiger lilies filled the air as we walked by a colourful ancient temple and cemetery near the entrance to the inn. Only later did I learn that the inn or shukubou, a traditional temple inn where devotees of the temple used to stay, belongs to the temple and cemetery complex. The temple was built more than 550 years ago and an ornate ceiling was added 200 years later as a gift by the 4th Tokugawa Shogun, Tokugawa Ietsuna (1641-1680). The temple ceiling bears a striking resemblance to the famous shrine at Nikko as the very same carpenters were responsible for its construction.

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Gyogakuin Kakurinbo Temple

In full view of the temple inn’s garden, my wife and I sat down to a feast of at least 13 dishes. This type of meal is known as kaiseki (a traditional multi-course meal served gradually as each course is eaten).  The meal was predominantly vegetarian, but fish was also served. By the last course, I felt totally overwhelmed by the volume and variety of food on offer. I was particularly fond of the homemade natto (fermented soy beans) served on a bed of crunchy, deep-fried tofu curd. The entire meal was a delight from the appetizers to the dessert.

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Kaiseki meal

After the meal, we strolled through the temple inn’s garden. The garden’s pond is in the shape of the kanji character for “spirit” or kokoro (心). The proprietress recommended that we look inside ourselves as a form of meditation while we viewed the garden. I assume the shape of the pond is supposed to help in this endeavor.

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The garden

I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that anyone would enjoy a free meal in a peaceful setting, and you would be right. However, my experience was definitely more than that. I don’t know exactly what made my day at Shukubo Kakurinbo Inn so special. I don’t know if it was the atmosphere, the food or my conversation with the English-speaking priest, Mr. Higuchi, but I left feeling refreshed. Maybe it was Mr. Higuchi’s answer to my ridiculous question regarding the reason for tapping the wooden drum and reciting the sutras. He said, “When I do it, I find what I am looking for.” That’s a good enough answer for me.

Update!

I spoke with Junko and she mentioned that she offers a bespoke temple inn experience for discerning guests. I am not exactly sure what she is able to do for guests, but she did mention that, subject to availability, she is able to provide the entire first floor of the inn by moving sliding doors. In fact, if a guest requires the entire inn, that may also be possible. I get the impression that she is very accommodating. If you need more information about the inn’s extra services, feel free to contact me via my blog’s contact page.

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