Koyasan Temples

  • Vegetarian Vegetarian
    ( 7 reviews )

Koyasan, Koyasan, Japan

A stay in any one of 50 or so host "shukubo" temples in Koyasan includes a vegetarian dinner and breakfast. Many restaurants in town offer a shukubo meal as well. However, do note that some temple kitchens might use fish broth to enhance flavor, so be sure to double-check!. Note: kitchen may stop serving 30-60 minutes prior to closing, check ahead. Call for hours - tell us.

Categories: Japanese

7 Reviews

First Review by backpasher

amazing - Edit

We stayed at Jokiin temple and it was truly unforgettable. The lady at Jokiin spoke spectacular English and asked whether we had any dietary requirements. She assured us their temple meals are all vegan and for lunch pointed us to a vegan restaurant whose owner is also vegan (I can't remember the name or location though unfortunately).

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Hozen-in - Edit

We stayed two nights. When submitting my reservation request to the local shikubo association, I requested vegan meals and doublechecked after being given a room at Hozen-in, but after reading the other reviews am not sure. Nothing was obviously not vegan to us. We were the only guests. The food was good but not as magically delicious as I remember from a stay at another temple a few years earlier. The room was a bit bleak, and the morning prayers were in a fluorescent-lit room with one monk, not a smoky atmospheric temple setting like on our previous visit. I'm not sure which experience was the exception.

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Be mindful which temple you choose... - Edit

Most Koyasan temples are not really vegan, but use fish broth in their cooking to 'enhance' the flavour. Japanese monks are not vegan (unless by personal choice) so they do not share your views on fish/meat/eggs - keep this in mind as it means they will sneak things into your food and think nothing much of it. One of the very junior monks we chatted to took pride in telling us the food they serve us is not what they themselves eat on a daily basis and that whilst we are eating all these vegetables, they go out to the local izakaya to eat yakitori and drink beer. Food for thought.

The temple we stayed at first was Fukuchiin. The environment was truly special - we loved it. 3 huge rock gardens by a famous Zen garden designer, a natural onsen to soak in and interiors that feel like a museum. They served us lovely food too but unfortunately it clearly contained fish broth. The seaweed they gave us with our meal also contained fish and seafood extracts plus a dose of MSG (we asked to see the label and confirmed this first hand). The sweets they gave us were labeled in Japanese as containing eggs (if you are vegan, watch out for any sweets that are 'cakey' with sweet beans etc inside - the cake component is usually egg based)

Next we stayed at Ichijyoin. The environment was much less spectacular, the room was less than half the size of Fukuchiin, monks were less friendly, there are more rules and restrictions, and the bath is not a natural onsen BUT they do serve very good truly vegan food. You will pay for it though - very expensive considering the level of the lodging and the level of the overall experience, particularly if you upgrade to the 'special Zen' meal package as we did. Oh yes and beware the cakes in your room here too, they contain egg.

We had lunches at:
* Ekoin: very good, food was proper vegan. Surrounds not as flash as Fukuchiin but nice all the same and the monks were really friendly.
* Fudoin: also very good and this one is probably proper vegan too (at first we weren't sure as the soup tasted a bit borderline - almost like hondashi flavour - but nothing else felt fishy so they're probably ok). Monks less friendly though and the environment was the most 'basic' of all the temples we visited, particularly the toilets.

All in all, we enjoyed Koyasan. We went mainly for the food and in this respect were slightly disappointed as the food was definitely not up to Kyoto or Tokyo levels (flavours are strong, less refined), but still worth a trip.

Pros: Vegan food in spiritual surrounds, A cultural experience

Cons: Don't assume everything is really vegan, Levels of transparency are low: ask!

2 Responses
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tofutus 12 Nov 2014 - Thank-you so much for sharing the info about fish broth, etc. I almost stayed at one of these temples thinking I would get a decent vegan meal. I am heading to koyasan tomorrow and will definitely _not_ be eating "vegan" food there.  

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beroccstar 12 Nov 2014 - Hi there. No problems at all. Depending on where you stay though you can still have a wonderful vegan meal, you just have to ensure you either double check in advance, or choose one of the places I've listed above as being 'safe'. Despite the hitches Koyasan is still one of the most vegan friendly places in the whole of Japan so hope I didn't turn you right off your food! We did enjoy it, but just thought it best to share the cautions to watch out for.
Have fun! xx  

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Ekoin was perfect! - Edit

My husband and I stayed at Ekoin and it was fantastic! Beautiful, big rooms with comfortable futons, indoor onsens, and fantastic shōjin ryōri for dinner and breakfast. We highly recommend it! Lodging and meals was about $130 a night for two people and there was plenty of food. If you want to experience a Buddhist monastery in Koyasan this is the place to be, vegan or not! We especially loved their night tour of the cemetery!


Pros: Great vegan shōjin ryōri, Nice indoor onsen, Big rooms with comfortable futons

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  Contributions +26

information about temples - Edit

A typical stay in a temple at Mount Koya will cost you a little more than $100, which is very typical for any traditional Japanese establishment. You must make your reservation at least one week in advance, or longer if you plan on going during a busy season. Breakfast, generally at 7:00 a.m, and dinner (time varies by temple) are always included. Lunch will be extra, and you will have to reserve it in advance, but if your temple is on the main street in Mount Koya, I recommend it.

There is a list of temples that offer lodging here: http://eng.shukubo.net/

A few words about what to expect: Just like any ryokan, a stay at a temple is very regimented. Dinner will be served at a specific time and only that time. Don't miss it-- it will be delicious vegan food prepared under the strictest auspices of the Buddhist monks, and its cost is a large part of your stay. Don't miss the service before, either. Also, you probably can bathe at only a certain time, probably after dinner: respect that. You will stay in a traditional Japanese room, with straw tatami mats and beautifully painted sliding doors. (There are no doors with locks, but most of them do have safes for your valuables.) As the walls between the guest rooms are paper sliding doors, there is little privacy; expect that. Breakfast, like dinner, is served at a certain time, and it will be prepared for you; you are expected to show up when it is served. I recommend the service before as well.

The food varies tremendously between temples, but it generally includes goma dofu, which is a tofu-like melt-in-your-mouth puddingish confection made from starch and tahini, plus tempura, rice, pickles, and tea.

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Wonderful Experience! - Edit

UPDATE: I recently went back to Koyasan in March 2013, and stayed in Eko-in. The food was amazing, and served to me in my room. The rooms were much nicer than my stay at Shojoshin-in, and there were three price points, which reflected the food. I went for the middle option (Y12,000) and was given so much! Dinner was served after we did meditation and I could also do the heart sutra in my room for free. Breakfast was there waiting after morning ceremonies and I loved it.

I stayed at Shojoshin-in in October 2011. The accomodation was right next to Okunoin, for reference. We arrived in the afternoon after a long trek from Kyoto and appreciated the cool and fresh air up in the mountains. Our room was lovely and we had tea and cake on arrival. You are provided with yukata to wear for the stay, and most guests wore these for the dinner.

Dinner was served in a large room, with beautiful screens between guests. There were only 10 or so guests when we were there. The food was bought out to us. All vegetarian, all delicious. Unlike at other shojin-ryori restaurants, where all the food is bought in courses, here it is all at once. The sesame tofu (goma dofu) was heavenly as was local speciality koya dofu (marvellous texture and in a beautiful sauce). Also for dinner was tempura vegetables, black beans, pickles, edamame, rice, soup and apple and orange wedges for afters.

Breakfast was served after morning chanting at 6am. This was miso, natto, spinach salad, rice, nori and a tofu based cake in a stock. All was delicious, but very small portion and we were starving by lunch time!

A wonderful experience and to know all the food was ok to eat was great. I'd recommend this as a side trip from Osaka, Kobe or Kyoto as a retreat. We only stayed one night, but next time I'd like to stay longer and sample more of the local shojin ryori food in the town

Updated from previous review on Friday June 01, 2012

Pros: All included and safe to eat for veggies, Marvellous atmosphere, Yummy food

Cons: Small breakfast portions

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Rengejo-in temple - Edit

We stayed at Rengejo-in temple last year. The temple itself is lovely, and the staff are very friendly. Rooms are very pleasant as is the onsen.

We had dinner and breakfast here. The food was delightfully presented and delicious and portions were huge.

I think it cost around ¥9000 yen for the night including accommodation and meals.


Pros: Lovely atmosphere, Delicious meals, Unique experience

Cons: none

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