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Room Service? There’s a monk in my room!


This is a hypothetical situation since if you were staying at the Shukubo on Mount Koya on Japan’s Honshu Island you would; first of all, have no phone to call room service and second you would be eagerly anticipating the arrival of your shojin ryori meal and the monk who would serve it. Perhaps, however, some context is required.

If you are lucky enough or prescient enough to have selected an Ultitude culinary tour of Japan you would find yourself enjoying the street food in the bustling city of Osaka before retiring to your hotel. In the morning you would begin a journey that would not only tempt your palate but assuage your soul. Leaving Osaka on a bullet train you would transfer to a series of local trains that will take youup the slopes of Hoya-san with the last train being one of the most scenic in Japan. The final part of your journey is by cable car bringing to the top ofMount Koya, the home of Shingon Buddhism.

Alighting from the cable car your guide would take you to Kongobunji Temple, home to Japan’s largest rock garden and Okunoin, Japan’s largest cemetery and site of the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, founder of Shingon Buddhism. You would then proceed to your charming Shukubo or Buddhist temple lodging where your immaculate room awaits.

In true Japanese fashion you would take a refreshing and cleansing bath before a discreet knock on your shoji screen indicates that dinner has arrived. The inn is also a monastery and certain monks are designated as the chefs who cook and present the meals, not in a dining room, but in your own room either inside or on a matset up just outside your sliding door.

Since this is a Buddhist monastery the food is vegetarian and called shojin ryori which, loosely translated, means devotion cuisine. If you think you will be eating a meal of raw vegetables fear not because what you
will be enjoying is a variety of courses both hot and cold designed to please the palate without harming any animals. You may not leave the Shukobo as a confirmed vegan but you will look back on the dinner with fond memories.

You will enjoy a restful sleep abetted by the meal itself, the pure air and the overall tranquility of the Shukubo. Start the day early as you watch the monks chant their morning prayers before enjoyingyour shojin ryori breakfast, again
served in your room. You would then take some free time to wander the mountain top, enjoying the views and the beauty of the natural surroundings.

Later you would descend the mountain and return to the 21st Century as you board a bullet train bound for the city of Kyoto where other meals await but none, perhaps, as special as the one created by the devoted hands of a monk.