A temple-fueled tour of Kyoto is for many, the trip of a lifetime – and with good reason. The city served as the capital of Japan for more than a thousand years, and is consequently teeming with ancient cobblestone streets, impeccably maintained manicured gardens and palaces, and hundreds of sweeping temples (not to mention more modern crown jewels like Michelin-starred restaurants). But the chance to cap off a trip by actually spending the night in one of those breathtaking ancient temples? Now that is seriously bucket-list-worthy.
And that is exactly what InsideJapan Tours’ latest adventure is going to let a few lucky guests do—opening up the UNESCO World Heritage Site-designated Ninna-ji temple for an exclusive overnight stay. While there are a few temples that have added permanent hotels or ryokans to them (Iroha Nihon being the most luxurious), Ninna-ji is not one of them. Instead, the entire temple complex will be closed down for up to five guests for just one night, giving them crowd-free reign of the centuries-old property, which has served as the head temple of the Omuro school of the Shingon Sect of Buddhism since 886.
Though the specifics of the stay can be tailored to guest’s specific interests, the experience will unfold after checking into the complex’s Shorin-an—a traditional Japanese house filled with treasures belonging to imperial priests that once called the temple home, and that has been revamped with modern conveniences. From there, they’ll get the lay of the land on a tour of the temple guided by one of the resident monks, who will usher guests into areas usually not open to the public like the Emperor’s tea house. The sacred space was a favorite of Emperor Uda, the first of the temple’s long line of imperial priests and whose father, Emperor Koko, had ordered the construction of the temple over a millennium ago.
Dinner will bring a further glimpse into the upper-echelon of temple life, as guests will get the rare chance to dine in Goten Palace—the former head priest’s residence built in the graceful style of Kyoto’s imperial palaces—where they’ll watch the walled gardens and five-story pagoda transform with the sunset as they make their way through a traditional meal. A special Gagaku (ancient court ceremony centered around music and dance) can also be arranged after dinner, closing out the evening by giving guests a further glimpse into temples’ traditional place as a cultural salon for Japanese high-society.
The next morning, guests are encouraged to wake up early to catch the chanting sutra ritual along with the resident monks. They can also arrange to for a private fire ritual—a Shingon tradition that combines the esoteric sutras with consecrated fire believed to have a powerful cleansing effect, clearing negative energy and making room for blessings. Before checking out, guests should take one last stroll through the quiet hills above the grounds, where they’ll find a short hike around 88 miniature temples that replicate the larger Shikoku Pilgrimage—ensuring they experience Kyoto both writ large and small.
The Ninna-ji temple stay can be booked using the enquiry button at InsideJapanTours.com, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or calling 303.952.0379.