Zen Meditation Retreat & Japanese Cultural Homestay
Experience authentic Zen temple life in rural Japan...
Shōganji Zen Retreat opened it’s doors to the public in 2004 in order to allow foreigners to experience authentic Zen temple life in Japan. The modest Shōganji temple is located in the tiny village of Ojuki, part of the Saganoseki village cluster, only 30 minutes from Oita city. The temple site itself is more than 600 years old, and has been held by the Kongo family for more than 100 years. It is currently headed by Jiho Kongo.
Simplicity, authenticity, and quiet beauty best describe Shōganji. It is a way of life, rich in spirit and culture. Surrounded by beautiful bamboo forest and only a 5 minute walk from the beach, this idyllic location is the perfect setting to meditate, study Zen, or just experience traditional Japanese village life.
The informal and relaxed setting, as well as the small number of guests, allow for a uniquely personalized experience. Japanese cooking lessons, Japanese calligraphy, Zen study and koan, green tea ceremony, hiking, swimming, “onsen” hotspring bathing visits, sightseeing and shopping excursions are just a few of the regular activities offered at the retreat.
The friendly seaside village community of Saganoseki is famous for it’s fishing, as well as it’s rice fields and speciality citrus groves, all stretched between lush scenic mountainsides. The peaceful location is ideal for long mountain hikes, endless beach-combing, or simply enjoying a slower pace of life. In the warmest months from May to September the beach is perfect for swimming. The region also features numerous onsen hot springs, with the highest concentration of natural hot springs in all of Japan in nearby Beppu.
Shōganji is deeply tied to the local community and hosts both Japanese and foreign guests. A small number of guests is always our preference – allowing us to maintain a relaxed and intimate retreat environment most days of the year (with the exception of a few major Buddhist festival days). You will most likely have to opportunity to visit with local temple members, other Japanese monks, or perhaps the odd foreigner teaching English at the local elementary school. On the other hand, if silence and solitude are golden to you, these requests are easily fulfilled. image
Shoganji is not a hotel or hostel. It is a very special homestay experience with a unique and engaged host; an experience offering immersion access deep into a part of Japanese culture rarely experienced by foreigners.
Shoganji is not a monastery. It is, rather, a fully functional Zen Buddhist temple serving 70 families in the area. It has only one full time monk (Jiho Kongo). It’s pretty quiet most days, but regularly serves as a community center for various important dates on the Buddhist calendar and Buddhist services.
The facilities and general living experience at Zen Retreat are best compared, by western standards, to a homestay in a very large well equipped cottage. There is a quaint and cozy rustic feel and aromas of wood and tatami. The property features a large vegetable garden, a small citrus orchard, and persimmon trees, all surrounded by lush mountain bamboo forest. Most areas on the property are freely accessible most of the time. You can almost always find quiet and solitude, or pleasant company, somewhere on the property at any given time. The number of guests is intentionally kept small for a more personal and relaxed experience… and so that everyone fits in the monk's car for excursions!
ROOMS: The Temple features 4 spacious private tatami guest rooms. The rooms can be shared by couples optionally, but this does not alter the cost per person. They are sparsely decorated and almost unfurnished in the traditional style, with futon bedding. Basic furniture items such as tables or chairs may be requested in your room if needed.
BATHROOMS: The well maintained bath and toilet areas are shared by all guests. There are two completely separate washrooms with sinks and toilets and one completely separate traditional Japanese style bath. The wood fired bath is especially delightful in the winter months. One should have a thorough “bucket bath” before getting into the bath itself as the bathwater is shared. Taps provide cold water which is then heated in the tub. (There are no showers on site.)
ONSEN BATHING (off site): In addition, regular outings are taken to local “onsen”, or traditional Japanese public hot spring baths in the area. The onsen experience is unique to Japan and should not be missed. The best onsen have an outdoor pool usually with a pretty view or garden. Most onsen offer complete standard shower facilities in addition to the hot spring water pools. The rule is that one should bathe completely using the showers, before getting into the shared hotspring pools. Nothing should be taken into the pools, and people typically bathe completely naked. (Most are gender segregated.)
INTERNET: There is 24 hour wifi internet access in the kitchen/dining area, outdoor courtyard area, and most of the garden – so feel free to bring your laptop or other device. If you are lucky you might get a weak signal in your room. Computer access is available for short periods on request – however there is no public computer for regular use by guests.
LAUNDRY: A washing machine is freely accessible to guests, and laundry is hung to dry. If you prefer a dryer, there is a laundromat only about 2 minutes down the street.
Interaction with Guests
Jiho is a very present and attentive host and will do his best to please all of the small number of guests there at a given time. Jiho typically spends at least half the day and often the whole day with his guests, including on site activities, nearby activities, and then car excursions in the area.
Activities at the temple are very flexible based on the interests of the guests at any given time.
The retreat does not operate rigidly as a typical commercial enterprise, and is not a hotel or hostel. It is much more than a plave to sleep. Rather, it is a personalized human-based experience in a very special place with a unique host.
Morning meditation is strongly encouraged for all guests. This follows the basic principle behind the existence of Zen Retreat and also fosters a sense of community and shared experience among guests. Beginners and experienced meditators are all welcome, and while traditional Zen sitting-meditation form is encouraged, it is not required. Meditation is truly for everyone, and we follow a “just try it” philosophy here at Shōganji.
Your experience at here can be as strict or as relaxed as you like depending on your needs and interests. Some guests simply want to try meditation and take some time to rejuvenate and experience the magic of Japan in a unique setting. Others may wish to delve deeper into Zen tradition and possibly even add some monastic elements to their stay. (Koan, fasting, extended meditations, calligraphy, Zen studies, and more…)
All are welcome.
Meals are informal, communal, and your contribution to menu design and food preparation are always welcome. Please be sure to inform us of any special dietary requirements or preferences you have – most can be accommodated.
We strongly recommend not having any strong caffeinated beverages or any food until after meditation.
Wake up. Morning service & chanting in the main hall, optional attendance. (…but definitely worth experiencing!)
Zazen – sitting meditation 60 minutes. (strongly encouraged for all guests) Form and duration of meditation is flexible and accommodating. Our approach is “just try it” and we welcome all levels of experience. For some the challenge may be to just try informal meditation for a short time each day, for others it may be to develop strict form and extend one’s endurance. For those unable to use traditional cross-legged sitting form, we have numerous cushion options, stools, chairs, and a couch available to you.
Personal time (bathing, reading, rest, etc.) NO breakfast is encouraged based on the NISHI HEALTH SYSTEM. Alternately a light breakfast such as fruit and tea is an option.
“Samu” – (optional) gardening, temple maintenance, food preparation, etc. Traditionally this is slow, quiet, meditative “help around the temple” and typically is part of monastic life in Japan.
Free time, or additional meditation time if desired. Also, preparation for lunch.
Lunch – your participation is encouraged and appreciated. Learn some Japanese cooking tips or pick some fresh items from the garden. And, please, help out with the dishes at the end of the meal!
AFTERNOONS are flexible and unscheduled but may include sightseeing, shopping, walks, runs, Yoga, swimming, other exercise, Tai Chi, trips into nearby towns, visits to area Onsens (hot-spring bathing), additional meditation/Zen teaching, and more. Jiho is a very engaged host, open to suggestions, and wants you to get the most out of your time here. Excursions by car with Jiho are common.
17:30 Dinner – once again, your participation is encouraged and appreciated.
- Supervised fasting is an option offered at Zen Retreat but is best done with the participation of all guests. Please ask if you are interested.
- On request, at additional cost, off-site overnight stays can be arranged in places of special interest such as Ryokan visits.
Please ask if you are interested.
Shōganji Zen Retreat is located in tiny Ojuki Village, part of the fishing village cluster called Saganoseki, just east of the city of Oita, in Oita prefecture, on Kyushu island, the southernmost large island of Japan.
Kozaki station (near OITA city) is your final destination, the closest train station to the retreat, only a 10 minute drive away. We will come and pick you up there.
Consider letting us know precisely when you will arrive at Kozaki station so we can be better prepared to pick you up. There is not much near Kozaki station to keep you entertained, so you will not want to hang around there for long. It is also a good idea to have our telephone numbers with you at all times so you can reach us in case of any unexpected changes or delays.
Other Things to Note
Why we require a Three Day Minimum Stay:
Shoganji is not just a place to sleep.
Our purpose is to provide a very particular cultural experience and an chance for people to experience Zen meditation in an authentic fashion.
Most people stay a week or more in order to have the full experience offered here; settle into the special rhythm of this place and experience the effects of meditation. This is not really possible in just a night or two. In addition, the retreat is not on the tourist trail. Its a lot of effort to get out here for only a short stay.
There is no smoking in the building.
What a one of a kind off the beaten path experience we were so lucky to have! Jiho was an amazing host and made us feel very welcome. We loved every moment. From waking up and meditating, to having peaceful afternoons just reading while it rained. It was magical and fun.
The temple is on a beautiful piece of land surrounded by giant trees and moments from the ocean. Everything is so clean and peaceful. The food is absolutely delicious, and you should definitely go to the bath house.
I wish I could have stayed for weeks, and will definitely try to go back!
Imagine waking up to the sound of trees rustling in the wind and birds singing to the sunrise. As you lay in bed, your fingers feel the reeds of the tatami mat underneath your futon, and your eyes gain focus on unidentified Japanese calligraphy across the room. The sound of footsteps passes through the hallway outside your door and you know it's time to join your host, Hosan, in the temple for a hour of silent meditation. Welcome to "Zen Retreat - Buddhist Temple, Oita".
Oita, a sleepy industrial city on the southern coast of Japan, is a short plane ride from Tokyo. About 2 hours outside of Oita is a Buddhist temple run by a monk named Hosan. This guy will change your life. And if he doesn't, his 94 year old mother will. Together, these hosts provide the most Japanese experience one could hope for. Thanks to Pierre & Yo for adding this listing and managing the account for Hosan.
Your morning begins at 5:30am in the shrine area of the temple. Do not be late. Hosan will provide a place for you to sit on the tatami mat. The next 30 mins is something I won't give away, but rather you have to experience first hand. Then, at 6:00am you sit in silence, the sun isn't even up yet. The day wakes up with you as birds begin to chrip and light floats through the transparent panels of the Japanese walls. There is no breakfast at the Zen temple. Instead the next meal is lunch, prepared by his mom at 12:00pm. The afternoon will be filled with activities. Or not. The beach is 5 mins away. There are mountain trails. There is a store in the village filled with all kinds of oddities. You can watch Korean soap operas with his mom during the day, or check your email over their wifi (you won't want to get on computers once you're here). Be sure to take a walk into the orange tree grove, and explore the wooded paths behind the pond.
Hosan teaches and believes in the Nishi Health System. You will eat some of the most authentic, healthiest food in his kitchen. His mom prepares the best soba noodles, tempura, diakon, fish. Each night was feast of nutritious proportions. Dinner is at 6 or 7pm. After that the night is free, though you will probably want to go to bed earlier than in your normal life.
Did you feel your chest expand while reading any of the above? If yes, book this listing. Yes, it will be different. Yes, you will learn about Japanese culture in a brand new way. And yes, you will have a story to tell when you return.
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Natural health practitioner from Montreal, Canada. Taking care of admin and bookings for the Zen Retreat - Syoganji Zen temple in Ojuki, Saganoseki, Oita, Japan. I have spent many wonderful months here with this very special, unique, quirky, host gaining a unique insight into some often more obscure sides of Japanese culture: Life in a small Japanese village and life in a fully functional neighbourhood Zen temple. My time here was a life changing experience and I highly recommend it.
About me? I now spend 6-8 months per year living and working in Montreal as a Natural Health Consultant ((website hidden)) and the rest of the year travelling and studying.