Exploring Unique Japanese Accommodations: Temples and Castles – Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO)

TOKYO – (COMMERCIAL THREAD) – Foreign visitors to Japan have traditionally been offered two types of accommodation: Western-style hotels or traditional Japanese inns. In recent years, new options have appeared, including the possibility of spending the night in historic temples and castles.

Many overseas travelers will have a daytime temple or castle visit on their to-do list while in Japan, but most will not have considered staying there. This is not surprising, as only 300 of Japan’s roughly 77,000 temples – let alone castles – offer accommodation.

In 2020, the Japan Tourism Agency launched a new initiative to promote experience-based travel to Japan, including temple and stays at the castle, aimed at taking advantage of the country’s local and regional attractions in an effort to encourage sustainable tourism.

Overnight stays in such an environment provide a richer travel experience, providing more opportunities for travelers to connect with the history, culture and people of the region. And with temples and castles offering these unique experiences, often in places rarely visited by tourists, it draws people to these areas and helps revitalize local economies.

Temple stays

According to TripAdvisor, the Okunoin temple on Mount Koya in Wakayama Prefecture consistently ranks in the top 10 most popular destinations. There are over 100 sacred temples on Mount Koya, and around 50 of them, including Okunoin, offer accommodation, allowing visitors to experience daily temple life, including vegetarian meals known as Shojin ryori as well as prayers and meditation. Shojin ryori is a type of Buddhist vegetarian meal introduced to Japan with the spread of Zen Buddhism. The JNTO website has details of temples in other areas that offer lodging and pilgrimage experiences.

Stays at the castle

Hirado Castle (Hirado City, Nagasaki Prefecture)

This historic site offered the very first castle accommodation in Japan. In response to an offer of a free night for a group of customers in 2017, it received around 7,000 applications, the majority of them from Europeans. This extremely positive result revealed the potential of the chateau accommodation market.

The castle officially started offering overnight accommodation earlier this year. A single group of guests can stay a night, allowing them to have the castle to themselves while maintaining social distancing. The luxurious overnight stay with two meals (including a French-Japanese fusion dinner made with fresh local seafood) costs approximately JPY 70,000 (USD 620) per person.

From the time of Nara, Hirado was the gateway between Japan and the world. Today, it continues to offer travelers a glimpse of its history and new wonders.

Ozu Castle (Ozu City, Ehime Prefecture)

Known as “Little Kyoto in Iyo Region”, Ozu City is teeming with natural and historical beauties. His chateau started offering overnight stays last year under the management of a hotel company. To provide the full experience of being a lord in a castle, guests are greeted by hotel staff at the airport, driven to the castle in a luxury car, and greeted at the gate by a troop of samurai. Guests can even dress in samurai armor or kimono and take on the role of castle dwellers.

A stay at Ozu Castle will leave guests nostalgic and enchanted.

Renovating these historic properties in regional areas for foreign visitors is no easy task. Working with the hotel industry and local communities, the Japanese government aims to make these accommodations more accessible, including providing barrier-free access and multilingual customer support. Guests will be treated to an unforgettable, yet stress-free and modern historic travel experience.

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