The food in the Japanese monastery was 'basic and vegetarian'. What did you expect?
Japan holidays The food in the Japanese monastery was âbasic and vegetarianâ. What did you expect? Liz Boulter
A recent online spat between tourists and a Buddhist monk highlights the culture gap that can crop up when travelling abroad. But arenât such differences one of the joys of travel?
The recent news of a Buddhist monkâs angry outburst at negative online reviews made me smile. Visitors complaining about meals being âbasic and vegetarianâ at a monastery is like criticising a steakhouse for having too much meat on the menu. So I did scoff initially at the idea of people travelling in Japan â" and to a monastery â" and not being prepared for âstrangeâ meals that are âquite unlike any food Iâve ever tastedâ.
But maybe (American-born) Shingon priest Daniel Kimura was being unfair â" and the term âuneducated fuckâ is certainly intemperate. The comment isnât necessarily negative: eating food unlike any youâve tasted is one of the great joys of travel, and perhaps the person posting meant only to alert others to its unexpected nature.
Mount KÅya, or Koyasan, 85km south of Osaka, is the centre of the Shingon Buddhist sect, with over 100 temples in a small mountaintop town, 52 of which offer shukubo, or guest quarters (doubles from Â£120 a night full-board). Itâs reached by train and funicular through spectacular wooded mountains and very we ll set-up for tourists, with helpers directing visitors to the right bus for their lodgings.
The peaceful town is a bit like Oxford or Cambridge, except instead of ancient colleges, the streets are dotted with temple complexes, and monks clip-clop around in wooden geta sandals.
Thereâs no privation, though: en suite rooms have wifi and in-room dining. When I stayed in a Koyasan monastery last year the food was certainly unlike any in the west â" and indeed unlike much in the rest of Japan. Homemade, healthy and vegan, it was beautifully presented, and served on lacquer trays with tiny legs, as we sat on floor cushions. It was full of strange textures, though â" and oddly bland. There was a big fuss about goma dofu, starchy squares made from a root vegetable thatâs hard to dig up, hard to process â" and hard to understand: texture a bit like blancmange, flavour barely discernible. It is apparently high in protein, though.
But hey, if you want fam iliar foods or luxury lodgings, you donât do a temple stay. The old buildings and gardens are lovely and guests can join in evening meditation, 6.30am prayers and a dramatic 7am fire service. Each evening a monk leads a visit to Okunin cemetery, the holiest in Shingon, which is atmospheric, peaceful and not spooky at all.Topics
- Japan holidays
- Food and drink
- Cultural trips
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