In April 2019, I embarked on a flight from France to Tokyo to do a cycling adventure all around Japan. Cycling at dawn, eating at convenience stores and bathing in hot springs, I slowly made my way through the country. I met many great people, giving me great advice, sometimes sharing dinner with me or inviting me to stay the night at their house. But one place truly stands out in my story — Kakurinbo Temple stay in Minobu village.
I ended up working there to support my stay, learning the Japanese language and culture along the way. It was the highlight of my trip in Japan and I think everyone should visit there once.
Kakurinbo Temple Stay
Located in the foothills of Mount Fuji (three hours by bus from Shinjuku), there’s a village called Minobu in Yamanashi Prefecture. The whole area is steeped in religious history as it is the spiritual center of the Nichiren Buddhism sect.
Kakurinbo is a historic Buddhist temple guesthouse, or shukubo, originally established to accommodate visiting priests and novice monks. Nowadays, they welcome guests from all over the world. Kakurinbo has a very traditional look: tatami, paper doors, old baths and a beautiful Japanese garden designed by a famed Zen master named Muso Kokushi (also called Soseki).
Guests have many opportunities to engage with the history and culture of the place. Kakurinbo offers antique kimono to try on, traditional temple food and even sutra chanting experiences.
Guests are served traditional temple kaiseki cuisine, the highlight being the yuba specialty (soymilk skin) and various seasonal ingredients. After dinner, guests can watch performers dance and play music. You can even join in if you like.
But it’s wiser to hit the hay early as one of the highlights for visitors is the 287-steps climb. Done at 6am in the morning, climbing the so-called stairs of enlightenment will lead you to Kuonji, the main temple of Minobu village. The morning prayer there is very moving. Visitors are welcome to sit, try sutra chanting if they wish, or beat a giant taiko drum as the first light spreads across the mountains.
The Newly Opened Ebisuya Guesthouse and Zencho Café
During the pandemic, the whole Minobu village became quiet and lonely. Kakurinbo Temple’s hostess took several initiatives to bring visitors back to the village. By that time, I had left the temple to go to Wakkanai in Hokkaido, the northernmost point of Japan. But I came back in time to help.
One of the projects I helped with was the renovation of a 90-year-old Japanese house. Now it’s converted to a gorgeous guesthouse named Ebisuya, and a café named Zencho.
Ebisuya is an elegant mix of traditional and modern styles. The place has been decorated with numerous creations from local Yamanashi artists. The wooden deck of the house is the perfect place for a morning yoga session, a breakfast with friends, or a dinner with the family. The guests can rent the full house privately and enjoy exquisite food prepared by the chef, surrounded by nature and the peacefulness of the sounds coming from the river.
Zencho Café and Kakurinbo Temple Beer
The Zencho café has quickly become a popular spot for visitors. It’s a place to enjoy lunch made with local ingredients, or coffee and some homemade sweets. Under French influence, they also bake amazing canelés.
As a parallel project, the Kakurinbo Temple Beer was born. I had the honor to design its label, leading to my first appearance on local Japanese TV. The beer is nowadays an original omiyage gift visitors can buy in Kakurinbo. Of course, they can also sip the beer while sitting at the Zencho terrace.
The challenge to cycle around Japan was to mark my 30th birthday. But the trip meant so much more. In the end, I discovered beautiful landscapes, learned about Japanese culture and food and improved my Japanese. I also found shelter at the best place I could ever wish for.
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