Shōganji Zen Retreat

Experience authentic Zen temple life in rural Japan

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why do you require a 5 night minimum stay?

A: We require a five-night minimum stay in order to completely engage the full experience offered here; to settle into the special rhythm of this place and truly experience the benefits of meditation. This is the primary intention behind our Zen Retreat.

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Q: Why do you have a 14 night maximum stay?

A: We have a lot of demand and we want more people to be able to experience the retreat. Once we get to know you, we may make an exception and allow you a longer stay during the less busy times of year.

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Q:  Do I need to speak any Japanese to attend the retreat?

A:  No.  Your host, Jiho, speaks very good everyday English and all of the activities with guests are conducted in English. Discussions on the basics of Zen, Japanese culture, meditation, etc. are easily had. If you are expecting very advanced cultural, scientific, or philosophical discourse in English, however, you may be disappointed.  This level of communication would need to happen in Japanese.

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Q: When is your check in and check out time?

A: Its essential that you organize your travel around our very liberal Checkin/Checkout times: 8:00am – 9pm/21:00. We ask that you do not arrive for checkin or call for pickup before 8am or after 9pm.  Please organize your travel accordingly, and please don’t ask us if you can extend these times. These are strict limits at the retreat because we are either sleeping or meditating during these times. please respect this. Apart from this, there is no strict check in or checkout time, although we ask that you show courtesy and consideration to other guests on your arrival and departure day. It is possible that you will not have access to your room if you check in in the earlier part of the day.  You will however, have access to the entire retreat so it will be easy to have food or drink, a shower, a nap, safe storage for your luggage, or almost anything else you might like to do before you get access to your room.

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Q: Why are the fees calculated per guest, and not per room?  Why can’t I keep an extra guest in my room for free?

A: With a hotel or hostel the fee is based on the space you use, cleaning the room, washing the sheets, etc.  These factors change very little for the hotel if you add another guest to the same room. The considerations are completely different for us.  Our fee is based on providing a personalized homestay experience that includes meals, activities, and is normally strictly limited to a few guests.  Since guests make up their own futon beds and maintain their own tatami rooms, the sleeping configuration guests choose has no relationship to our fee. This fee structure is also quite common at traditional Japanese ryokan style hotels, since they tend to be more service oriented, and not just space oriented like we may be used to outside of Japan. For these reasons, the fees outlined on our website are always per person, not per room.

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Q: Off Site Excursions: How much do off-site excursions usually cost?

A: You should expect to pay your own part of off-site excursion expenses.  Decisions regarding day trips or overnight excursions are normally made with the interests and preferences of all guests considered.  There is no fixed cost, and there is no standard excursion.  You are also permitted to opt out of any excursion and remain at the retreat. In this case you will be responsible for your own meal preparation, however, we generally try to avoid this situation completely.  If the excursion is overnight, there will be no morning meditation at the retreat. we generally only do this if all guests are interested in the excursion and comfortable with the extra costs.
Jiho, your host, does not charge extra for the act of taking guests on excursions. He enjoys spending time with his guests, and regular outings in the car are something he considers part of the package. That said, there are usually some destination costs involved in excursions, and your should expect to pay your own part, at a minimum.
Remember; the retreat is a temple, Jiho is a monk, and the “business model” is a spiritual one, not a commercial one. He tends toward extreme generosity. Behave accordingly. Show generosity in return.
A few tips on how to approach all this:
If you take a longer trip, it is strongly encouraged that you contribute to fuel costs, but Jiho will probably not ask you for it. Either pay for your part of the cost of any one excursion, or reciprocate the way you would with a friend (for example if he drives you around all day and pays for various admission fees to sights, gas, road tolls, etc; perhaps you might pay for dinner.). For potentially more expensive excursions such as overnight stays at ryokans, karaoke, higher end restaurants, etc; ask Jiho for your expected costs in advance.
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Q: Dress Code: Is there a dress code, or any special clothing I need?

A:   The dress code is very casual. No special clothing is required to stay at the retreat. There are no strict rules, however, there are a few simple suggestions:
Meditation: Loose, comfortable clothing is suggested for meditation. Very warm clothing for the colder months!
Reasonable Discretion: It’s a public Zen Buddhist temple, in Japan, and local senior citizens may show up at any time. Try to honor the culture you are in. Save your swimwear or other very revealing clothing for the beach, which is only 5 minutes away.
Seasonal considerations: If its during the cooler months of the year, you will want WARM, loose, comfortable, layered clothing for both meditation and sleeping. Japanese temples are not well insulated!  Expect it to get chilly at night and early in the morning. Summer is hot and winter is cold!  Its important to come prepared.
Good walking shoes are also useful as there is excellent hiking and on-foot exploring in the area, as well as for some of the excursions that Jiho might suggest. The right footwear for the garden is also useful.

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Q: Weather: What’s the weather like in the region.

A:  See the section “Taste the Season” at the bottom of the Facilities and Attractions page. Take special note of the temperatures in the winter and the summer.  Its important to come prepared.  Search short or longterm forecasts and climate charts for city of Oita (the closest major city, 30 minutes by car from the retreat.) and/or Saganoseki (the cluster of fishing villages where the retreat is located – has its own microclimate that may differ slightly from Oita city.)

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Q: Sheets + Towels: Does the retreat provide towels and bed linens?

A: Yes.  The retreat provides towels, sheets, blankets, etc to guests. There are unlimited blankets available as well during the colder season.

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Q: Paying The Balance In Full: When do I pay the balance of my stay? Do I need to pay the whole balance in cash on arrival?

A: We suggest that you make some substantial part of your payment in Japanese cash on arrival, but you can pay the rest as you go, at any time during your stay. Payment is informal, so don’t worry too much about it. We’re happy to help get you to an ATM when you need one. Just ask. We’ll make it happen.

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Q: Paying In Foreign Currency: Do you accept payment in dollars or other foreign currency?

A: We definitely prefer Japanese Yen, in cash, as payment, however, foreign currency can be exchanged at a nearby bank, or you can simply withdraw Yen at an ATM. We suggest that if you need to exchange foreign currency, that you do so in Oita or Fukuoka, not at a smaller bank near the retreat. You will get much better/faster service.

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Q: Paying Your Balance in YEN: Where can I obtain Japanese Yen to make payment for my stay?

A:  “International” ATMs can be found at Post offices and some other locations, where you can easily use most foreign debit cards and major credit cards to withdraw Japanese currency. Jiho can easily drive you to one of these machines if necessary. For stays of more than a few days, please take your daily or weekly withdrawal limits into account when planning your payment(s).

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Q: Full Payment In Cash: Why do you prefer payments in cash (Japanese Yen)?

A:  Two reasons: 1) Temples in Japan traditionally receive payments and donations in cash.  2) The retreat is a micro-business with a very personal touch and a small number of guests.  Cash keeps things simple for us and lowers costs.

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Q: Electronic/Online Payments In Full: What if I absolutely need to make full payment for my stay in advance; electronically, or by credit card? (For example; if someone else who will not be attending will be paying for your stay such as a parent, employer, or family member.)

A:  We understand that electronic prepayment may sometimes be necessary.
The only option offered at this time is PayPal to shoganjizenretreat@gmail.com.
You must request permission in writing before making full payment for your stay by PayPal.  Please pay in Japanese Yen by selecting the correct currency on PayPal. Do not pay in other currency as the conversion will be imprecise. PayPal charges us extra fees and these fees will be passed on to you. Please ask us beforehand and we will let you know your total with the additional fees added.

Alternately, we could accept and international money order or certified cheque, but these forms of payment must be completely cleared by the source financial institution before your stay begins.

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Q: Please explain the Japanese “gift culture”.   How does it apply to my stay at the retreat?

A:  There is a strong “gift culture” in Japan particularly if you are invited into someone’s home or if a neighbor or friend of the temple invites you out on some kind of excursion. If you are at the retreat for more than a few days it is almost inevitable that this will happen.  Jiho, your host, also often brings retreat guests along to household Buddhist ceremonies where a meal may be served. You will find people in Japan to be almost excessively generous and hospitable, and a little gift will go a long way in showing your appreciation. Such gifts should be simple and inexpensive. Particularly items that are obviously from outside Japan will usually be very well received.  Food specialties from your home country such as snacks, sweets, and even small alcoholic beverages are especially appreciated common gifts for home visits, nothing too big or expensive.

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Q:  Do I need any special vaccinations to visit the retreat?

A:  Officially, you do not need any special vaccinations. In addition, it is our opinion that special vaccinations are not necessary to visit the retreat.
That said, here may be recommendations made by your local health authorities for any visit to rural areas of Japan; however, the low occurrence of these illnesses in the vicinity of the retreat, plus the actual efficacy rate and duration of the vaccines, causes many visitors to decide they are not worthwhile.  Getting vaccinations is a personal decision and no single person should tell you what to do in this regard.  The final decision must be yours – and of course the recommendations of your doctor and/or local travel clinic must be well considered in this decision process.  There are specific illnesses transmitted by wild animals or through prolonged presence in rice fields (usually only a concern for rice field workers), but these are of little concern for you if you follow normal precautions and avoid these exposures.

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Q:  Are there mosquitos at the retreat?

A:  There are generally only mosquitos during the warmest summer months.  There are not typically many mosquitos indoors at the retreat, but there are a few. There is no disease or illness that mosquitos commonly transmit in the vicinity of the retreat. The normal considerations for your comfort apply; you may wish to use a repellent product of your choice and there are plug in mosquito repellent burners available at the retreat.

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Q: Using the retreat as a “base” for travel: I would like to use the retreat as a “home base” to explore the surrounding region.  I would like to take day trips to sightsee in the area on my own and then return to sleep at the retreat.  Is this a good idea?  

A: We generally discourage this approach of using the retreat simply as a place to sleep while on a busy, independent, regional tourism schedule.
However, it is definitely permitted and encouraged that guests take the occasional independent day trip on their own or with other guests.

There are a number of reasons we discourage this “home-base, independant” approach:
– The retreat is an inclusive experience with an attentive host, meals included, and a greater goal of exposing people to the Zen life and meditation. Not participating in the core program and temple life is contrary to purpose and intention behind the retreat.
– The retreat is somewhat isolated and it may take some time to learn your way around public transportation options in the immediate vicinity of the retreat. Most new guests will prefer to have either a guide or a ride.
– Guests generally find themselves abundantly entertained by the normal range of activities at the retreat, especially those guests on a shorter stay. In addition, guests can suggest activities and possibly involve the whole group. Jiho is often happy to drive guests to requested destinations. Group trips like this tend to be more cost and time efficient.

If you arrive at the retreat and then decide you really need to be off on a day trip every day, that’s fine too. It’s discouraged, but not prohibited. But we suggest trying to relax and enjoy the retreat experience here first, and then make additional plans if need be. We would also be happy to help you make those plans.

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Q: Special Activities: What will the special activities be during my specific dates of stay? Can I schedule special activities before I arrive at the retreat?

A: The core activities outlined in the daily schedule remain the same at the retreat. Alternative activities cannot be planned before your arrival at the retreat or strictly guaranteed. Alternative activities are discussed and planned with guests when they are present at the retreat and chosen based mainly on consensus among guests.  The important thing to know is that Jiho is a very attentive host who is highly motivated to show you the local culture and the region. Its important to understand that you can make requests along with the few other guests that are there at any given time. There also may be fun surprises.  There is a good balance between free time to enjoy the peace and quiet, or go exploring the immediate area on your own, or more structured time with your host. And you may always choose not to participate in any activity. You can choose simply to remain at the retreat, or create your own adventure. If somehow you do find yourself bored or restless, you can make a request, or just hop on the nearby bus or train and take a day trip on your own. Optimally, however, we suggest that you relax and just go with the flow! Guests are rarely disappointed with the normal goings on at the retreat!

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Q: Exploring the area alone: Is it easy to get out and away from the retreat alone by train or other modes of transportation?

A: The retreat is somewhat isolated and it may take some time to learn your way around via public transportation in the immediate vicinity of the retreat. Most new guests will prefer either a guide or a ride.

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Q: Japan Rail Pass: Is it useful to have an active Japan Rail pass during my stay at the retreat?

The nearest train station is about 10 minutes by car, 20 minutes by bus, or a 1-hour walk from the retreat. Since most guests find themselves abundantly entertained with the normal activities of the retreat, and since most outings are in the car with your host, most guests find that there is very little train travel during their stay. If there is any train travel, distances and costs tend to be minimal. For these reasons, we think it would be a waste of money to maintain an active train pass during your stay at the retreat.

If your itinerary includes other travel around Japan, however, a train pass might be a good investment.  Here are some example itineraries and how a train pass would best be used.

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Q: I want to know how every moment of each day at the retreat will be scheduled.  I want to be sure that there will never be a wasted moment, and that I can cram as much content into my short time in Japan as possible. I need to know that my time at the retreat will be worthwhile and that it would not be better for me to be rushing around from one tourist attraction to the the next elsewhere in Japan. 

A: If you are asking questions like this, you are already missing the point of the retreat. We suggest just coming to the retreat and going with the flow.  There are butterflies here. And also spiders. We stay busy here and have fun, but things are not scheduled moment to moment. If you do truly become bored, the frogs will always have something wise to say.

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Q: Is the NO BREAKFAST policy strict? I’m concerned that I will not be able to handle this.

A: We just hope you will give it a try! Many people are pleased and surprised by the results. Tea/coffee/herbal tea is of course permitted in the morning.
Strictly speaking: If you opt out of no breakfast rule, please keep it to yourself! If you do choose to eat something in the morning, please be discreet since the other guests are trying to fast! It is forbidden to prepare breakfast in the kitchen or eat anything in front of the other guests before lunch time.
Discretion is essential – please eat in private and hide the evidence!

( No breakfast is strongly encouraged based on the NISHI HEALTH SYSTEM and other evidence.  This is called Intermittent fasting – what you acheive by skipping breakfast and maintaining a 6-8 hour active eating window in a 24 hour cycle – and is backed by abundant scientific evidence. )

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Q: I’m a total beginner at meditation. One hour sounds like a lot. I’m nervous about coming to the retreat…

A: The following links will help you understand how to practice Zazen (Zen meditation).
A superb, detailed guide to zazen can be found here in english, and here in Japanese. Keep in mind that we are not so strict, but these videos will guide you in the right direction regardless of your level of experience. We are flexible and accommodating for everyone, but please just try your best. We welcome all levels of ability and 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. Most people are able to do the full hour and feel an appropriate sense of accomplishment!  People are surprised by how fast it goes.

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Q: Will I have to share my room with a stranger?

A: No, never. Rooms are never shared unless you specicically request it with your travel companion(s). If you book a room with us – its a private room!

 

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Q: I’m vegan/vegetarian. What’s the eating situation really like for me at the retreat?

A: Vegan and vegetarian eating is easy to arrange at the retreat since everyone/anyone can be involved in meal preparation and shopping.  However, if you cannot tolerate seeing animal products in the same kitchen, and prepared in the same cooking areas, you will be unhappy at the retreat. In particular, there is a lot of fish prepared at the retreat, usually every day.

How does it actually work? Meal preparation is communal and unstructured. The retreat is small enough that you can discuss with others what the plan is. Sometimes the monk will cook, and tell you how to help. Sometimes other guests might cook for you. Sometimes you might just do the dishes. Sometimes you might cook for others. Sometimes you might cook something just for yourself if necessary. Sometimes everyone is vegetarian, and the monk will follow. Other times there’s lots of meat, and you have to make sure your veggie meal is substantial enough. Its an experience of community and going with the flow. We will support your needs and preferences, and we hope you will support the needs and preferences of others.
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