The art of inclusivity


Published: Mon 20 Dec 2021, 3:54 PM

Buddhist temples are an integral part of Japanese tradition and a must-see on every traveller's list. Many visitors may want to experience the stay at one of these places regardless of their religion to participate in the rituals and monastic meals, also known Shojin Ryori. The meals are vegetarian but may occasionally include soy sauce and sake. In order to accomodate Muslims and give them an equal opportunity to experience the fullest, Shojiin Temple in Wakayama prefecture offers not only halal meals but also prayer room that abide by the Muslim tradition. Wakayama is Japan’s spiritual heartland attracting enlightenment-seeking pilgrims and beach-bound sun worshippers in equal measure.


Rhonita Patnaik

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Akira Miyata, who serves as the deputy priest of Shoiijin Temple and instrumental in introducing the halal meals at the temple, talks about this paradigm shift in the temple's services.

Miyata comes from the lineage of Shojiin temple priests with his father now being the chief priest of the temple.

His interest in the Middle East culture was embedded since long. In college, he leaned Middle East philosophy and during his fourth year, he during his fourth year, he wrote an academic essay about the difference between Islam and Buddhism because he was keen on learning the difference between monotheism and polytheism. He then travelled to Middle East including Afghanistan in the same year to learn the cultural ethos. His personal experience and his heritage to serve people was instrumental in him taking the next step - make the temple inclusive of all religions. According to Miyata, he is making an effort to build bridge between Japan, Buddhism, and Islam.

He says: "The reason for acquiring the halal certificate for the Buddhist cuisine was because of the many travellers who come to Japan. Some of the Buddhist temples run guest house, and the hosts offer guests food. In Japan, in the past, there were Buddhist alters in the houses. An offering was made at the Buddhist alter in the household in the morning. The sons and grandchildren have done the same thing as their fore fathers. Since Muslims pray five times a week and in order to facilitate Muslim tourists in Japan, the temple also offers its prayer halls for Muslim guests. Thus in order for visitors to stay all under one roof, I set out to seek certification for the food offered in Shojiin temple."

Did you also know that it is the only Buddhist temple in Japan that offers halal food as well its prayer hall where Muslim visiters can pray facing the direction of Mecca. The temple also observes ramadan and offers guests food to break the fast during the period.

Certification granted

About seven years ago, Miyata was introduced to a Muslim organisation in Kyoto. To make his intentions clear, Miyata presented a paper explaining the reason for halal certification in a buddhist temple. Post that, three men from the organisation came to the temple and inspected the kitchen. After making some slight, necessary changes to the kitchen arrangement with regards to cooking utensils, the temple was halal-certified.

About the temple

Located in the heart of the temple settlement on Koya-san (Mt. Koya), Shojiin provides authentic Japanese lodging in a Buddhist temple. This temple settlement has been a place of teaching and contemplation for more than 1,200 years.

Unlike a regular hotel experience, this temple stay, provides a spiritual escape set in idyllic surroundings. The temple was founded in the 12th century, and the present structure is over 100 years old. Rise with the temple bell at dawn and join the priests and monks in their morning ceremony for chanting and meditation.

Shojiin is also well-known for its Goma Taki morning fire ritual, which involves burning wooden plates with prayers written on them as the monks chant and recite their prayers. When guests are allowed to participate, they are asked to write their wishes on wooden plates, which will be burned in the fire. This is believed to burn away their excess wishes and desires to achieve a simple, appreciative life. The fire is meant to destroy negative energies and purify the mind, body, and spirit.

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