In October 2021, I took a solo trip to to spend a week with a Buddhist Monk. I flew from Okinawa to Fukuoka and then took a 3-hour train to Saganoseki, a small fishing village just east of the city of Oita. I decided to delete social media so I could be fully present for the experience, which eventually led me down the path of digital minimalism (learn more about DM here).
I spent one week with Jiho, a 74 year old monk, at his home, a 600-year-old Zen Buddhist temple site called Shōganji temple. Booking details here.
To view a shorter video recap without narration, see this post.
I was expecting strict rules and a rigid schedule, and I was surprised by how much fun I had experiencing Jiho’s life filled with peace and simple pleasures.
Each day we woke up at 5:30am, chanted for 30 minutes, and meditated (Zazen style) for 60 minutes. As someone who struggles with meditation, I loved starting our practice with chanting or humming along as the extended exhale calms the nervous system and stimulates the release of nitric oxide. By the end of the week, I no longer found the hour of seated silent meditation as difficult.
After morning meditation, we took time for tea and relaxation. He loved this tea with 16 different herbs and we would enjoy several pots of tea a day.
Then we would spend a few hours gardening or maintaining the temple (mostly weeding for me haha!). Around noon, we would finally break our fast and eat a diverse meal, often supplied from the garden and enjoyed with a glass of wine
The afternoon was always free for me to read, take a walk, or simply relax in nature. I noticed that each day we followed a schedule so that there was space for spontaneity. Sometimes Jiho surprised me with a fun cooking lesson or a trip to the onsen.
We would end the night with dinner and his favorite beer (Kirin) or local sake, and interesting chats. Jiho is full of stories from his career of hosting travelers from all over the world at his temple.
Some of my favorite memories
- Snacking on ginkgo nuts and persimmon
- Learning how to make udon. Jiho’s secret was using gathering fresh ocean water from a special beach and then using it in the homemade dough. He taught me a unique method for folding the dough. Then we cut and cooked the noodles, and he taught me how he eats them by dipping them into a homemade sauce.
- An impromptu tea ceremony. We used special ceramic bowls that have been collected over the years, some of which are worth hundreds of dollars.
- Learning about the daily sutras for chanting and zen stretches for posture.
- Sharing a bottle of his favorite sake.
- Visiting the Usuki Stone Buddhas, statues that are over 1000 years old and are considered a national treasure. Then going out to lunch, trying miso ice cream, and visiting a local temple.
- Going to a unique outdoor onsen with stunning views.
Zen life is a beautiful balance between rigidity and flow, effort and ease.
Jiho is such a peaceful, joyful, silly, and adventurous soul. His life is all about simplicity, quiet beauty, discipline, service, and being fully present to the small joys. Everything Jiho did, he thoroughly enjoyed. Each meal, each beverage, each walk in the forest, each trip to the ocean or the onsen. He helped me remember the joy of little things and the power of being in the here and now. This journey is often a remembering of the things we’ve already found, and putting these lessons back into practice. He has an enthusiasm for life that I hope to have when I am 74!