A Zen Experience at Temple Cafe (Yamaguchi)

Experience lifestyle inside a Japanese Temple!

Temple cafe

Temple cafe entrance

On the quiet island of Suo-Ōshima (commonly known as Ōshima), Otera Cafe (お寺カフェ) may actually be one of the busiest places to visit. As the name suggests, this beautiful cafe is also a Buddhist temple. Its entrance reminds visitors of the traditional Japanese homes where generations before lived or still reside. But this café also has a modern touch; remodeled and opened in 2014, the soothing lighting brings out the sparkle in the building’s woodwork which sits well with the sharp contrast of the black interior furniture. It’s no surprise with the awe of the interior and service that Otera Café won the Good Design Award in 2015 for its positive contribution to the regional community – for its utilization of space that otherwise sat empty – and turning it into a place of gathering and education.

Inside the temple cafe

 

Temple cafe scene

What can I experience at Japanese Buddhist Temple?

The hosts at Otera Café showed true traditional hospitality of Japanese nature. From the moment I walked in, a staff member greeted me kindly and took my luggage into an empty room for storage. She guided me through the long hallways, explaining the history of the temple and its Buddhist ties while introducing me to the little library, the prayer room, and the humble, yet grand, dining area. The library consists of domestic and international books, some appropriate for children and others for scholars, about Buddhist tales, history, and practices. The books are also for sale.

A small shop in the temple cafe

 

Japanese garden

Dine at a temple in Japan.

In the dining room, I sat by the window seat on a cushion atop the tatami floor, overlooking the small zen garden in the backyard. The menu was explained to me in great detail and care by a host, as a way to teach guests about the culture of Buddhist cuisine and tea ceremony traditions. The café serves obanzai, which is what vegetarian Buddhist cuisine is called. It consists of simple, balanced, and delicious items. After the meal, Japanese sweets and freshly brewed tea complete these meals.

Try traditional Buddhist Japanese food. Buddhist Japanese food is great for vegetarians!

Obanzai menu

An avocado and mountain potato, tororo imo, rice bowl with a light soup and side.

Green tea with vanilla ice cream and sweet red beans (under the tea).

Green tea with vanilla ice cream and sweet red beans (under the tea).

Can I try Japanese calligraphy on a budget? Try Japanese calligraphy for only ¥1500!

Otera Café is not only a place for a tranquil dining. With a mission to educate visitors about Japanese and Buddhist cultures, the temple has turned into a hub where visitors can try their hand at unlikely experiences. To name a few, visitors can participate in a traditional tea ceremony, learn how to arrange flowers in Japanese ikebana style, or even take part in yoga. I chose to try shakyo, an old custom of hand-copying sutras using brush and ink.

 

Lesson

 

I was taken by the shakyo teacher to the prayer room, where I first followed her instructions in saying a few different prayers, spraying incense, and walking around in a specific order. Afterwards, I sat down to concentrate on copying the sutra by hand. Using a brush to write kanji is most definitely harder than it sounded!

Shakyo calligraphy lesson

 

I took about 45 minutes, though the teacher said some people take more time to finish. As part of Buddhist beliefs, it’s important to be patient, and to face every task with care and full awareness. Participants each get to choose their own prayer to complete the sutra at the end; some choices include prayer in family health, wealth, love, or children. I chose to complete mine with a prayer to honor my ancestors and the health of my family. For any of you who are familiar with Buddhism, the long sutra written during this experience is the same as when we hear “Om,” it’s just much longer.

Calligraphy

Calligraphy lesson

Finished calligraphy!

 

Upon completing the shakyo writing, the teacher and I said another prayer, and afterwards, the participants have the choice of either taking the new written work home with them or leaving it at the shrine to be read out loud by the temple’s Buddhist practitioner, obõsan, at the next prayer gathering.

09

All the experiences are followed by a pot of tea and time to relax and reflect in the dining area of Otera Café. On Ōshima, buses only run every few hours and I had about an hour until my bus arrived. The hosts at the café kindly gave me directions and information I needed to get to the bus stop and my next destination, and kept filling up my pot of tea while I continued to relax at the café. As the time for my bus approached, I thanked the hosts and the temple and started walking towards my destination.

 

Temple in Suo Oshima

A few meters down the road, a tiny car honked and stopped by my side. Inside were two ladies I recognized as fellow guests at the Otera Café. Seeing me walking on a deserted street with my travel backpack, they offered me a ride halfway to my destination. In a country like Japan – especially in the genuinely hospitable countryside – this is a safe and kind offer. So I rode with them for about ten minutes, chatting about my travels and the differences of our countries and cities. They even looked up the following bus stop for me so I could find my way. When I finally got out of their car, they gifted me a bag full of the local clementines, mikan, for me to take on the road. I thanked them, truly grateful for the kindness and peace this island gave me. The people and experiences I faced here were just as sweet as the clementines I ate as I waited to go on my next adventure.

 

The view from Suo Oshima

 

This sunset bid me goodbye from Ōshima island.

 

Otera Café: Jugenji-temple

Website (Japanese and English): http://www.otera-cafe.com/english-top

Address: 587 Yura Suo-ohshima-cho, Yamaguchi-ken

Hours: Wed thru Fri 11:00~16:00, Sat & Sun 12:30~17:00, closed Mon & Tue

Phone:  0820-73-1418

E-mail: oteracafe@gmail.com

 

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Written by

Nina Cataldo

Nina Cataldo

Nina is a professional and recreational writer currently exploring her motherland of Japan. When she's not busy working on her upcoming conversational English book, she can be spotted biking around Tokyo to indulge in delicious food and attempting to snuggle with kitties at cat cafés. She's an odd collector of free brochures from travel counters, always looking for the next exciting destination. Nina often likes to escape the Tokyo city life to go discover new trails on the outbacks of Japan, where she enjoys connecting with locals and wanderers alike.

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