Japanese company Waka to launch Buddhist temple-stay website as spiritual answer to Airbnb

Spokeswoman says it could help people experience daily life in the religious venues, and raise much-needed funds for them

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2018, 6:28pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 May, 2018, 10:51pm

A Japanese company is taking the online homestay business to another level, offering holidaymakers and hotel-seekers a more spiritual alternative to traditional accommodation and Airbnb.

New laws set to come into effect on June 15 will permit anything from a spare bedroom to a beachfront home to a Buddhist temple to be registered as accommodation and rented to guests.

And with many religious sites planning to open their doors to visitors for the night, Osaka-based firm Waka Corporation is preparing to launch its new website called Terahaku – the two kanji characters that mean temple and stay.

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The company said it hopes the site will become the Airbnb of Japan’s religious accommodation world and help introduce foreign tourists to traditions such as the vegetarian temple cuisine of shojin ryori, listening to sutras, meditating and, for particularly keen guests, middle-of-the-night prayer sessions.

Japan’s temples ... are having financial problems and have plenty of spare room for this sort of activity
Megumi Okamoto

Currently only a small number of Japanese temples offer accommodation, known as shukubo, but the advent of mass tourism in the country means millions of travellers – particularly repeat visitors – are searching for something different.

“We believe that foreigners who have already had a taste of Japanese culture will want a new sort of experience and this could be it,” said Megumi Okamoto, a spokeswoman for Waka.

“But we also want to assist Japan’s temples, many of which are having financial problems and have plenty of spare room for this sort of activity.

“We believe it will be a good fit for both sides.”

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There are around 77,000 temples the length and breadth of Japan, many of which are expected to take advantage of the new private accommodation laws to earn extra cash for their coffers.

But the benefits of such a scheme are not only for the temples. Such an influx of venues will ease pressure on other forms of accommodation, particularly ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

More than 10.5 million travellers arrived in Japan during the first four months of 2018, up 15.4 per cent on the same period last year, and putting the nation on course for more than 30 million by December.

That figure is expected to surpass 40 million in 2020.

Waka’s English-language website will allow visitors to browse temples offering accommodation, or do a targeted search based on each district of Japan. Around 100 temples have already subscribed to join the website, but that figure is expected to increase sharply as word of mouth makes temples popular accommodation options.

A night in a Japanese Buddhist temple is likely to cost anywhere between Ұ10,000 (HK$719) and Ұ20,000 (HK$1,438) per person.