Many people are siding with the Mt Koya priest, who said he was frustrated by tourists who post “arrogant responses like they’re some travel pioneer”.

If you’ve ever had to listen to travellers wax lyrical about their amazing travel experiences abroad, one of the topics that often crops up is the appeal of “living like the locals” in a new and unfamiliar country.

While it might sound like a traveller’s dream, heading off the beaten track to live like the locals isn’t always as glamorous as expected, and that’s what some tourists at Mt Koya’s Sekishoin Temple found when they spent the night there recently.

▼ The entrance to Sekishoin Temple.

As one of Japan’s most sacred mountains, Mt Koya in Wakayama Prefecture is the headquarters for the Koyasan Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism and home to a large number of temples and important religious sites. It’s also becoming a popular destination for tourists looking to stay at a shukubo (temple lodging), where guests can experience what it’s like to live like a monk for a night, by dining on their shojin ryori vegetarian meals and joining them for daily prayers.

▼ An example of a shojin ryori meal at Sekishoin.

Sekishoin Temple is a popular shukubo option for overseas visitors, and it currently has 999 reviews and a score of 7.1 on accommodation site, while on TripAdvisor it’s listed as a two-star accommodation option, with 114 reviews and a three-out-of-five star rating. Founded 1,100 years ago, the temple offers basic rooms with tatami straw flooring, futon beds, heating, and shared toilets and bathrooms, although some rooms in their newer wing are equipped with private bathrooms.

▼ The view of the Japanese garden from one of the rooms at Sekishoin.

While Sekishoin provides a full list of their facilities online, some guests weren’t totally satisfied with their stay, taking to TripAdvisor and to express their opinions online. While most establishments in Japan respond to guest comments in a polite and formal manner, Sekishoin was having none of it, and one of their professional Shingon priests, American-born Daniel Kimura, decided to create a user account on the accommodation sites for the sole purpose of defending the temple and its lodgings…in a frank and unapologetically non-corteous way.

Kimura’s less-than polite responses were picked up by Canadian reporter Melissa Martin, who shared some of his statements in a tweet that quickly went viral online.

The screenshots above show a guest review commenting on some of the downsides of their stay, saying that the meals were “basic and vegetarian”. To this, Kimura responded with, “Just because you are a Westerner doesn’t mean you are going to (sic) treated specially”. To another reviewer who said the vegetarian dinner and breakfast were “strange”, Kimura didn’t hold back, simply saying “Yeah, it’s Japanese monastic cuisine you uneducated f#%k” (though he opted for the uncensored version of the word).

▼ And there was more:

Despite Kimura’s brash responses to guests, a large number of Twitter users were quick to show their support for Kimura, saying the temple accommodation was now on their list of places to visit., however, was less supportive of his behaviour, deleting his original responses and asking the temple to refrain from insulting customers.

According to an interview with The Guardian, Kimura admitted to writing the responses to guests, saying he had become frustrated with tourists posting “arrogant responses like they’re some travel pioneer”.

He said he was impatient as some travellers, who “don’t speak one word of Japanese” seemed to expect a level of service befitting a luxury hotel rather than a monastic setting. Still, he expressed regret at swearing in one of his responses, and vowed to dial down the tone of his comments in future.

After news of Kimura’s apology made its way to Twitter, a number of netizens again came forth, saying he shouldn’t have to apologise, as travellers should know what to expect when staying at a temple, particularly when they clearly list details about its rooms, meals and facilities online.

As debate surrounding Kimura’s actions continues to spark conversations on Twitter, his brash responses on TripAdvisor remain online for all to read, with no word yet on whether or not they will be taken down.

So if you’d like to experience life like a local on the sacred site of Mt Koya, Sekishoin is one of many options available to you. Just make sure you arrive with realistic expectations, and if you don’t, then brace yourself for a backlash from a Buddhist priest. Which, in itself, makes a great travel story for your friends.

Source: Twitter/@DoubleEmMartin, The Guardian
Featured image: Twitter/@DoubleEmMartin