Think about how and where you want to spend your nights

Tip 5: Think about how and where you want to spend your nights. Make sure that your first night is taken care of before you leave. To enter the country, you first need to report where your first night is going to be spent. Decide for the rest of your journey whether you want to sleep in huts/ a tent, or if you are going to book Minshuku or hotels.

What are you willing to pay for a night’s rest?

One of my greatest expenses during the henro were the accommodation costs. I had done some preparatory reading before leaving and decided for myself that I was not going to bring a tent along. It did seem fun and interesting to me so sleep in temples for free a few times. Because they have limited resources, I brought an inflatable mat, a bag sheet, and a fleece blanket with me, so I would be able to sleep in comfort when staying over at such places. The downside of taking those with me was that it did weigh an extra kilogram.

Where to spend your nights; the options:

Think about how you want to spend your night’s rest

There are many options, as you can see, that each have their own ups and downs. I gave myself a rough budget for each day before heading to Japan. I kept track of my budgeting during the henro by keeping a chequebook in my journal. That gave me good insight into what my average spendings were and how much space I had left over to treat myself to some more luxurious sleeping quarters. You can find solutions for every wallet, big or small. Keep into account that most places want you to check in around 17:00, with a max of 17:30. Then you first use the o-furo, and then have dinner. Breakfast is usually served between 6:00 and 7:00. That is when you will have to be in the dinner hall. 

Free or very cheap: the Hagimori-list

When reading blogs, I discovered the Hagimori-list. Hagimori has walked the journey often and carries warm feelings towards the other henro. He has made a compilation of cheap places to stay the night. Sometimes, you can sleep at a “friend-of-the-henro”, sometimes it is a free temple stay or a youth hostel that gives discounts (on display of the list) to pilgrims. I gave this list to a henro from Barcelona and he made as much use as possible of this list to save money on his henro.

Note: since the COVID-pandemic I believe there is no accurate version available [and I think as a foreigner we should support the local economy to help recover by staying at paid accommodations].

Henro houses as sanctuaries

Henro houses are run by people that have oftentimes completed the henro a few times themselves, and who want to help other pilgrims. They offer pilgrims a simple place to sleep. Through their website I booked several henro houses myself. For a small compensation (for me, between ¥ 2.000 and ¥ 3.000) I received a place for the night, with futon and cover. Usually, these houses also have air conditioning in them. That was a boon in the heat and humidity of late summer. I slept in a few henro houses and always felt very welcomed.

Where to spend your night sleeping possibilities lined up


There are pilgrims that decide to sleep in a tent every night. That’s how I encountered Löwe, who was used to just sleeping in nature. He would put up his tent wherever it was possible without causing difficulties for the locals. That’s how I came upon his camp one early morning while climbing a mountain path. He had used a hut as base camp and set up his tent next to it. This was not an option for me: I am not very adventurous, and I discovered during the route that I do really like to know where I am going to sleep by the end of the day beforehand.

Ask for permission before putting up your tent

If you do decide to put up a tent, ask for permission from the landowner, make sure to set up camp in during the twilight and ensure that you are gone by dawn. I have read and heard varying stories about how welcome campers felt during their travels. A certain amount of the huts along the trail can be used for sleeping (in the route guide they are squares with a triangle above them).  That is not allowed under all circumstances, however; there will be instructions in Japanese. In the Facebook-community it seems that a lot of Japanese people prefer to not see people camping in the wild on the henro route.

Starting 2020 there are more and more reports of locals in Shikoku experiencing troubles with (outside) camping henro. Try to make use of the official camping grounds as much as possible. Some are in the route guide, others can be found at some distance from the trail. Be prepared to travel a bit to an official camp site. You’ll have to pay a fee to put your tent up, so keep in mind the additional cost.


There are Japanese people on Shikoku that provide free accommodation to pilgrims, the zenkonyado. It is a generally accepted custom to provide a donation to the host/hostess for the expenses, because often-times you are using their electricity and water. I did not go to many zenkonyado, mainly because it did not fit my planning. I did manage to find one for my third night on Shikoku. That night I slept in a hut next to Kamino-yo onsen that was offered as a zenkonyado (unfortunately nowadays its not in business any-more). The main benefit of that place was that, for a fee, I could relax delightfully in the bath house (onsen) next to it. In the bath house there were also cold drinks available.


Tsuyado is a free night’s rest in a temple. Usually, they make rooms available that are barely, or never used. The tsuyado is not available in every temple. Luckily, the route guide shows on the map which temples do have one. You also sometimes hear from other pilgrims where they do offer that option if you know how to ask for one. You can only make use of these when it is absolutely necessary. In practice, that means that you would usually ask about it at the nokyocho office around the end of the day (about four o’clock/half past four), because you cannot reach the next temple any-more.

I have spent a few nights in temples for free. In temple six the room was in the gatehouse. Tsuyado at temple 17 is in the centre of the temple in a cubicle-like room with two tatamis, where I spent a very warm night, because I did not see that the windows could be opened, which even had blinds! Along a busy road next to Bangai 8, Toyogahashi, I slept in a hut with four tatami that was located next to the toilet building. My stay at temple 47 was in a portakabin next to the parking space. And in temple 56 I slept in a bunk bed next to the toilets.

The more formal places to spend the night

In the places named above, you can usually ‘just’ walk on in: you do not even need to reserve. For the next few recommendations that will not be an option. A Japanese person likes to be prepared when you are coming over. That is why it is necessary to make a reservation if you want to make use of one of these options.

Because I do not speak enough Japanese to have a phone call, I asked the nokyocho-office in a temple to make a reservation for me. After that, the hosts and hostesses of my accommodations helped me pin down the locations for the next night. An added benefit of this was that they would plead my case. They usually would say that I did speak some Japanese and that I would sleep on a tatami. Because of this, it also became possible to spend the night at ‘Japanese-only’ locations. And for me that was a lot of fun, because that meant that I got to meet more Japanese pilgrims.


Besides the henro houses, this was my favourite way of spending my nights. Where all the previous places only offered a night’s rest, these places often fed me breakfast and dinner as well. When I had made use of a Minshuku once, I was convinced: this was a way of sleeping somewhere that brought me closer to the Japanese locals.

The Minshuku are smaller sleeping accommodations, often in a normal house, where you can receive decent treatment, and sleep quite comfortably. It is a plus if you know some Japanese, because many of them are run by older/retired Japanese people, and they usually don’t speak English, or can barely make do.

I felt very welcome in Minshuku/ Guest House Suisen. The hostess had her man pick me up from temple 28. When we attempted to reserve the next night, there turned out to not be any available places. Seeing that, she proposed that they would pick me up at temple 33, so I could stay another night. When she picked me up from there, we also took along a Japanese pilgrim who had already been transported for four nights by her: what a service!


A few of the temples run a hotel on location. Often you can also spend the night there after a reservation. As a lone pilgrim, it is often difficult to find a place to sleep: they are often run for groups of kuruma-henro, that drive around by car or van. And these groups usually fill them up quickly.

If you spend the night here, you will always receive an invitation to witness and take part in the opening ceremony of the temple. I will definitely recommend this. Around six o’clock in the morning, it will start with the (head-) monk and the whole ceremony will take place. Amazing to experience.

In temple 37 I was received warmly. Dripping wet from the rain I arrived. The innkeeper was a Japanese person who married a Spaniard. With a mixture of Spanish, English, and Japanese we were able to converse quite nicely. I was provided a beautiful room, enjoyed the o-furo, and dinner was quite nice. The morning ceremony started at 6:00. I was there together with a Japanese car-henro, and the head monk took the time to explain the ceremony to us in detail. I was surprised at myself, because I could follow most of it!


A Ryokan is a traditional hotel. In all Ryokans I slept on a futon or tatami. The rooms are furnished with a low table, which can be pushed to the side when you are going to sleep. Usually, my bed was prepared neatly during my dinner. The costs are a little higher compared to the Minshuku. Sometimes I had no other alternative than booking a Ryokan, because Minshuku were occupied or closed, or because there were no other options within walking distance.

Most Ryokans serve a traditional evening meal and a breakfast. That is included in the price. When reserving one of the Ryokan, something went wrong. I found myself standing outside a closed door. Luckily, I was able to, thanks to mediation from a local barber, sleep in the other Ryokan in the same village. Because I had not reserved, there was no dinner for me. I took care of that myself at the local supermarket on the other side of the river. When I returned with my food, the owner told me that he would still be able to make me breakfast. Such amazing service and hospitality!

Business Hotel

The business hotels are quite affordable. Every time I slept in one, there was a ‘western’ style bed in the room. Sometimes I even had my own bathroom, although I actually enjoyed the communal o-furo just as much. Usually, you will have to arrange your own dinner.

The quality of the business hotels I went to varied wildly. There were pearls among them, but also ones with gross rooms that smelled of cigarette smoke. I also felt like I was ‘at a distance from the Japanese’ and I felt like less of a henro whenever staying in one.


Then there are the chic hotels. They offer a higher level of quality that the business hotels. Usually, you will be able to eat here in the morning and evening. I enjoyed a delightful stay on the coast when I had been hiking there for about a week. The o-furo there was large, with a very nice hot bath. And after soaking, I could just head to the dining room in my yukata!

Where to spend your nights: do you want food with your stay?

Almost all forms of accommodation will offer you the possibility to decide whether you want to dine in with them or not upon reservation. You will be able to save a pretty penny by buying your own food at a konbini or supermarket. And if you skip breakfast, you will be able to get going earlier.