One of the most rewarding things we did this trip to Japan was a temple stay (shukubo) at Taiyoji temple. We had done a temple stay at Koyasan before but this was a much more satisfying experience. Not that we didn’t enjoy our stay at the temple on Mt Koya, on the contrary, but there is a reason why the Taiyoji shukubo is considered the best of all shukubo experiences in Japan.
See here for details: http://monochrome.me.uk/news/temple-stay-at-taiyoji-temple/
Within a mere 90 minutes of Ikebukuro station in Tokyo, it is surprising that photographers' and hikers' paradise Chichibu isn't discovered by more tourists yet. The rural town of Chichibu is located on a plateau surrounded by mountains and the train ride quickly gets very interesting once you have left the urban jungle that is Tokyo. Chichibu used to be well known and rich because of the silk production but never really recovered from the crash in raw silk prices during the early Meiji period which led to the Chichibu rebellion. The surrounding mountains and the resulting isolation has resulted in the preservation of lots of traditional customs. Chichibu is best known for its important 34 Kannon Temple Pilgrimage and its many festivals. The town itself feels like it is still stuck in the Showa period with loads of tiny shops and restaurants with the large Chichibu Shrine in its centre. The bubble that turned so many of the large Japanese cities into a wasteland of tall buildings and glass never arrived and I, for one, am very grateful for that.