Eihei-ji Temple, the home of Zen in Japan
Eihei-ji Temple in Fukui Prefecture is the head temple of the Soto school, one of the Zen schools in Japan. Zen Buddhism is one of the Buddhism sects that has Daruma as its father, a monk from India who moved to China. Dogen, the founder of Soto, established the school when he returned to Japan after having gone through ascetic practice in China, and opened Eihei-ji Temple in 1244.
The practice of Zen Buddhism is simply devoting onself to “Zazen” (Zen meditation). Zazen is the way of Zen practice where you sit in the “Agura” (cross-legged) style with your back straight, relinquishing all worldly desires while meditating. The Rinzai school, another leading Zen school in Japan like the Soto school, values interaction. They have a style where you sit facing other people with your back to the wall. On the other hand, the Soto school has a style where you sit facing the wall. It is said that you reach a higher stage by focusing on sitting, quietly looking inwards. The spirit of Japanese Zen appeals to many people, including the late Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple.
Eihei-ji Temple, located deep within the mountains, sits quietly nestled among old cedar trees. The grounds, home to about 200 ascetic monks, contain a kitchen, a bathhouse, and a building where Buddhist memorial services are held. Not only Zazen and sutra recitation, but everything in daily life from cooking and eating meals to cleaning, is considered ascetic practice.
Soto-shu Daihonzan Eihei-ji Temple
Address: 10-5 Shihi, Eiheiji-cho, Yoshida-gun, Fukui Prefecture
Visiting hours: May-Oct 4:00 am – 5:00 pm, Nov-Apr 5:00 am – 4:30 pm
Directions:From Tokyo: About 2 hours and 10 minutes by Tokaido Shinkansen from JR Tokyo Station to JR Maibara Station, and then about 1 hour by the Limited Express Train “Shirasagi” from Maibara Station to JR Fukui Station. Another option is 2.5 hours by the Hokuriku Shinkansen from JR Tokyo Station to JR Kanazawa Station, and then about 45 minutes by the Limited Express Train “Thunderbird” from Kanazawa Station to JR Fukui Station.
From Osaka: About 1 hour and 50 minutes by the Limited Express Train “Thunderbird” from JR Osaka Station to JR Fukui Station, and then about half an hour by the Keifuku Bus “Eihei-ji Liner” from JR Fukui Station to Eihei-ji Temple.
It’s time to experience Zen practice for 2 days and 1 night
In addition to trying Zazen and “Shakyo” (sutra copying) for a short period of time, Eihei-ji Temple also has lengthier Zen practice programs that involve staying for a night or more. There are two programs: “Sanro”, for 2 days and 1 night, and “Sanzen”, for 4 days and 3 nights. “Sanzen” is a quite authentic and strict ascetic practice. For beginners, “Sanro” is recommended.
On the first day of Sanro, you enter the temple between 2:00 and 4:00 pm and take a bath to purify your body. Afterward, you have dinner at 5:30 pm. All meals are vegetarian and have been prepared by monks. They contain no meat, fish, or any ingredients that have a strong smell, such as garlic and green onion. Rice, soup, pickles, and three kinds of side dishes are provided. Before eating, it is customary to give thanks to the monks who prepared the meal, as well as to the ingredients themselves.
After the dinner, you calm down your mind through Zazen, listen to a Buddhist sermon, watch a video introducing Eihei-ji Temple, and go to sleep at 9:00 pm. In principle, rooms are separated according to the groups that applied for this program, and you may not have your own room.
You wake up around 4:00 am (3:00 am in summer) on the second day, and do Zazen. You have a morning service from 5:00 am in “Hatto” (lecture hall). While as many as 100 monks are chanting a sutra, participants do “Shoko” (burning incense and praying in front of the Buddha). After that, they have a tour around the grounds, have breakfast at 7:30 am, and finish the practice around 9:00 am.
Eihei-ji Temple is a sacred place where many monks devote themselves in strict practice. When you participate in the Zen practice program, please do so with respect. Please follow the rules including the prohibition of taking photos of monks, talking during meals or when in the bathroom, as well as wearing make-up or perfume. In winter, it is best to participate with warm clothes, including socks, since it is cold, and there is plenty of snow.
To apply for a Zen practice experience program that involves staying overnight, write your information in English including your address, your name, the program and its date that you want to take and send them to Eihei-ji International Department by mail or fax by one month prior to the date you wish to participate. They will then send you an application form, so fill it out and send it back. Participation fee is 8,000 yen per person for Sanro (includes 2 meals) and 12,000 yen for Sanzen.
Add highlights and the local specialties of Eihei-ji Temple to your trip memories!
We will introduce highlights and local specialties that you can visit in a day’s trip.
At the heart of the vast Eihei-ji Temple is the main gate, the Buddha hall, Hatto, and a total of 7 buildings where ascetic monks lead their daily lives. You can see the beautiful design of the majestic buildings. The ceiling, decorated with 230 individual pictures of flowers and birds in Sanshokaku hall, is also a grand sight.
The grounds of Eihei-ji Temple, surrounded by nature changing in every season, leaves you feeling refreshed, and your mind will feel cleansed just by visiting.
In front of the gate of Eihei-ji Temple, there is a row of restaurants where you can taste vegetarian dishes, as well as Eihei-ji Soba with grated Japanese radish on top. There are also souvenir shops that sell souvenirs such as Goma-dofu, tofu made from sesame seeds, and arrowroot starch (flour made from pea family of plants, often used for Japanese sweets and dishes).
Let’s take a stroll in Monzen-machi, or the temple town, where you can enjoy eating local specialties and shopping in a relaxing atmosphere. Along with the Zen practice experience, this will be a special memory of your trip to Fukui prefecture.