Do a temple stay at the headquarters of Soto Zen Buddhism.
Looking for Japanese spirituality and history all wrapped up into one fantastic experience? A day visit, or better yet, a stay at Eihei-ji Temple will leave you with lasting memories and maybe even eternal peace.
Fukui Prefecture’s Eihei-ji Temple stands as one of Japan’s two head temples of Soto Zen Buddhism. Introduced to Japan in the 13th century by Dogen Zenji, the Soto school is the largest single religious denomination in the nation, with more than 14,000 temples dotted across the country.
Who was Dogen Zenji?
Dogen founded Eihei-ji in 1243, in what is today Fukui City, north of Kyoto Prefecture. Dogen and his followers were looking for a home to avoid conflict arising with other sects of Buddhism, such as Tendai.
For a short time, the temple was known as Daibutsu (Giant Buddha) Temple, but Dogen renamed the complex to “Temple of Eternal Peace,” or Eihei-ji, in 1246. Dogen lived the remainder of his life at Eihei-ji, leaving only once at the Shogun regent’s request. After he died in 1252, priests entombed Dogen’s ashes and a memorial in Eihei-ji’s joyoden, or founder’s hall.
Today, Eihei-ji is the head training temple of Soto Zen Buddhism, and more than 200 priests and nuns call the temple home. Practicing Soto Zen priests from all over Japan, and even the United States’ San Francisco Zen Center, come to Eihei-ji to meditate and chant sutras.
Exploring the temple complex
Eihei-ji is an impressive, not to mention massive, complex of more than 70 buildings, connected by covered walkways. It borders a beautiful forest lush with vegetation and ancient Japanese cedar trees. From October to early November, the forest turns to vibrant reds and oranges at peak koyo (autumn leaf viewing) season, while thick, heavenly blankets of snow cover the temple from December to March.
Visitors enter Eihei-ji through its reception hall. It features residences, study quarters, and a great meditation hall decorated by a sunken ceiling. From there, the buildings seem to connect seamlessly through beautiful wooden walkways. The oldest structure within the complex is the Sanon Gate, restored in 1749.
The Butsuden or Buddha Hall sits at the center of the temple’s grounds and houses Buddha statues from Amida Butsu (the past), Shakyamuni Butsu (the present), and Miroku Bosatsu (the future).
Try a temple stay
Eihei-ji offers shukubo (temple lodgings). The Sanzen program is for guests seeking a short but intense zazen (sitting Zen meditation) experience. Participants stay in communal rooms for one night, participate in morning services, enjoy tours of the temple facilities, eat traditional Buddhist meals, and practice four to five intensive 40-minute periods of zazen. The more casual Sanro program offers the above, but with only two 40-minute periods of zazen.
Hiking to Japan's Most Dangerous Temple
As temple lodgings are limited, Eihei-ji Temple has partnered with Fukui Prefecture to provide accommodation for tourists seeking a zen Buddhist experience.
The temple allowed the quaint Hakujukan Hotel to be built near its premises, using Japanese cedar wood from the surrounding forest. Guests staying at the Hakujukan Hotel are invited to practice zazen meditation and dine at a restaurant overseen by the temple, which offers shojin ryori, Buddhist vegan cuisine.