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Japan: Fukui Prefecture (Eiheiji temple)

Located just 9 miles east of Fukui City in Fukui Prefecture is the head temple of the Soto Sect of Zen Buddhism, Eiheiji Temple. The temple is a remarkable structure constructed entirely from wood with intricate frescoes decorating its inner walls. It was founded in 1244 by Dogen Zenji, the Buddhist scholar who introduced Soto Zen to Japan in 1228, after studying in China for several years. Eiheiji means temple of eternal peace.

The temple complex consists of over 70 buildings and structures, each connected by covered walkways. The atmosphere of tranquility one finds here is further enhanced by a stream that flows through the inner courtyards.

It is important to note that unless you are admitted to the meditation programs, the only parts of the temple complex open to tourists are the Treasure Hall (a small museum containing scrolls and statues), and the Entrance Hall housing the information center. The main buildings of the temple complex and Eiheiji Temple itself are not open to the public.

Eiheiji is still an active monastery with around 150 practicing Zen monks. Visitors affiliated with a Soto Zen Buddhist organization can stay at the temple for one or more nights and follow the monks’ daily routine.

A one night stay costs ¥8,000 and includes dinner, a bath and evening meditation on the first day. The second day starts early at 3:30 AM, and consists of a meditation session, morning service and breakfast. Requests for overnight stays need to be made in advance.

A single tatami mat, measuring 3 ft. by 6 ft., is laid in rows on a raised platform called a tan in a common room. This is where each trainee eats, sleeps and meditates.

Visitors are expected to dress modestly and keep silent. Each visitor receives a list of rules which they must adhere to. For example, photography of the priests-in-training is strictly prohibited.

The temple can be reached by bus from Fukui Station. There are 4 buses and the duration of the trip is approximately 30 minutes. You can also take a train to Eiheiji-Guchi and then transfer to a connecting bus which takes about 15 minutes to reach the temple.

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Ceiling at the temple

Ceiling at the temple

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Photo credits: Umezawa, Eiji

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