Eiheiji Temple – 永平寺

If you ask Japanese people about the reasons the prefecture of Fukui is famous for, you are likely to get… “Nuclear power plants?” (in fact Fukui is the area, in Japan that contains more of them). Thinking more, the next place to be recalled could be Tōjinbō cliffs, the famous dinosaur museum and then the Eihei-ji Temple, we are going to introduce about here.

What’s special about Eihei-ji?

This temple is one of the largest, most ancient and significant for the Sōtō Buddhist sect, and its name means “temple of eternal peace” (永平 寺, in kanji.)

History in brief

The founder of the Sōtō sect was the monk Dōgen Zenji, born in 1200, in the apogee of Heian period, and brought the religious movement after a long mission to China. Because of some tensions created with the pre-existing Tendai sect, which dominated the Buddhist cult in the then capital, Kyoto, Dogen was invited to move, from one of his protectors, to the province of Echizen, the current Fukui, where he realized the temple Daibutsu-ji, which later became the Eiheiji.

Dogen

To date, together with the Sōji-ji temple, these two are the only two representatives of the Sōtō sect (of course there are dozens of temples that bear the same name around Japan).

Architecture

The temple stretches over 330 thousand square meters, and the main Buddha’s hall (butsuden) preserves three Buddha statues of the three times: Amida Butsu (the past), Shakyamuni Butsu (the present) and Miroku Bosatsu (the future).

Other rooms (there are more than 70 buildings, small and large, which extend in the complex) contain the kitchens, where are still prepared meals on offer for the late Dōgen master, and his successors, whose ashes are contained in the hall of memory (shidoden).

Perhaps, however, the characteristic that most captivates the visitor of the Eihei-ji, is the atmosphere that is breathed throughout the complex. In particular, the stone staircase, surrounded by centuries-old cedars, some older than the temple itself, which accompany her or him, as in a gradual journey of purification. The undergrowth is covered with soft moss, and in autumn it is surrounded by the red and yellow colors of the maple trees.

How to reach Eihei-ji

Click here to learn how to reach Eihei-ji Temple.

Impressions

When you get close to the temple, there are a series of buildings hosting souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes. As you approach the temple, the trees become more imposing, up to the main entrance, which leads to the Kichijōkaku, a large building rebuilt in recent times, within which there are rooms to allow a large number of pilgrims to stay overnight, to attend the sessions of zazen for which Eihei-ji is famous.

Once the entrance ticket has been purchased, before visiting the temple, it is necessary to take part in an orientation, in Japanese (but there are leaflets in some foreign languages), in which it is explained that Eihei-ji is an extremely sacred place, and a certain level of respect must be observed, including clothing (for example, avoid having visible shoulders, remove headgear, as if visiting a historical church in Europe). Afterwards, it is possible to explore the areas that can be visited by the complex itself, covering several rooms with Buddhist depictions, huge tatami rooms with an extremely Zen look (of course!), and covered corridors, which allow the monks to move between buildings during the winter months, when the snow falls abundantly.

The covered corridor that connects the many buildings has a great impact. It can be seen how the ancient wooden beams of the building carry the weight of the centuries on their shoulders. Today, as in the past, the steps of the monks moving between one wing and the other of the complex are echoing between the great spaces.

Finally, near the entrance of the Eihei/ji, as often happens in temple complexes of a certain size, we find an adjoining shinto shrine, in this case the Tenshōdai jingū (天 照 大 神宮). After crossing the Eihei-ji stream with a striking red bridge, similar to the Shinkyo bridge of the Nikko Tōshōgū Shrine, you will find a number of small wooden altars, which blend with the atmosphere created by the surrounding trees and rocks.

Useful information

Entrance fee 500 JPY
Opening hours 8:00 – 17:30 (may – oct)
8:30 – 17:00 (nov- apr)
Closing day First of the year
Website https://daihonzan-eiheiji.com/en/
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