Visiting the Head Temples of the Rinzai Sect: Jinnōzan Hōkō-ji Temple (Shizuoka Prefecture) / Enzan Kōgaku-ji Temple (Yamanashi Prefecture)
Hello! I am the writer, and my name is Chizuru.
This time the special feature is on the Rinzai sect.
This is my attempt at stating what the good points are, but also the points that I would like to see improved.
There are three levels of evaluation:◎（Excellent!）、○（Good）、△（I’d like this to be improved if possible...）
Please understand that these are evaluations simply from the point of view of a visitor to the temples.
Well, first of all, shall we begin with what kind of sect Rinzai is?
１．What kind of sect is the Rinzai sect?
The Rinzai sect is one of the schools of Zen Buddhism, along with the Sōtō school and the Ōbaku school.
After it was started in India by the great Zen master Daruma Daishi, it was then introduced to China and brought to Japan by Eisai, who had gone to China when it was under the Sung Dynasty.
The Rinzai sect defines enlightenment as "awakening to the Buddha-nature (the nature of Buddha) that is inherent in all living things," and believes in the concept that enlightenment is attained not through knowledge or words but through the sensations of the entire body, such as through zazen (sitting cross-legged while doing Zen meditation) or having a Zen dialogue with a master.
Among the schools of Zen, it had deep ties to the Kamakura and Muromachi Shogunates, which were warrior regimes, and had a strong impact on the formation of Muromachi culture.
With this, what I am covering this time are two head temples: Jinnōzan Hōkō-ji Temple in Shizuoka Prefecture and Enzan Kōgaku-ji Temple in Yamanashi Prefecture.
Hōkō-ji is the head temple of the Hōkō-ji school. And Kōgaku-ji is the head temple of the Kōgaku-ji school.
Although they are the head temples of different schools that belong to the same Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, the orientations of the two temples are so different that you could say they are polar opposites.
Well, let’s explore the differences between these two institutions.
Address: 1557-1 Inasa-chō, Kita-ku, Hamamatsu-shi, Shizuoka-ken
Entrance fee: 500 yen
Admission times: 9:00 – 16:30 (Last admission 16:00)
Established: 1371, the founder was Mumon Gensen
The first temple is Jinnōzan Hōkō-ji.
Mumon Gensen, the 11th Prince under Emperor Godaigo, was the founder.
The temple was named Hōkō-ji (officially Hōkō Manju Zen-ji) because of the scenery’s resemblance to that of Hōkō-ji Temple on Mount Tiantai, which the Zen priest Mumon Gensen had visited in China.
Since the founder of the temple was the son of the Emperor, part of the grounds is still under the control of the Imperial Household Agency, and members of the general public are not allowed to enter that area.
The temple became independent from the Nanzen-ji school of the Sōtō sect, to which it had belonged, in the Meiji era and became the head temple of the Hōkō-ji sect.
- Statue of Hansōbō. It has the appearance of a tengu (a long-nosed goblin said to reside deep in the mountains)
Within the temple precincts is the guardian deity of Hōkō-ji, “Okuyama Hansōbō Dai-Gongen,” which is also famous.
It is said that when Mumon Gensen, who had been training in China, was about to return to Japan and was about to be shipwrecked due to rough seas, a foreigner appeared to him, then protected and guided his ship to safety.
He became Mumon Gensen’s disciple at Hōkō-ji, and he was called Hansōbō.
It is said that upon his master's death, Hansōbō swore to protect the temple forever and disappeared into the mountains.
Since then, even when Hōkō-ji was hit by the fire of war, the statues of the founder and his gravesite, as well as Hansōbō Dai-Gongen were not damaged, and they have come to be worshipped as gods for warding off evil and bringing prosperity to business.
Guardian deity of a temple?!
It may seem a bit strange, but Hōkō-ji is one of the syncretic temples where Buddhism and Shintoism harmoniously coexist.
Now, while I am introducing you to Hōkō-ji, let's have a look at the rating of each item in its evaluation.
◆Degree of information dissemination on the Internet... ◎
The fully developed official website allows you to even check the crowd situation in real time.
The temple also has official accounts on Twitter and Instagram, and actively shares information such as news about exhibits concerned with Buddhism, seasonal vegetarian dishes, and retweeting of reports on visits to temples.
Jinnōzan Hōkō-ji Official Website
◆Public transportation access... △
From JR Hamamatsu Station, take the Enshū Railway bus bound for "Okuyama" for approximately 60 minutes and get off at the final stop, which is "Okuyama".
Buses are once every hour on Saturdays and Sundays, and are even less frequent on weekdays.
If you are coming by car, it takes approximately 30 minutes from the Hamamatsu-Inasa Interchange on the Shin-Tōmei Expressway or approximately 40 minutes from the Hamamatsu-nishi Interchange on the Tōmei Expressway.
As "Jinnōzan," the honorific mountain name prefixed to Hōkō-ji indicates, it is located deep in the mountains, so I recommend making your visit by car.
There is free parking (about 10 parking spots) inside the main temple gate.
During the seasons when it is crowded, there is also a large pay parking lot set up outside the approach to the temple.
There is one restroom on the temple grounds. Both of the restrooms in the main temple building are clean.
There is also a restroom outside the main temple gate, but it is perhaps a public restroom and not well cared for, so it takes a little courage to go inside.
◆Information for visitors... ◎
At the visitor reception desk, you can obtain guide maps, pamphlets, and postcards with images on them that you color for good luck.
The attendants will explain the sightseeing routes around the temple, and there are more than enough information boards on the temple grounds, some of which are written in English, such as the description of the principal object of worship at Hōkō-ji.
Also, the tour guides were proactive in approaching me and I was able to obtain detailed explanations.
On the whole, visitors to the temple receive very proficient and kind treatment.
◆Degree of barrier-free access... ○
By the mountain path, the main temple building is 10 minutes away from the main temple gate.
At Hōkō-ji, one aspect that it is famous for is its statues of five hundred arhats, which are plentiful. It’s said there are over one thousand in total!
For those with who have issues with mobility, there is a parking lot in front of the three-storied pagoda, so, from here, taking the mountain path can be avoided.
However, please be advised that there are some stairs and steps inside the main temple building.
◆Cleanliness of the temple grounds... ○
The garden is tidy, as would be expected of a Zen temple, and the main temple building is well-polished. The site itself is large and tended with great care.
Like so many temples, there are no trash cans, so you need to take your garbage back with you.
◆Availability of go-shuin (seal stamps given to worshippers and visitors to shrines and temples), o-mamori (charms or amulets), o-mikuji (slips of paper with fortunes written on them, usually bought at a temple or shrine), etc.... ◎
There are two types of go-shuin (300 yen each): the principal objects of worship, "Hōkan Shakan Yorai " and "Okuyama Hansōbō."
There are all sorts of o-mamori, o-fuda (a type of household amulet or talisman), and o-mikuji, but here are my recommendations.
O-mikuji machine at Hansōbō Dai-Gongen!
When you put your money in, a Miko-san (a girl or young woman who assists priests) doll goes to the shrine to retrieve your o-mikuji and hand it over to you.
There are two of these machines here. One machine is there just after you enter Hansōbō Dai-Gongen, and the other machine is inside the corridor leading out of Hōkō-ji’s main temple building.
At the o-mikuji machine that you come upon right after entering Hansōbō Dai-Gongen, the miko-san doll sent the o-mikuji flying in the wrong direction, whereupon it feel down into the innards of the machine.
Klutzes can sometimes go too far.
The miko-san doll in the o-mikuji machine at the back properly handed it over to me.
◆Is it a place for worshippers and other visitors to participate in activities such as writing out sutras by hand... ◎
Making the best use of the spacious main temple building, Hōkō-ji accepts not only individual visitors but also school trips and company training tours. (Reservations are required for all of the following)
The temple is also one that is popular with the local community, where, in addition to activities like sutras, sutra hand-copying, zazen meditation (1,000 yen); sermons (10.000 yen); day trips to experience the Zen temple, vegetarian cuisine provided (5,300 yen – requires at least two participants); and one overnight stay at the temple (2 adults 1 room 22.500 yen), courses are held in the autumn, there are matchmaking activities at the temple, and they are running of a retirement home.
◆Connectivity to other sightseeing spots... ○
If you are coming by car...
-Ryōtan-ji Temple (temple related to Ii Naotora) 20 minutes -Ryūgashidō Cave (1,000 meters long) (Total length: 1,000 m, one of the largest limestone caves in the Tokai region) 10 min.
Hōkō-ji is deep in the mountains, and buses are infrequent, making it hard to tour the area on foot.
◆Summary of Hokoji Temple
Although it is a large temple with ties to the Imperial family, it also has many activities closely connected to the local community, and it places emphasis on welfare, which gives the impression of outreach.
I got the impression that the temple is a fantastic one that is both serious and ingenious, with a playful spirit.
It is a temple that I highly recommend you visiting.
I would love to go for an overnight Zen temple sleepover experience!
Address: 2026 Enzan Kamioso, Kōshū-shi, Yamanashi Prefecture
Admission hours: Go-shuin reception desk until 3:00 p.m.
Founded in 1327. The founder was a monk of the Nanbokuchō period, Bassui Tokushō.
Next, I would like to introduce Enzan Kōgaku-ji Temple, which has policies that can be said to be the exact opposite.
The honorific mountain name prefixed to Kōgaku-ji, Enzan, originally comes from "Shio-no-yama," meaning "mountain with four directions," and refers to the fact that the temple is surrounded by mountains.
The name "Kōgaku-ji" means "facing Mt. Fuji," and the main temple building and approach face straight toward Mt. Fuji. This was named by Bassui Tokushō, who it seems had a dream where he was giving a sermon toward Mt. Fuji.
Also, it is known for Matsu-hime, the daughter of Lord Shingen, staying here under the protection of the Takeda clan of the province of Kai when she escaped from Oda Nobunaga.
Kōgaku-ji has a strict precept known as "Battai-ikai," which is still enforced today, and although visitors can visit the temple, they are not allowed to enter the dōjō or other facilities.
If you visit the temple without knowing this, you may wonder, "Huh?”. So, I would like you to get some background information here.
◆Degree of information dissemination on the Internet... △
There are no SNS accounts such as Twitter, nor is there an official website for Kōgaku-ji.
There is only an introduction on the joint official website for the Rinzai and Ōbaku sects.
This is due to the fact that the temple is a place for ascetic practices, but I feel that it would be better to communicate the fact that it is a temple to the public.
◆Public transportation access... ○
A 20-minute walk from Enzan Station on the JR Chuo Honsen Line. Take the Yamanashi Kotsu Bus toward Tenno-juku (1 bus on weekdays, none on weekends) or Kubodaira (entrance to Nishizawa Keikoku entrance) (5 buses a day).
Although it takes only 5 minutes to get there by bus, there are not many buses, so it is best to walk from the station.
The walk from Enzan Station to Kōgaku-ji is gently sloping, but the paved sidewalk is wide enough, and it is a comfortable walk, except in mid-summer.
At Enzan Station, you can rent bicycles from Kōshū City Rental Cycle’s "Gururin", so cycling may be a good option. (100 yen for 30 minutes)
Applications can be made via the website or smartphone (credit card payment only) or at the staffed counter (cash only)!
Kōshū City Rental Bicycle "Gurururin" Official Website
The parking lot is for parishioners and worshippers only, and tourists are not allowed to use it.
Please note that the area is completely residential and there are no coin-operated parking lots nearby.
If you are visiting by car, there are coin-operated parking lots near JR Enzan Station, so you can park there and walk around.
Since the temple is not intended for tourists, there are no restrooms on the grounds.
There are no public restrooms or convenience stores in the vicinity, so it is best to take care of things at the station.
◆Information for visitors... △
For the same reason as the restrooms, there are no information boards set up.
Other than a signboard near the middle gate that describes the origin of the temple, there are no other signs guiding visitors around the temple grounds.
It conveys a very stoic attitude of devotion to ascetic practices.
◆Degree of barrier-free access... ○
The precincts of the temple are almost flat, and there are almost no steps, so even those with limited mobility should have little difficulty.
The path from the precincts to the temple office also has almost no steps.
◆Cleanliness of the temple grounds... ○ Although there is no litter, it is a little different from the image of a Zen temple. The approach to the temple has cedar leaves scattered about and there are weeds growing around the pond, which was a little surprising.
◆Availability of go-shuin (seal stamps given to worshippers and visitors to shrines and temples), o-mamori (charms or amulets), o-mikuji (slips of paper with fortunes written on them, usually bought at a temple or shrine), etc.... ○
Only written go-shuin were available.
As there was a car stop placed on the pathway to the building that was supposed to be the temple office, I called to check and was told, “Please go past the car stop and come inside.”
When I called with my voice from the entrance and told them I wanted to request a go-shuin, they brought one for me from the back of the building, while carrying along a small money box.
I paid 500 yen, and received a go-shuin, a pamphlet, and a booklet of the Kōgaku-ji school, "Enzan.”
I think it would be better for both the temple and the visitors if there was a sign indicating where to receive the go-shuin, if they are offering them.
◆Is it a place for worshippers and other visitors to participate in activities such as writing out sutras by hand... ○
No tour of the facility is allowed because it is a place for ascetic practices.
Although it was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, a festival is held at Akiba Shrine, affectionately known as "Akiya-san," located on the grounds of Kōgaku-ji, which attracts many visitors.
Several times a year, the city of Kōshū sponsors a tour of the garden park, which is designated as a national place of scenic beauty.
It is definitely worth a visit during the season when the usually serene Kōgaku-ji is busy.
◆Connectivity to other sightseeing spots... ◎
・Erin-ji Temple (Also known as Kōgaku-ji no matsu, Erin-ji no sakura, Hōkōji no ume) 10 min. ・Hōkō-ji Temple (same as above) 30 min. ・Suwa Shrine (famous for the Onbashira Festival, the head shrine of the Suwa faith, which has 25,000 shrines throughout Japan) 30 min. ・Nishizawa Valley (scenic spot with the "Nanatsugama 5-stage Waterfall"; selected as one of the 100 best waterfalls in Japan) 30 min.
・Enzan Onsen (said to have been discovered by Bassui Tokushō, the founder of Koutakuji Temple, and there are six hot spring inns) 5 min. ・Kanzō Yashiki (a relocated large farmhouse where medicinal licorice herbs were grown and were delivered to the Shogunate during the Edo period) 20 min.
Kanzō Yashiki is a very impressive sight, with many ingenious features unique to this region.
There is a guide available, so please visit the house while listening to the guide's story.
- Kanzō yashiki near Enzan Station
- There are many innovations for living in accordance with the climate of Kōshū!
◆Summary of Kōgaku-ji
Without prior knowledge, a first-time visitor may be confused.
Even in personal blogs, I have seen here and there a few people writing, "I left without getting a go-shuin because there was no one here.
I think that if there is a place to directly communicate that the temple is a thoroughly practicing temple, or if there is a minimum information display regarding red seals, it would prevent misunderstandings between visitors and the temple.
In this day and age, it must be very difficult to maintain the teachings of the founder of the temple and continue to be a place of ascetic practices.
I hope that this will be widely understood by people and that it will continue to be protected in the future.
What do you think?
Despite their different directions, both Hōkō-ji and Kōgaku-ji are great temples with much to offer.
Knowing the history of each will leave an even deeper impact when you visit.
Today is a difficult time for temples as well, as they face a declining population and a decrease in the number of believers due to shifting religious views.
Buddhism is one of the important elements that have shaped Japanese culture.
In order for it to continue for many years to come, we may be entering an era in which we must protect what needs to be protected and change what needs to be changed.