Visiting and Learning about Kokutai Temple
Article for children
Hello, how have you all been doing with the hot ensuing days?
My name is Matsugoro Saodake, and I sleep with my windows wide open at night since I can't deal with the wind from the AC.
Today, I visited 「Kokutaiji, a Rinzai sect temple」 in Takaoka, Toyama, for the very first time.
Kokutaiji is a rare Rinzai sect dojo on the Hokuriku route and is the head temple of the Rinzai Kokutaiji sect. The Rinzai sect has 14 sects, with Kokutaiji being the only one of its kind in the Hokuriku region.
The temple was founded by a monk named Jiun Myoi in 1296 (Einin 4), and was originally called "Tosho-ji." In 1327 (Karyaku 2), Jiun Myoi received a purple robe from Emperor Go-Daigo, and in 1328, the following year, the temple was renamed Kokutaiji.
With a close relationship with the Tokugawa shogunate, it was a temple of such high status that the chief priest of Kokutaiji was able to greet the shogun. The memorial tablets of successive shoguns, including the third shogun Iemitsu, are enshrined here.
Although I'm not sure if it was because of the deep connection with the Tokugawa shogunate, it became a hot topic in recent years that the armor of Isami Kondo, who was known as the head of the Shinsengumi, was found at the temple. Original unrelated to the Shinsengumi, experts say that it may have been made to secretly hold a memorial service for Kondo, who was once considered a traitor. This is a temple with interesting anecdotes and historical relics.
Kokutaiji Temple is a training hall for Zen Buddhism, where many worshipers and monks in training gather to practice zazen.
Around the beginning of June, the Kokutaiji Kaizan Memorial Service is held in memory of Zen master Jiun Myoi. The main attraction is the tosan event, in which 50 komuso monks from all over the country gather and parade around the shrine grounds while playing the shakuhachi. Unfortunately, due to the poor timing, I wasn't able to capture the scene, but I'd like to check it out again if I have the chance.
- The sanmon gate of Kokutaiji Temple.
There is a pond and a garden with carp swimming in the back.
- After passing through the sanmon gate, there's a splendid garden.
One of the highlights is the garden Ryuen Pond, which was built in the middle of the Showa era. There's a stone called Tsukubai which is known as the "Eigenji stone." It is said to be a river stone removed from the riverbed during the construction of Eigenji's dam in Shiga Prefecture.
By the way, Eigenji is the main temple of the Eigenji Rinzai sect. Belonging to the same Rinzai sect, I feel a mysterious bond to it. It is unclear whether this was done intentionally, but the Eigenji stone appears to be of such high quality that it is even used in gardens in Kyoto.
The surrounding dense greenery and the somon gate stand out.
Kokutaiji is a temple located in the mountains with lush greenery, and its somon gate and Japanese garden are both beautiful and amazing.
However, when I visited there in person, I found quite a few things that were a bit disappointing.
So, in addition to the good things about Kokutaiji, I would like to point out some things that could be improved a little more.
The Pros of Kokutaiji #1
With relatively fewer tourists, it's easier to have a good time in its rich nature.
It was Saturday when I visited. On that day, the roof of the dojo was being repaired with contractors going back and forth, so it was a bit noisy. However, it's usually a quiet place where only the sounds of birds and trees can be heard. There are few visitors even on holidays, so I'm sure you can enjoy a relaxing time here.
Furthermore, there is a vast bamboo forest along the path from the bus stop to the temple, allowing you to enjoy picking bamboo shoots in the fall. It's also a good idea to bring back bamboo shoots as a souvenir after visiting a temple.
The Pros of Kokutaiji #2
Admission to the shrine is free, and you can easily explore the vast grounds.
When you pass through the photogenic somon gate, you will see an information signboard, and on your left, you will see the large and splendid sanmon gate and dojo. Behind the hall are Kaisando, Rishoto, and Ten'noden.
The precincts are vast. As it is a temple built in the mountains, it has a solemn atmosphere. The mountain path leads to Kaisando, Rishoto, and Tennoden, which might be hard to get around. You'll be walking around a lot, so you'll need to wear comfortable sneakers when visiting. (As I didn't know the way well, I couldn't get to Kaisando, Riseito, and Tennoden.) There are some videos about Kokutaiji on YouTube, so it might be a good idea to refer to them before visiting.)
I like the view of Gessentei as seen from the lecture hall. This famous garden was created in the middle of the Showa era by the Kyoto landscaper Juichi Ogawa. The huge stone in the center weighs about 42 tons and is said to be the largest garden stone in Japan.
Slightly Disappointing Parts About Kokutaiji #1
It's a long distance from the bus stop.
Watch out if you come by bus. Here I used the bus, but I had to walk more than I expected. It takes about 15 minutes on foot, so it might be better to visit with comfortable shoes rather than sandals. There are hardly any signboards from the bus stop to the temple, but I don't think you'll get lost as you just follow the road. However, on the way, I became uneasy about whether this was the right way or not.
- A temple signboard on the street where the bus stop is.
Follow the road along this slope.
- A row of houses are here.
- After walking for about 5 minutes, there's the bamboo forest.
- Anyways, there are many bamboo forests.
Although I have a pretty bad sense of direction, I was able to get to the temple without getting lost or using the GPS. However, I personally think it would have been nice if there were more signboards along the way.
So you'll have to go through a residential area and a bamboo forest in an unfamiliar place, it may be mentally tough for the first time.
Slightly Disappointing Parts About Kokutaiji #2
No outside washrooms available. The washroom location is not specified.
- I thought I found a washroom on the temple grounds, but it turned out that it was "not available."
- There was a Buddhist statue at the entrance of the building, which appeared to be a washroom.
As far as I could see, there were no washrooms outside. The map does not specify where the washroom is.
While walking around, I found a building that looked like a washroom, but it was probably under renovation and was "not available."
I asked the monk at the reception and borrowed the washroom inside the dojo. (Other visitors also got to use the washroom like so.) I couldn't find any signboards to tell you where the washroom is.
Therefore, all visitors have no choice but to go to the reception and use the washroom there.
As I was walking through the temple grounds, an elderly man called out to me.
"Excuse me, where is the washroom?''
Since I just got out from the washroom at the dojo, I brought him to the reception desk.
I'm sure this kind of thing happens every day. I can see worshipers wandering around because there are no washrooms.
- The front is the reception building. You can receive a shuin stamp or purchase omamori amulets here. The dojo is on the right, but the general public is not allowed to enter except for the washroom.
- When you ring the doorbell at the reception, a monk will come right away.
- Urinals in the dojo washroom
- The toilet bowl is in Japanese style.
- There is no mirror in the washroom.
The area around the toilet was made of wood, I could feel the warmth of the wood which was kept relatively clean. Personally, I have the impression that the washrooms in temples are clean. The toilet is said to be the "mirror of the heart", so it is nice to feel the spirit of trying to keep it clean. However, it seems to be unisex, and there is no mirror in the washroom with only a Japanese-style toilet, which may be a bit disappointing for women.
It would be nice to be able to use the outside washroom because it feels kind of bad to ask the monk to use the one inside the dojo every time I have to go.
In addition to the pros of Kokutaiji, I also introduced some slightly disappointing parts.
Kokutaiji is mainly a place of training for monks, so it may be presumptuous to visit as a "guest". In recent years, I heard that few successors want to become monks in training and that it’s difficult to manage the temple. I found out that they have many circumstances that prevent them from repairing the temple even if they wanted to.
It is said that some temples are managed solely by the visitation fee. Among them, the Kokutaiji temple can be visited for free, which I am really grateful for.
I have come to further realize that upon visiting a temple, I have to cherish the spirit of care and treasuring things. (And how toilets are also important.)
Our actions may have a role in the survival of the temple. Thanks to visiting Kokutaiji, I had a humbling experience.
As an aside, I boarded a bus back to Takaoka Station after visiting Kokutaiji. However, the bus didn't go to Takaoka Station, but headed in the direct opposite direction. When I noticed this on the way, I got off the bus in a hurry. I was alone in a small fishing village that I knew nothing about. My smartphone also ran out of battery, and the next bus wouldn't come until an hour later... I.
should have asked the bus driver where we were going....
My personality of not usually riding the bus and being lazy became my worst enemy..
All I could do was stare at the setting sun and stand astonished.
Just then, a bus "out of service" stopped at the bus stop. The bus from earlier was returning from the last stop. The bus driver seemed to feel sorry for me, so he decided to take me to the bus office. I was almost moved to tears by this kindness.
Dear bus driver, thank you very much.
Recently there have been so many hot days. Are you planning to go somewhere during your summer vacation? Staying inside in an air-conditioned room is fine, but sometimes a walk around a temple or shrine can also be very enjoyable.
Hello. My name is Matsugoro Saodake.
I recently visited for the first time a Rinzai Buddhist temple in Takaoka City, Toyama Prefecture. I visited the Kokutai Temple, which belongs to the Kokutai branch of Rinzai Buddhism.
Probably only a very few people know about this temple. I live in the same Hokuriku region where this temple is located, but I had never heard of this temple.
Visiting a temple that you know nothing about can be a lot of fun. A famous historical figure may have unexpectedly been involved with the temple. Or, a major historical event may have taken place at the temple. There are many things you will not know unless you go there. Perhaps a temple you casually visit will become one of your favorite spots.
Kokutai Temple is the main temple for the Kokutai branch of Rinzai Buddhism. A main temple located in the Hokuriku region is rare. Rinzai Buddhism has 14 branches. The Kokutai-ji branch is the only Rinzai branch in Hokuriku.
The temple was founded by a monk named Jun Myoi in 1296 (the fourth year of the Einin Era). At first it was named the “Tosho Temple.” In 1327 (the second year of the Karyaku Era), Emperor Godaigo gave Jun Myoi a purple robe called a shie and the following year (1328) the temple was renamed the “Kokutai Temple.”
The temple also had a close relationship with the Tokugawa Shogunate. The head priest of Kokutai Temple was so important that he was allowed to speak directly to the Shogun. Even today, the memorial tablets of successive shoguns, including the third shogun Iemitsu, are carefully kept inside this temple.
In recent years armor belonging to Isami Kondo, a famous head of the Shinsengumi group of swordsmen, was found at the temple. This was possibly due to the temple’s close ties to the Tokugawa Shogunate.
I thought there was no connection at all between Shinsengumi and Toyama/Kokutai Temple. However, according to experts, the temple may have secretly offered a memorial to Shinsengumi leader Isami Kondo, who was once considered a renegade. Why was Kokutai Temple selected? Who brought the armor to the temple and for what reason? Nobody knows. Isn’t that mysterious?
This temple is home to such interesting stories and historical artifacts.
Even today, many worshipers and monks come here to practice Zen meditation, using the temple as a training center for Zen Buddhism.
Also, around the start of June each year, a special event is held to mark the death of the temple’s founder, Zen master Jun Myoi. About 50 wandering monks gather from all over the country. These are monks wearing the large braided hats often seen in historical dramas. The highlight of this memorial is the “Tousan,” a parade of wandering monks playing bamboo flutes as they move through the temple grounds. Unfortunately, I could not photograph that scene as I came to the temple at a different time of year. Hopefully I will get the chance to see it someday.
- Kokutai Temple’s Mountain Gate
Behind this gate is a Japanese garden and a pond filled with carp.
- Magnificent garden seen after passing through this gate.
One highlight is the Ryuen Pond, a garden created in the mid-Showa era by a Kyoto-based landscape architect named Juichi Ogawa. This garden’s stone wash basin was built using “Eigenji stones.” Apparently, these are river stones that were removed from the bottom of the river during construction of a dam at Eigenji, Shiga Prefecture.
Eigenji Temple is the head temple of the Eigenji branch of Rinzai Buddhism. You can probably sense a strange connection between the same Rinzai branches of Buddhism. We do not know whether Juichi Ogawa, who created the garden, used Eigenji stones with that connection in mind. However, these stones appear to be of such high quality that they are even used in gardens in Kyoto.
Located in the mountains, Kokutai Temple is surrounded by lush greenery. The Main Gate and Japanese garden are beautiful and amazing.
This time, in addition to Kokutai Temple’s good points, I also want to uncover some not-so-good points that need a little improvement.
Good point No. 1
Not too many tourists, so easy to spend time peacefully enjoying nature.
I visited the temple on a Saturday. On that day, the roof of the dojo was being repaired. Carpenters and tile installers were coming and going, so there was some noise. However, the temple is usually so quiet that only the movements of birds and trees can be heard. Even on weekends and holidays, the number of visitors is rather small, so you can enjoy a relaxing and peaceful time.
Apparently, this forest is well known for its bamboo shoots.
There is a large bamboo forest on the way from the bus stop to the temple. You can pick bamboo shoots in the fall. You can even take some bamboo shoots home as souvenirs after visiting the temple.
Good point No. 2
Free to visit and visitors can easily walk around the spacious grounds.
After passing through the picturesque Main Gate, there is a signboard providing information. The large, magnificent Mountain Gate and dojo are on the left. The Founder’s Hall, the Risho Tower, and the Tenno-Den are all behind the Lecture Hall.
Kokutai Temple is located in the mountains and is very spacious. You must walk along mountain paths to visit buildings such as the Founder’s Hall, the Risho Tower, and the Tenno-Den.
If you are not used to walking a lot, be prepared. You will have to walk a lot, so comfortable sneakers are important. (I could not go to the Founder’s Hall, Risho Tower, or Tenno-Den because I did not know the way. There are several videos of Kokutai Temple on Youtube, so you may want to watch them before your visit.)
I like the view of the temple’s inner garden seen from the Lecture Hall. This is a dry landscape garden. That means it is a garden that expresses hills and water by combining stones and elevations without using water.
This garden is another masterpiece created by Kyoto-based landscape architect Juichi Ogawa during the mid-Showa era. The giant stone in the center weighs about 42 tons and is believed to be the largest garden stone in Japan. Moving that stone must have been very difficult.
Not-so-good point No. 1
The temple is far from the bus stop.
If you are coming by bus, please keep the following points in mind. I took the bus this time and had a long walk from the bus stop to the temple. The walk was about 15 minutes. It is better to wear comfortable shoes rather than sandals. There are only a few signs to guide you from the bus stop to the temple, but if you just stay on the straight road, you will not get lost. However, many times on my way to the temple I was not sure if I was going in the right direction.
- The temple signboard is on the same street as the bus stop.
Follow that road up the hill.
- There are many houses along that street.
- After walking about ten minutes, I saw a sign with directions on the temple road.
- I could see the Main Gate in the distance.
I easily get lost, but I was able to find the temple without using my phone’s navigation function. However, I personally think a few more signs along the way would be helpful. If you are a first-time visitor, you may feel uneasy as I did. This is because you must walk through residential areas and bamboo forests in an unfamiliar location.
Not-so-good point No. 2
Outside restrooms are not available. Restroom locations are not clearly marked.
- I thought I had found a restroom inside the grounds, but it could not be used.
- Buddha statue at entrance to building that seemed to have restrooms.
As far as I could see, there were no restrooms outside. Nor did the guide maps indicate the location of restrooms. During my walk, I found buildings that appeared to have restrooms, but they were either broken or not available to the public.
I asked the monk at the reception desk if I could use the restroom and he led me to one inside the dojo (other worshipers and visitors were also looking for restrooms). There are no signs indicating the location of restrooms. Worshipers and visitors had no choice but to go to the reception area and ask to use the restroom.
As I was walking through the temple grounds, an elderly man approached me. “Excuse me, where is the restroom?” he asked. I had just used the restroom in the dojo, so I led him to the reception area. I am sure this is an everyday occurrence. I can imagine worshipers walking about trying to find the restroom.
- Building with reception area. Here you can get a red ink stamp proving you visited the temple. You can also purchase good-luck charms. To the right is the dojo, which is off-limits to the public except for the restrooms.
- Ring the reception desk bell and a monk will come right away.
- Restrooms only have urinals and…
- …Japanese-style toilets.
- There is no mirror above the restroom sink.
The restrooms were relatively clean and made of wood, which gave them a warm, woody feel. I have visited many temples and in all cases the restrooms were clean. It is often said that restrooms are “mirrors of the soul.” It is nice to feel this desire to keep the restrooms clean. I assume many of the worshippers have good manners and also help to keep the restrooms clean. However, the restrooms are shared by men and women, there are no mirrors, and only Japanese-style toilets are available. For women, the restrooms may be a bit disappointing.
Here I have introduced Kokutai Temple, including its good points and a few not-so-good points. Kokutai Temple is a place for monks to practice. That may explain why the temple does not focus too much on tourism. I heard that temples are now difficult to manage as fewer people are interested in becoming monks. Temples face many challenges. There are many difficult situations such as a lack of employees and money. Some temples rely exclusively on admission fees for their operations. So, those visiting Kokutai Temple are very grateful that there are no admission fees.
When visiting a temple, let’s try to be a little more compassionate than usual. Let’s remain quiet and respectful, while valuing the surroundings.
I hope that by visiting temples, people will become a little more interested in temples and think about what they can do to protect them.
I hope everyone has the chance to visit Kokutai Temple. I am sure you will discover something new. And I hope you will make some good memories.
I have one more story to share with you.
After visiting Kokutai Temple, I boarded a bus to return to Takaoka Station. However, that bus did not head to Takaoka Station. I was on the wrong bus headed for a completely different place. Once I realized my mistake, I quickly jumped off the bus. I was alone in a small fishing village that I did not know. My smartphone was no longer charged, and the next bus would not come for another hour…
I should have asked the bus driver where the bus was going…
This happened to me because I usually don’t ride buses a
Just then an “out of service” bus stopped at the bus stop. This was the bus I mistakenly boarded earlier. It had reached the end of its route and was heading back. The bus driver felt sorry for me and offered to take me back to the bus terminal. He was so kind, I almost cried.
Thank you so much, Mr. Bus Driver!