Report on the Head Temple of the Eigenji Branch of the Rinzai Sect, Zuisekizan Eigenji Temple
Gap Between the Tourism and Faith of the Head Temple
Eigenji Temple is one of the fifteen head temples of the Rinzai sect and the Ōbaku sect, and the head temple of the Eigenji branch, boasting 127 affiliated temples throughout the country. It has been designated as an ancient training hall for Zen meditation and a place where safety and peace for the nation are prayed for.
The foundation of the temple dates back to the Nanboku-chō period (1361). "It started when Lord Ujiyori ROKKAKU of Sasaki clan, the Shugoshiki (post of provincial constable) of the Province of Omi, became devoted to the venerable Zen master Jakushitsu Genkō, and donated Raikai, a scenic spot within his territory, to build the temple complex..." The information is from Eigenji's website, and let's briefly summarize how it's positioned in Japanese Buddhism.
When one mentions Eigenji temple now, it seems to be famous as a temple particularly renowned for its spectacular autumn leaves. Indeed, the temple grounds were full of trees showing off their autumn foliage. My visit was in late June, precisely in the fresh green season, but the five-leaved trees displayed a vivid, lush green.
The temple isn't only famous for its autumn foliage; in April, it boasts a unique cherry blossom called Eigenji cherry, which blooms at late timing and can be mistaken for double-flowered cherries. There were also plum trees. During my visit, as I looked to the left (north side) and saw the magnificent "Main Hall" with its thatched roof, there were the "Study Hall" and "Dharma Hall" one step further. A corridor connects these halls to the "Zen Hall" on the right (south side), and atop the roof of this corridor, someone was pruning trees.
"What tree is this?"
"It's a plum tree."
"Do you prune all the trees in the temple grounds like this?"
"No, no, we only prune the plum trees. We leave the autumn leaves untouched."
"Insects like longhorn beetles target the autumn leaves and naturally trim the unnecessary parts for us."
"There are places that exterminate such insects as pests, but the insects that come to Eigenji's autumn leaves are not harmful. They are useful insects that naturally prune for us, so we leave them be."
"However, if we don't tend to the plum trees, they become overly dense and weaken, so we prune them."
The person who was pruning atop the roof was a monk. However, he wasn't a monk from Eigenji Temple, but rather, he had come to help with the maintenance of the temple from an affiliated temple. The administrative staff (only a few of them) of Eigenji Temple reportedly commute from affiliated temples. I learned that the temple of the monk who was pruning is an affiliated temple located in the vicinity of Hikone City, not far from the head temple of Eigenji.
The temple grounds were immaculately clean, without a single piece of trash. It was early in the morning, and being off-season, there were hardly any worshippers, which might be the reason for the tranquility. Nonetheless, there were more than ten rustic wooden buildings, and the magnificent Main Hall is vast. The Zen Hall on the south side, which isn't open for viewing, is also immense. I heard this Zen Hall can accommodate around thirty people for Zen meditation practice. Trees of autumn leaves, plum, and cherry blossom densely fill the spaces between these rustic wooden buildings. Eigenji temple, backed by the natural surroundings of the Suzuka mountain range, is a grand temple with the status of being the head temple of the Eigenji branch of Rinzai Sect. However, looking at its backside, from a management and personnel perspective, after several hundred years since its peak in the Edo period, the contemporary times reveal challenges that are difficult to be expressed in words.
"Can you tell me, how many monks are currently training at the Eigenji Head Temple?"
"That's precisely the challenge that the temple is facing. Year by year, the number of practitioners is decreasing. There are no new trainees. We aren't actively recruiting. It's that there aren't people who spontaneously desire to be trained in Zen. During the Edo period, samurai were sponsors, so the temple was brimming with monks training."
"It's the same situation in other sects too. But there are still temple parishioners, correct?"
"At Eigenji Temple, we don't have parishioners."
"Then, how do you manage?"
"Only through tourism revenue. An entrance fee of 500 yen... that's all we have."
Listening to the story of the monk from the affiliated temple who was helping with the maintenance of Eigenji temple, I suddenly realized. I felt an atmosphere in the quiet temple grounds — it was clean and well-kept, but there was an empty, mournful, and lonely air wafting through.
The Duty of Temples - What is a Temple?
What is a temple?
It reveals its significance as a place that venerates Buddhism, conveys Buddhism, and practices Buddhism.
Buddha, Dharma, Sangha — the temple embodies these Three Jewels.
The ideal for a Buddhist temple is to overflow with these Three Jewels.
But what is the current state of traditional Buddhism?
Buddhism, as we know it, refers to the teachings of the Buddha. However, the Buddhism that most of us growing up in Japan know is mostly funerary Buddhism.
"My family follows the Jodo sect" or "We belong to the Shin sect," Soto, Nichiren, Shingon, Tendai... It's a simple question, but I still can't erase the elementary schooler-like doubt: why are there various sects within the same Buddhism?
To understand Buddhism, you need to know that its founder, Buddha, preached his teachings in a region of India. Through the hearsay of various people, over a long history, his teachings were theorized, categorized, translated, and came to Japan via the Silk Road and the sea that was often hit by typhoons. It is not hard to imagine how the original words of Buddha have been altered and transmitted.
Even at a glance, the southern and northern transmissions of Buddhism are completely different on the surface. The northern transmission of Buddhism that came to Japan was filtered through mainland China, so it is very complicated.
Eisai and the Rinzai Sect within the Flow of Japanese Buddhism
Buddhism was introduced to Japan by Prince Shotoku.
In the early stages of Buddhism, during the Nara period (with temples like Todai-ji), there were the "Nanto Rokushu" or the Six Buddhist Schools of Nara, which included the Kegon, Hosso, and Ritsu schools etc. Although each sect had its famous head temple, in terms of faith, they have become somewhat mere shells.
During the Heian period, the two esoteric sects of Shingon and Tendai became popular. The Shingon sect, founded by Kukai (also known as Kobo Daishi), has continued to be revered to this day, perhaps because of Kukai's immense influence. However, from the Tendai sect, which has Enryakuji Temple on Mt. Hiei as its head temple and was burned down by Nobunaga, various new sects of Buddhism based on the Lotus Sutra emerged in the Kamakura period. They are Nichiren sect, Jodo sect, Jodo Shin sect, Yuzu Nembutsu sect, Ji sect, and Zen sect (Soto sect and Rinzai sect).
For reference, when comparing the founders of each sect by their year of death, the order is as follows:
Prince Shotoku (574-622 AD): Nanto Rokushu
Saicho (766-822 AD): Tendai Sect
Kukai (774-835 AD): Shingon Sect
Ryonin (1073-1132 AD): Yuzu Nembutsu Sect
Honen (1133-1212 AD): Jodo Sect
Eisai (1141-1215 AD): Rinzai Sect (Zen Buddhism)
Dogen (1200-1253 AD): Soto Sect (Zen Buddhism)
Shinran (1173-1263 AD): Jodo Shin Sect
Ippen (1239-1289 AD): Ji Sect
Ingen (1592-1673 AD): Obaku Sect
Hakuin (1686-1769 AD): Revival of Zen Buddhism
Thus, from Prince Shotoku (Nara Period) to Saicho (Heian Period), we've observed the major trend of Japanese Buddhism. Especially from the Kamakura Buddhism (which includes the Jodo Sect, Jodo Shin Sect, Nichiren Sect, and Zen Sect) that has deeply permeated modern Japan, up to the present day.
The Zen Principle of " Non- dependence on writing "
Eigenji Temple is a temple of the Rinzai sect, one of the Zen Buddhist sects.
In Japanese Buddhism, the Rinzai sect, like the Soto sect, belongs to Zen. In the popular forms of Buddhism in Japan, for example, the Nichiren sect chants "Namu Myoho Renge Kyo," while the Jodo sect and the Jodo Shin sect chant "Namu Amida Butsu." The Tendai sect and the Shingon sect are esoteric, chanting various sutras.
However, the foundational practice of Zen Buddhism is zazen, or seated meditation. " Non- dependence on writing " (Furyumonji) is a phrase that expresses the doctrine of Zen, which, unlike the Nichiren or Jodo sects, doesn't have teachings about chanting a particular Buddha's name.
So, what should one do when visiting a temple of the Rinzai sect? I asked the monk mentioned earlier.
"Just face the Buddha and put your palms together in prayer. That's all you need to do. There's no sutra or verse to recite. It might feel unreliable, but that's Zen."
Zen master Hakuin, The founder of the revival of the Rinzai sect
Historically, while the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism spread among regional warriors, chieftains, lower-ranking samurai, and the general people, the Rinzai sect was supported by the central military government of the time. As a result, it was valued in the realms of politics and culture, with its peak glory during the Edo period.
Eigenji Temple was destroyed during the Sengoku period, with its warrior monks and all, but it was rebuilt during the Edo period, reaching its pinnacle of prosperity, becoming a grand head temple with magnificent temple buildings. The figure heralded as the reviver of the Rinzai sect during the Edo period is Zen Master Hakuin Ekaku (1686-1769). From his influence, Rinzai Zen has sometimes been called "Hakuin Zen."
Currently, the Rinzai sect has fourteen head temples. If you add the head temple of the Obaku sect, which used to be a part of the Rinzai sect, there are fifteen head temples in total. Unfortunately, the glory that the Rinzai sect once had, backed by the warriors during the Edo period, now remains as mere remnants. The once-vibrant value of these Buddhist temples as active religious entities is gradually fading away.
Considering the splendid temple structures of Eigenji, with two monks currently training there, I wonder if the doctrines of the Rinzai sect they inherit would be categorized as the "Eigenji Sect"?
The Dharma Transmission from Master to Disciple in the Rinzai Sect
According to Wikipedia, “The transmission of enlightenment from master to disciple continues to the present day. The important interactions between master and disciple are called the secrets of the room and are not taken out of the master’s room and made public. The interactions between master and disciple and the records of the master’s behavior are called Zen words, and excerpts from them are called koans (precedents), and various collections have been compiled since the Song dynasty, but enlightenment cannot be conveyed by words, and if you try to read it with modern text comprehension, the koan itself will reject it.” It seems that there is a transmission of the Dharma from master to disciple.
There's a mention of Zen Master Jakushitsu Genkō, who was invited to establish Eigenji, in Wikipedia:
"Mu-myo Eisho - Rankei Dōryū (Daigaku Sect,Kenchō-ji sect) - Yakuo Tokken - Jakushitsu Genkō (Ennō sect, Eigenji sect)."
In addition to this, there are numerous records of Dharma successions. I wonder if these led to the formation of the fifteen head temples of the Rinzai sect?
By the way, Eigenji used to be part of the "Tōfuku-ji sect," but it seems to have become an independent head temple during the Meiji era. Looking at the history of the Rinzai sect, it began with the Kennin-ji sect in 1191 (founded by Eisai upon his return from Song China, with the head temple being Kennin-ji in Kyoto), followed by the Tōfuku-ji sect in 1236 (founded by Enni after his return from Song China, with the head temple being Tōfuku-ji in Kyoto). The Eigenji sect began in 1361 under Jakushitsu Genkō and was considered part of the Tōfuku-ji sect until 1880. Although Eigenji is a relatively new head temple, it originally belonged to the Tōfuku-ji sect, making it a temple with an old style.
Access to Eigenji Temple in Higashiomi City
The location of Eigenji Temple, the head temple of the Eigenji school of Rinzai sect, is "41 Takanochō, Eigenji, Higashiomi City, Shiga Prefecture."
How can one get there?
The nearest train station is "Yokaichi Station" on Ohmi Railway, which is a 35-minute bus ride.
The Ohmi Railway runs along the east shore of Lake Biwa. For those by the Shinkansen, you can transfer to the Ohmi Railway at Maibara, and for those by JR Line, you can transfer at Hikone or Omihachiman. However, even if you transfer from places like Maibara, it's not always a direct trip to the nearest station "Yokaichi Station". You may need to change trains. Also, the frequency of trains is not very high. Please make sure to check the timetable thoroughly in advance. By the way, it takes over an hour to get from Maibara to Yokaichi Station.
From Yokaichi Station, you will take the Omi Railway Bus (bound for Eigeniji Garage) and get off at the "Eigenji-mae" bus stop. It takes about 35 minutes.
For those who go there by car, from Yokaichi IC of Meishin Expressway, it's approximately 18km (about 25 minutes) heading east on National Route 421. From Kuwana IC of Higashi Meihan Expressway, it's approximately 31km (about 50 minutes) heading west on National Route 421. If you're coming from the Dai-an IC, you might get there a bit faster.
Eigenji Hot Spring – Yappu no Yu – For both overnight stays and day-trip Bathing
Located roughly 700 meters from the entrance of Eigenji Temple, this facility boasts natural hot springs. With its prime location just a ten-minute walk from the temple's entrance, there's plenty of parking lot, the possibility of staying overnight, and an outdoor bath where you can enjoy meals. Of course, it can also be used for day-trip Bathing.
The quality of the spring is low tension and slightly alkaline, often referred to as "Bihada no yu" (make your skin beautiful). The spring is transparent and feels silky and mild. The facility is well-equipped, offering an open-air bath, lying bath, steam bath, stone sauna, regular sauna, salt sauna, as well as relaxation areas like massage corners and relaxation chairs.
The dining area also offers a rich and fulfilling menu.
The bathing fee for day trips is a little expensive, but there are also reasonable plans available when used in combination with dinner at night. If you visit Eigenji Temple from a remote location, it’s a bit difficult to do a day trip. If you stay overnight at this hot spring, you can enjoy not only the great nature but also sightseeing spots such as Eigenji Dam in the back of Eigenji Temple, making it a fulfilling tourist destination. It’s a convenient hot spring as a base for that purpose. A free shuttle bus from Omihachiman is also available.
Nearby Roadside Stations and Parking Lot Situation Around Eigenji Temple
If you’re traveling by car, there are two roadside stations nearby. One is “Roadside Station Aitou Margaret Station” (184 Imoto-cho, Higashiomi City, Shiga Prefecture) from the direction of Yokaichi. Also from the Yokkaichi direction, drive west on National Route 421, pass through the Ishigure Tunnel, which is over 4 kilometers long, and shortly after, you'll find "Roadside Station Oku-Eigenji Keiryu no Sato" (located at 510 Tadehatacho, Higashiomi City, Shiga Prefecture). From each of these roadside stations, Eigenji Temple is about a 30-minute drive.
There are several parking lots available at Eigenji Temple for visitors.
First, there is a square near the information center next to the Tan-do Bridge with read railing at the entrance of Eigenji Temple where you can park for free. It can accommodate around ten cars. Additionally, there are several paid parking lots near the Tan-do Bridge. I also confirmed that there is a free parking lot in the mountains to the east of the back of Eigenji Temple.
Background of Eigenji Temple - Kotou Sanzan: Hyakusaiji Temple, Kongourinji Temple, and Saimyoji Temple
There are famous temples called “Kotou Sanzan” in the mountains on the east coast of Lake Biwa and the west side of the Suzuka Mountains. Hyakusai Temple is located near Eigenji Temple (323 Hyakusaiji-cho, Higashiomi City, Shiga Prefecture). It is a temple of Tendai sect. The mountain name is Shakazen. The main deity is Kannon with eleven faces. The founder is believed to be Prince Shotoku. Kongourinji Temple (874 Matsuo-ji, Aisho-cho, Echi-gun, Shiga Prefecture) is also a temple of Tendai sect. The mountain name is Shoho-san. The main deity is Seikanon Bosatsu. Saimyoji Temple (26 Ike-dera, Kora-cho, Inukami-gun, Shiga Prefecture) is also a temple of Tendai sect. The mountain name is Ryuho-san. It is said that it was founded by Sanshu-shonin at the request of Emperor Ninmyo during the Heian period.
Along with “Kotou Sanzan,” there are Taga Taisha Shrine at 604 Taga-cho, Inukami-gun, Shiga Prefecture and Azuchi Castle (a castle built as Oda Nobunaga’s residence) in Omihachiman City. To the east of Eigenji Temple is Eigenji Dam, and if you enter the mountains from Roadside Station in Oku Eigenji, there is a shrine with a statue of Koretaka Shin-no on top of the mountain. In this area, there are a lot of legenda about Koretaka Shin-no’s legend, and it is said that Koretaka Shin-no was involved in the legend as the birthplace of woodturner. According to this story, In the eastern part of Higashiomi City, in the Oguradani area, Koretaka Shin-no, who had secluded himself, one day saw a rolling and spreading scroll of sutra and an acorn cap spinning on the surface of a pond. Inspired by these sights, he conceived the idea of turning a lathe to create bowls. The prince quickly shared this revelation with the villagers, leading to the beginning of woodturning." It's believed that from this area, the woodturning technique spread throughout the country.
Entry Plaza of Eigenji Temple, and Nearby Bus Stop, Parking Lot, and Restroom
From National Route 421, turn north where there's a sign for Eigenji Temple. As soon as you cross the Tando Bridge with its red railing over the deep Echi River, there's a bus stop in front of the plaza on your right. From here, you can see the Echi River to your right and sense the slightly elavated hill of Eigenji Temple to the east. There is an information center, a restroom, and a shop here. In front of the shop, there's a free parking space that can accommodate about ten vehicles.
At the entrance, there was information stating that the visiting hours are from 9 am to 4 pm.
Regarding parking for those travelling by car, if this plaza is full, there are several larger paid parking lots nearby and on the south side of the Tando Bridge. They should be around 500 yen per day. I checked the bus timetable. It's probably for the Ohmi Railway bus boundfor Yokaichi Station. The service roughly runs from around 7 am to 7 pm, with about 1 (or 2) buses per hour. Given that it's quite deep in the mountains, this frequency should be sufficient. Missing one bus means an hour's wait, but there's nature to enjoy around and some snacks available.
Additionally, there was another bus stop for a service called "Chokotto Bus," operated by the Higashiomi City Public Transportation Policy Division. The timetable showed roughly one bus every two hours, and it wasn't clear which route it took. It might not be available for sightseeing.
Before entering the temple grounds, you'd want to use the restroom. The restroom here only had facilities for men (several stalls) and a multipurpose stall (single occupancy). While one would wish for a women's restroom here, there's no need to worry as there are facilities inside the temple grounds. At the entrance to this restroom, there was a small note, which read:
“This is the cleanest restroom in Shiga Prefecture. Please use it with care and visit the temple with a refreshing feel.”
While neither luxurious nor spacious, the restroom was exceptionally clean and well-maintained. The men's restroom didn't have a bidet seat, but the multipurpose one did. I deeply appreciated this thoughtful consideration. It would be great if it didn't get too crowded...
Upon taking a peek inside the information center, several brochures were available. Among them, there was a "300 yen discount voucher" for the nearby hot spring facility, "Yappu no Yu." After visiting the temple, you can enjoy a discounted day-trip Onsen. Given the rich amenities of this hot spring, it's the perfect place for relaxation.
Pilgrimage Route: Wadeisui – Daiketsu Bridge - over One Hundered and Ten Stone Steps, and 16 Stone Arhat Statues
To begin the mountain pilgrimage from here, one must first cross a deep valley through the stone-built Daiketsu Bridge. This bridge can be regarded as the clear boundary between the secular and sacred domains. Just before the bridge is a Chozui (washing bin for purification) named "Wadeisui (Jizoson)".
At this washing bin, there is also a ladle. Despite many ladles being removed in various places due to the turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic, seeing a traditional ladle here brought a feeling of joy.
Here's a citation explaining "Wadeisui":
"The term 'Wadeisui’ originates from the teachings of Zen Master Dogen and signifies 'to devote oneself entirely, even if it means being covered in mud'. These words depict the noble compassion of the Buddha, who aspires to save all sentient beings without discrimination between good and evil. The Jizo Bodhisattva enshrined here watches over the long and tumultuous world until the arrival of Maitreya Buddha, and guides sentient beings to salvation throughout the six realms. Wearing worn-out robes and never resting even on the lotus pedestal, his appearance of continuous pilgrimage embodies the true essence of 'Wadeigassui' or selfless dedication. (From Daihonzan Eigenji temple)."
Just by reading this, doesn't it purify the heart, giving you a refreshing and noble feeling?
- The stone-built Daiketsu Bridge at the entrance of Eigenji Temple
- The long stone steps leading from Daiketsu Bridge to the main gate (There were111 steps as I counted)
With my anticipation rising rapidly, I finally cross the grand Daiketsu Bridge, stepping into the sacred realm. To the left, I could sense the sharp currents of a valley, carved in a V-shape, and look up ahead.
A massive and long stone staircase seems to invite me to the top.
To enter the holy domain in the mountain, there are no flat paths. Humans cannot reach it unless they walk on two feet. It's a harsh reality for those with weak legs. The barrier-free environments prevalent in urban areas, unfortunately, can’t be found in the mountain's sanctuary. Those in wheelchairs would require the assistance of at least two people.
This staircase, leading to the main gate, is spaciously constructed and the slope isn't too steep. Yet when I counted, there were 111 steps. It means It rises to an altitude of just under 30 meters. In the humid seasons, one would end up sweating. After making the strenuous ascent, numerous carvings on a large rock come into view. There's no time to catch one's breath from exhaustion. For some reason, figures resembling Buddha statues seem to be staring intensely at the visitors. Their gaze holds such a force, that it leaves you wondering if they are watching over, admonishing, or even scolding you.
Let's assume the Sixteen Arhat statues have been carved to welcome the visitors.
Upon counting, while some are clearly identifiable as Arhats, a few statues are hard to recognize. It seems as if some might have been left unfinished. "Sixteen... Hm? Seventeen?" It appears to me that there might be seventeen statues?
The Mausoleum of the Hikone Domain Lord Ii Family
The Mausoleum of the Hikone Domain Lord Ii Family
Before entering the main gate of Eigenji Temple, on the northern side of the mountain, on the back side of the rock where the Sixteen Arhat statues are carved, there's a fork in the path leading to a plaque explanatory note that says "Mausoleum of the Hikone Domain Lord Ii Family."
From the blog of Higashiomi City Buried Cultural Property Center
(https://ebunkazai.shiga-saku.net/e1343339.html), there's an article from June 2017 titled "A survey was conducted on the national historic site 'Grave of the Hikone Domain Lord Ii Family' at Eigenji Temple." I'll quote a portion:
"The graves of successive lords of Hikone Domain are located at Seiryoji Temple in Hikone City, Gotokuji Temple in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, and Eigenji Temple in Higashiomi City. At Eigenji, tombstones for the fourth lord, Naooki (1656-1717), and three for his consorts were established. This is because Naooki deeply devoted to Nanrei Eijun, the 86th head of Eigenji Temple "
This is a cultural heritage that shows how the Rinzai sect was highly valued by the samurai families.
The old gravestones, some covered in moss, make one feel the sense of history. Perhaps this was also the burial place for the feudal retainers. One wonders if people still visit these graves. While the semi-weathered stones add a touch of ambiance, one can't help but feel a a tinge of loneliness.
Main Gate - Mountain Entry Procedures - Temple Gate - Reception
Finally, it's time to enter the mountain. The sturdy gateway might be a structure reminiscent of the barriers from the Sengoku period. First, at the Chozui spot (purification basin) on the left, I ladle the sacred mountain water onto my left hand, then my right, followed by rinsing my mouth, listening intently to the sound of the water pouring into the basin.
This basin had a sign reading "Ear Cleansing Water (Senjisui)". There was no explanation as to why it's called that. It might be an avoidance of Zen interpretations of words like "feel it" or "observe it". The very act of me elaborating on this might be something Zen would advise against or reject.
Nevertheless, cleanse your hands, mouth, and ears at the basin before heading to the main gate.
I've realized. Let me explain further. When you cleanse your sense of hearing with "Ear Cleansing Water", it feels as if your mind has been purified.I've personally come to understand this experientially. Zen is about experience, not about chattering. Yet, I can't stop myself from using words. Otherwise, I couldn't write this report. After all, writing is just that. But when looking at the concept of Zen, you can't help but feel the depth of the work that goes into writing. From the world of meditation, writings may be the height of foolishness.
Before entering the main gate, I noticed this "Sada''.
You can freely take photos as long as you don't use a tripod.
1. Please be quiet inside the shrine grounds
1. Please carry your pets with you when entering the mountain
1. No harvesting of plants and trees.
1. No smoking inside the shrine grounds except in smoking areas
1. No use of tripods or drones for photography from the Sanmon gate without permission.
According to this, pets are not prohibited. If someone is holding them, they can visit the temple. What catches my attention is photography and video recording. As long as you don't use tripods or drones, it's not prohibited, and you can freely take photos. This is quite a considerate explanation.
Upon entering the main gate, there was a ticket machine on the left for mountain entry. It costs 500 yen. Clutching the ticket, I headed towards the temple gate.
"This gate is huge."
The words slipped out of my mouth unintentionally. The enormous temple gate is indeed reminiscent of a fortress from the Sengoku period. There must be a history of monk-soldiers guarding this gate. Above the temple gate, there seems to be a space that looks like a watchtower. Stepping over a high threshold, seemingly more than 30 centimeters tall, I entered the mountain.
The reception, also known as the place for Goshuin (temple stamps), is where you hand over the ticket. Once given, they provide you with printed guidelines, and you are then ready for the temple visit.
I inquired about photography to the person at the reception (presumably a monk).
"Well, tripods, you see, during times like the fall foliage season, it gets incredibly crowded. The spread-out legs of the tripods hinder people's movements, so we prohibit them. In other words, if you have a monopod, you can use that."
Such a reasonable and considerate explanation genuinely impressed me. This is because I could see between the lines that there was an emphasis on relationships of trust as people, rather than bureaucratic affairs.
As an added bonus, right next to the temple stamp office, there was an old-fashioned bright red postbox. It seemed to double as a mini post office, which added a touch of charm and made me smile.
Facilities on the Grounds: The overwhelmingly majestic main hall, restrooms, and smoking area conditions
The temple grounds are not particularly large. There's a moderate-sized garden with trees with autumn leaves, moss-covered stones, and a tranquil pond, all spaced at just the right intervals of about ten to twenty meters. It's the perfect size for a brief stroll through the garden.
What first catches the eye is the massive exterior of the main hall facing the broad southern garden. The roof is thatched with reeds. With its simple and symmetrically beautiful form, it presents a bold and overwhelmingly commanding presence, offering a place to relax freely. The southern side of the garden drops off into a steep slope, leading to the deep valley of the Eichi River. From a tourist's perspective, if there were benches in this garden, one might be able to sit and relax for hours. However, one must not be mistaken. This is a Zen temple, a place for Zen meditation practice. Such a sacred space should not be turned into a leisure spot for sightseeing.
In the south corner of the garden, there's a bell tower.
As I happened to be wandering around the garden, I heard the sound of a temple bell. Although I assume someone didn't strike the bell specifically for my sake, the timing was impeccable. I had the chance to enjoy the beautiful sounds of the bell several times (I have a particular fondness for sounds and echoes. Thank you)."
Next to this bell tower, in the far southern corner away from the main hall, there's a restroom and a smoking area. The smoking area was closed on the day I visited, but the restroom (lavatory) was, of course, accessible. The men's restroom can accommodate a few people and comes equipped with a bidet function. The multi-purpose restroom is similarly equipped, and everything was clean and well-maintained. I couldn't check the interior of the women's restroom, but I assume it's roughly the same.
Speaking of restrooms, there's also one inside the main hall (on the left side if you face it, the western side). You can access it by removing your shoes and entering the main hall. I don't think there's a multi-purpose one there, but there are separate restrooms for men and women. The men's restroom can be used by both visitors and staff, can accommodate several people, and even has a bidet function. It goes without saying that it was clean and tidy.
A pun on the upside-down letters of the buildings, gardens, and ponds within the temple grounds.
Heading further back from the main hall, which means in the eastern direction, there were a chain of buildings: on the left, the Shoin (study hall), Hodo (Dharma Hall), Kaisan-do (Founder's Hall), and further back, the Genku-in. On the right side (southern side) of the eastern direction from the main hall's garden, there were buildings like the Zendo (meditation hall) which couldn't be seen from the garden, and further back from it, the Kyozo (sutra repository), the Nokotsu-do (ossuary), and the Hyogetsu-tei, all lined up. Each of these buildings is connected by a passageway. From the outside, you can view these buildings, but the only one you can actually see inside is the Hodo. The interiors of the other buildings remain a mystery.
On this day, chanting and the sound of the Mokugyo (wooden fish percussion instrument) were heard from the Genku-in located furthest to the east. It seemed to be a quite luxurious-looking building with depth. On the printed guide I received at the reception, when I checked the English translation for "Genku-in," it read "Chief priest's quarters." From this, I realized that this was the lodging of the head priest of Eigenji Temple. In other words, it's a place where the monks live.
Next to the Hodo, there was a small pond. When I looked at it, I felt something was wrong.
"Huh? What's that? Aren't the characters upside down?"
I approached a monk who was nearby, trimming a plum tree in the garden, and asked, despite feeling a bit repetitive,
"Those characters on the signboard are upside-down. Aren't you going to correct them?"
"Oh, that? It was installed by the local tourist association. It's for fun... just a bit of fun."
"So, the temple didn't intend for it to be this way?"
"That's right. The tourist association thought it would be interesting and did it."
When I took another closer look, after hearing the monk's explanation, I noticed that the characters "Eigenji" reflected on the pond's surface were upright. It's a pun and humorous touch, reflecting the temple's thoughtful nature. Such a feature lets one feel the tolerant aspect of the Rinzai sect, which advocates devised Zen.
Main Hall: Feel the Historical Aura by Stepping Inside, Sitting, and Observing
Among the more than 10 historic buildings in the temple grounds, the only one you can enter by removing your shoes is the Main Hall. It might serve a function similar to a reception room in an ordinary house. It's a large tatami-covered space that could probably accommodate around a hundred people seated close together.
Inside, a video guide of Eigenji Temple is shown, and various amulets and other small items are on display.
When you sit on the tatami mats, the power of the splendid ink-painted folding screen paintings is striking.
This main hall is not from the temple's original establishment in the 14th century. It's said that it once vanished in fires, not just once but multiple times during the Sengoku period. The current building was built in 1766, during the second year of Meiwa, with the support of the Ii family.
And about the distinctive hipped roof, at first glance, I thought it was thatched with straw, but when I looked into it, it turned out to be thatched with reeds. I also found out that, in terms of reed-thatching, it's one of the largest in the country.
- Painting on the sliding door in the main hall (author's name unknown)
- Painting on the sliding door in the main hall (author's name unknown)
The principal deity of this Main Hall is said to be the Yotsugi Kannon (a secret Buddha). When you enter the Main Hall, you can even sit on the tatami and mimic Zen meditation. As you gaze at the garden facing south, it takes you back to the temple's founding era, more than hundreds of years ago, when it's said that two thousand monks gathered here. The Zen teachings propagated by Eisai were a new doctrine in the history of Buddhism. Over time, Buddhism transformed from focusing on precepts, to being based on logic such as pure wisdom, to being open to the masses through Nembutsu, and from being a secret practice to one that can perform miracles. The Zen sect emphasizes enlightenment through meditation called "Zen."
Thus, Zen sects like the Soto, Rinzai, and Obaku schools, centering on Zen meditation, might be considered teachings that return to the roots of original Buddhism when Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.
Sitting in the Main Hall of Eigenji temple and focusing your consciousness on its founding period might just transport you instantly, letting you catch a glimpse of Buddha's state under the Bodhi tree—an inner journey.
"Ha ha ha, are you a fool? That's just your wild imagination, but it was a bit amusing. A joke can be entertaining now and then."
A gentle breeze blew, rustling the unchanged green leaves, and such a voice seemed to whisper deep in my ears (Just kidding).
(Visit date and time: June 21, 2023, 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM)