Stay at Taiyoji, an Isolated Buddhist Temple Just Outside Tokyo
Imagine an ancient Buddhist temple perched on top of a mountain. Surrounded by nature and peace, away from the metropolis. Here phones don't work and all the mundane problems can't reach you...
Well, it so happens that a place just like that is only two hours away from Tokyo. And you can stay there.
The entrance gate to Taiyoji Temple
Shukubo 宿坊 means 'temple lodging', and was originally a service that temples offered to pilgrims. Nowadays many temples around Japan offer this service to people who want to find some peace of mind or experience Buddhism-related activities.
I visited one of these temples, the Taiyoji in Saitama prefecture.
Why I Chose Taiyoji Temple
When it comes to temple lodging, one has many options as to where to stay.
Apart from being conveniently close to Tokyo, there are a few things that are special about Taiyoji that made me choose it over other temples.
1. This temple is old
So many temples in Japan have been rebuilt several times; not this one. The building is the very same that was built in 1757. It carries an antiquity, a wisdom and a strength that leaves me speechless as soon as I approach it.
2. It's run by only one monk
Asami-san, a former stressed-out office worker, lives here and takes care of his guests completely by himself.
3. It's authentic
While being beautiful and well preserved, Taiyoji is far from those spotless, shiny temples that are so common in the rest of Japan. There are everyday items left outside and the dogs happily trot around the grounds. Everything feels real.
Living With The Monk
Upon arrival, the other visitors and I are shown into the main temple hall, a magnificent and timeworn wooden building. We immediately start the activity of shakyo 写経, sutra copying.
After Asami-san's explanations we proceed to copying the Heart Sutra, trying to concentrate on the tip of our brush. The concept of time dissolves with every stroke and I have no idea of how long that took.
We're then treated to a delicious dinner of shojin ryori, the Buddhist vegetarian cuisine.
It's hard to believe, but Asami-san prepares all this food by himself for his guests every day!
It's starting to get dark outside and it's time for dokkyo 読経, Sutra chanting. The monk's voice, mingled with his loud banging on the bells, echoes in the silence of the temple.
After that we listen to houwa 法話, the sermon. We all sit around Asami-san and he encourages us to ask questions. He then explains some of the concepts of Buddhism.
The night is awaiting us, cold and soundless. Before getting into our futons, we soak into the hot water of the rotemburo, an outside bath.
At the edge of the mountain I sit with my new companions, the stones and the trees. Together we watch the stars beaming at us through the puffs of steam.
The Most Important Part
"And don't forget to get up early and take a morning walk," Asami-san told us. Of all the activities and teachings offered at this temple, this is the one that he would like his guests to experience the most. So I set my alarm for a painfully early time and, puffy-eyed, tiptoe outside in the semi-darkness.
"Learn from nature, let nature teach you," this is the concept that has been taught in Zen for over 700 years and that continues to be taught at Taiyoji.
Walking past quiet streams and incredibly tall trees, I let the forest whisper to me the story of this place. I start exploring the temple grounds: the main gate, the meditation hall, the smaller temples, everything feels deeply connected with the nature around it.
The temple grounds
Look at the moss and lichens on this Buddha statue. I'm not sure if this place assimilated the nature over time or if it is the other way round.
While I ponder this, Strange whistle sounds are coming from the forest above me. I look up, curious, and a sudden rustling sound fills the air. My watchers scatter at once. All but one.
The sun is about to rise behind the meditation hall
At sunrise, I finally understand why this is called Taiyoji, the 'temple of the sun'. The main hall is placed in a strategic position so the first rays of light bathe the old wood in gleaming gold. We welcome, breathless, the warmth and the beauty of the morning. Our monk emerges from the sliding doors with a smile and a steaming pot of coffee.
Time to Meditate
After an early morning sutra chanting, we move to the big meditation hall. Here we will practice zazen, the seated Zen meditation technique.
This procedure indicates the start of the meditation
It sounds a bit scary, but if you have problems concentrating you can request to be beaten with a stick!
After a first meditation session inside, Asami-san is off to prepare our breakfast. We are free to continue meditating, this time in front of the open windows.
Staring at the massive trees and the mountain in the distance, it's hard to concentrate on meditating instead of just watching the beautiful scenery.
We end our two-day experience with a delicious breakfast in the sun. Soon we will have to head back to the modern world.
How To Get There
The closest train station to Taiyoji temple is Mitsumineguchi Station. If you are in Tokyo you can get there from Ikebukuro Station in about 2 and a half hours. Follow the instructions on their website.
If you arrange it ahead of time, Asami-san will pick you up at the station and drive you to the temple. Otherwise, you can take the Chichibuko Nakatsugawa-Line bus, get off at the Taiyoji Entrance stop and walk (approx. 2 hours).
The road that allows cars to reach Taiyoji temple by car has existed for barely 20 years. Before that, pilgrims could arrive at the temple following a long path through the mountains. Part of that path is still in use to this day and you can walk it if you choose to take the bus and walk route.
When you arrive at the Ochigawa fishing pond, you'll see the entrance to the ancient pilgrim path. It will take you for a 30 minute walk up the mountain to the gates of the temple.
13 statues of Buddha are placed along the way to lead your path to Taiyoji.
I encourage you to try staying at Taiyoji if you are looking for something different, something that most tourists - and even most Japanese people - don't get to experience.
Taiyoji | 大陽寺
Address: 459 Otaki, Chichibu-shi, Saitama
Price: 9,000 yen per night per person, dinner and breakfast included
Japanese and English are spoken
About the author
Laura is an Italian living and working in Tokyo. She loves exploring hidden and unknown places, taking pictures and listening to Punk Rock music. When she’s not busy doing the above, she might enjoy a craft beer or play the sanshin (an Okinawan instrument similar to a shamisen).
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THIS ARTICLE IS BASED ON INFORMATION FROM 05 22,2017 Author：DiGJAPAN! Editorial Team