Inside Eiheji Temple Kanazawa (three hours north-northwest of Osaka, 130 kilometers north of Gifu) is a feudal castle town where Noh theater, flower arranging and the tea ceremony — all important Japanese traditions — are still practiced. Located in west-central Honshu between the Asanogawa and Ishikawa Rivers, slightly inland from the Japan Sea, it was not bombed in World War II and has many well-preserved cultural and historical sights. The city used to be famous for its winter snows but these days there is less snow than there used to be.
Kanazawa is home to about 450,000 people and its history is associated with the Kaga clan and its ruling Maeda family. Friendly, with relaxed atmosphere, the city isn’t as cramped and frantic like Tokyo and Osaka. The roads and the sidewalks are wide. The traffic manageable. Kanazawa is a historic city. It became cultural center after 1580 but its influenced decline along with it feudal lords and power structure in the 1870s with the growth of modern industry on the opposite side of Honshu. Maeda Castle around which the city was built was destroyed in 1881 by fire Kanazawa is best known for its teahouses and samurai districts.
Kanazawa is a good place to see Noh Theater. Performances are held fairly often at the Ishikawa Prefectural Noh Theater. Crafts from Kanazawa and Ishikawa prefecture include “kaga yuzen” (silk dying), “kutani-yaki” (colorful ceramics), “kaga makie” (lacquerware with gold, silver and pearl overlay), “wajima-nuri” (lacquerware), “yamanaka-shikki” (lacquerware), “kanazawa-butsudan” (Buddhist altars), “kagi-nui” (embroidery), “ushikubi-tsumugi” (weaving) and “kanazawa-haku” (gold-leaf crafting).
Kanazawa is also a good jumping point for trips to the Noto Peninsula, Eihei-ji Temple in Fukui and places along the Japan Sea. The five peaks of Sacred Hakusan Mountain can be seen and easily reached from Kanazawa. In the countryside outside of Kanazawa dwellings are not organized into villages but rather family units with five or six buildings surrounded by a couple of acres of land.
Ishikawa Prefecture in which Kanazawa is located covers 4,186 square kilometers (1,616 square miles), is home to about 1.15 million people and has a population density of 275 people per square kilometer. Kanazawa is the capital and largest city, with about 466,000 people. It is in Chubu in central Honshu island and has five districts and 19 municipalities.
Websites: Kanazawa Official Tourism site visitkanazawa.jp City of Kanazawa site city.kanazawa.ishikawa.jp Map and Brochure Downloads: visitkanazawa.jp ; Ryokan and Minshuku Japanese Guest Houses Japanese Guest Houses Budget Accommodation: Japan Youth Hostels Japan Youth Hostels Check Lonely Planet books Getting There: Kanazawa is accessible by air and by bus and by train to other Japanese cities. There is no shinkansen service to Kanazawa. Trains go south to Kyoto and Osaka and north to Toyama and Niigata. Lonely Planet Lonely Planet
Sights in Kanazawa
old samurai district Kanazawa has about a day's worth of sights to check out. Traditional wooden houses can be seen in the Nagamachi District, with is wooden bukeyashiki samurai houses; the Higashi Geisha District, with its tea houses (the geishas are gone); and the Teramachi District and the Edo-mura Village open-air museum. The Momura house is a museum open to visitors. Also worth a look are the Kaga Yuzen kimono workshop, where visitors can see craftsmen hand paint kimonos, and the Kutani Kosen Gama Kiln.
Hyakumangoku-dori Avenue, or One Million Koku Avenue, is Kanazawa’s main street and center of the night life area. It is lined with department stores, banks and shops. In the back streets around it are numerous restaurants, bars and clubs. The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art was designed by the Japanese architectural firm SANAA, a partnership of Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa.
Omichi Ichiba Market is a highlight of a visit to Kanazawa. Among the specialties sold at the 160 food and fish shops are salted squid intestines, Kaga lotus root, and sweet potatoes that taste like chestnuts. In the winter many Japanese make a special trip to Kanazawa just to eat the snow crabs that are sold here. There are a number of good sushi and seafood restaurants in and around the market. But unfortunately most of the activity at the market in the morning which means the restaurant are closed for dinners. Time your visit for lunchtime or enjoy sushi for breakfast.
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (in Kanazawa) was designed by the Pritzker Prize winning architect team sanaa (Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa). It is designed as a park for people to gather and meet. The circular glass structure allows accessibility from multiple directions, the starting point for many of their creations are dozens of models. “After that, we compare and think about more options,” says Sejima. “We repeat this process several times. Somewhere along the way ideas evolve that will shape the character of a building,” say the architects. Location: 1-2-1 Hirosaka, Kanazawa-shi, Ishikawa 920-8509, Tel: +81-76-220-2800
Kenrokuen Garden (central Kanazawa) is regarded as one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan, along with Kairakuen in Mito and Korakuen in Okayama. Created between 1676 and 1822 and opened to the public in 1871, it covers 11.4 hectares (28.2 acres) and boasts 11,700 tress and shrubs, including the Karasaki Pine, a famous 160-year-old tree that spreads out over an areas the size of a basketball court.
Kanazawa Kenrokuen (Garden) is a strolling garden. The special features are the two-legged Yukimi-toro or Kotojitoro (snow-viewing lantern) and the “yuki-zuri” scene, where ropes are stretched from the top branches to the lower branches of trees to protect them from breaking from the weight of the snow and help them grow in a natural manner. The excellent skills and designs of the master artisan work can be found elsewhere in the arts and crafts of the garden.
Kenrokuen trees prepared for snow Kenrokuen means "combines six," a reference to famous Sung-Dynasty Chinese garden with six attributes: antiquity, spaciousness, seclusion, abundant water, artificially and broad views. Established by the Maeda family, powerful feudal lords in Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures, the garden was originally the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle and was expanded over the centuries to its present size.
The main points of interest are the Gourd Pond, with a 6.6-meter-high artificial waterfall and tea ceremony house and the famous Kotoju Toro arched stone lantern; 18 stone lanterns of various shapes and sizes; the Flying Geese Bridge, with 11 tortoise-shapes stones that represent geese; the Ishikawa Gate, one of the last remaining sections of Kanazawa Castle; and the Hase Plum Grove, located on a former riding ground. There is also a sacred well, a former samurai house and viewpoint of the city. The unique hilltop water system gets it water from a river located six miles away.
In the spring, summer and autumn the garden is often packed with visitors. During the winter many of the trees and shrubs are protected from heavy snowfall by straw jackets and huts. The Karasaki Pine receives five "umbrellas" formed by 800 ropes. One of the nice things about the garden is that opens very early, at 7:00am, allowing visitors a chance to take in the garden and catch morning transportation to another destination. Near the garden is the Ishikawa Prefectural Fine Art Museum, the Seison-kaku Villa, the Nakamura Memorial Museum, the Nakamura Memorial Museum and the Honda Museum. If you want to visit a garden that beautiful but lacks the large crowed try the Gyokusen Garden.
Address: 1-4 Kenrokumachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa Hours Open: 7:00am-6:00pm, 8:00am-5:00pm (October 16–February) Admission: ¥300; Getting There: Near Kenrokuenshita or Dewa-machi Bus Stop. (15 min. by bus from Kanazawa Websites: Ishikawa Prefecture site pref.ishikawa.jp/siro-niwa/kenrokuen; Kanazawa Tourism site visitkanazawa-tourism.jp ; Photos of Kenrokuen /photoguide.jp
Noto Peninsula (northeast of Kanazawa) is famous for its bays, rock formations, terraced rice fields, fishing villages and rugged cliffs. The geographical isolation of the region means that people here still practice many strange folk customs. Home to only 350,000 people, it is a good place to explore by bicycle and on foot. In the summer flowers bloom all over.
The Noto Peninsula embraces 552 kilometers of coastline, The "Outer Coast" is characterized by its rugged landscapes and wild rock formations. The "Inner Coast" is made up primarily bays and inlets filled with tranquil water. The "Outer Coast" is the more beautiful of the two. The "Inner Coast" is over developed in some places with concrete hotels and concrete walls built near the water to control erosion.
There are not so many tourist sites on the Noto Peninsula. The primary attraction is the countryside. Tsukumo Bay and Wakura Spa are the two main tourist attractions. Both are full of concrete hotels built during the Bubble Economy and neither is very picturesque. Some of the hot spring resorts on the Inner Coast are quite large, The interior is only lightly inhabited, with most people living in farm houses reached by narrow roads. At Rokkazoaki, the northernmost point on the peninsula, there is a lighthouse. The seas can be quite rough here. The road south along the coast offers some stunning views. At Semaida small rice fields cover hills overlooking the sea. The villages of Osawa and Kamiozawa, feature 4½-meter-high walls that shield the towns form the sea winds.
The most scenic parts of the Noto Peninsula include the Notokongo Coast, a 10-mile section of coastline between Fukura and Sekinohana know for its rock formations; Hegura-jima Island, with lots of birds and no traffic; Cape Rokozaki, with a lighthouse, rock formations and a coast hiking trail. Some people like to hike around Yasenodangai, a bluff on the west coast and nearby Gammon caves, with one cave that goes from a beach to the sea. Nearby is a 27-meter-high obelisk-shaped rock topped by pine trees. .The hiking trails are generally well marked and well maintained, There are lots of minshuku for ¥5,000 to ¥7,000 per person a night that includes a great seafood inner.
Noto suffered an earthquake in March 2007. Visitors to the area plunged afterwards. In an effort to get them back, cheap bus tickets — as low as $10 one-way from Osaka — were offered Websites: JNTO article JNTO ; Wiki Travel Wikitravel ; Getting There: Lonely PlanetLonely Planet
Wajima (on the northern part of the Noto Peninsula) is noted for Wajima-nuri lacquerware, its morning and evening markets, and female divers who gather shellfish and agar-agar from nearby islands. There is only one train from Kanazawa to Wajima each day. You can take a direct bus to Wajima or a Hokutetsu sightseeing bus.
North of Wajima is an area where an awesome series of rice terraces climbs from the sea to the top of forested hills. At Senamaida there is a rest stop with a stunning view of bay with rice terraces. The rice terraces in Shiroyone in Wajima were lit up with 30,000 candles in 2008 and 2009 to commemorate the city’s recovery from Noto earthquake in 2007.
Fukuiraptor Fukui Prefecture covers 4,190.5 square kilometers (1,617 square miles), is home to about 780,000 people and has a population density of 188 people per square kilometer. Fukui is the capital and largest city, with about 266,000 people. It is in Chubu in central Honshu island and has seven districts and 17 municipalities. Fukui Tourist Information Information Center (Jingu-Geku) 1st fl., JR Fukui Station, 1-1-1, Chuo, Fukui City, Fukui Pref. Tel. 0776-20-5348 8:30-19:00; Getting There: Fukui Prefecture is just 2 hours from Osaka by limited express train, or 3-plus hours from Tokyo by Shinkansen and local trains. Websites: fuku-e.com Fukui Tram Map: Urban Rail urbanrail.net
<Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum (Fukui Prefecture) is housed in an egg-shaped building and houses many fossils and skeletons. It is one of the world’s largest dinosaur museums. Website: Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum site dinosaur.pref.fukui.jp Sabae City (in Fukui, a short trip from Kyoto) is home to the 1,500-year-old artistic tradition of Echizen lacquer. Japan has been famous for its lacquerwork since ancient times, and it still fascinates us today. Your gaze sinks into its endless glossy depths, as your fingertips caress its delightfully smooth finish. In Sabae you can watch master artisans at work, and even take part in the process yourself with three hands-on workshops to choose from: painting a design on a bowl, a photo frame or a hand mirror, carving a design on a lacquer plate, and applying lacquer to a round wooden tray. Once you’ve completed your personal masterpiece, head over to the gallery and see magnificent festival floats, handmade by local craftsmen using techniques passed down from generation to generation. Sabae is 90 minutes by train from Kyoto. Create your own lacquerware masterpiece to take home Go hands-on with one of Japan’s most beautiful and time-honored crafts 82 40-1-2 Nishi Bukuro-cho, Sabae-shi, Fukui Website: fuku-e.com
Eiheiji Temple (20 kilometers from Fukui and two hours from Kanazawa) is one of the most visited and the most delightful and interesting temples in Japan. There are three reasons for this: 1) it has wonderful wooden architecture; 2) it is set in a beautiful location; and 3) perhaps best all, it is not a museum but a living and working Zen monastery with monks doing Zen rituals and running around doing various chores.
Junko Fujita of Reuters wrote: “Isolated from other parts of quiet Eiheiji town on Japan's western coast, the complex of more than 70 buildings stands on a hill among a thick forest of tall cedar trees. The temple, established by the Buddhist monk Dogen in 1244, is an active monastery where about 150 monks are in training. They follow the Soto Zen School’s traditional, simple ways of living and are happy to welcome you to join them.[Source: Junko Fujita, Reuters, December 4, 2015]
Eiheiji Temple is one of Japan’s most historic Zen Buddhist temples and has even been awarded a Michelin star. The monks that live there live a strict, spiritual life, meditating daily as part of a rigorous training program. Eiheiji means “temple of eternal peace.” Spread over a hillside and shaded by cedar trees, it is one of two headquarters of the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism. Its founder, Dogen (1200-1253), was a priest who brought Zen to Japan from China. The temple is a massive complex of 70 or so buildings, most connected by covered corridors, and home to a large community of monks. On the lovely temple grounds are mossy gardens, cemeteries and walking paths set around a ravine with a river and waterfall.
The monks in training endure rigorous Zen training (“zanzen” ) in which they spend log periods of time in silent, seated meditation. They follow strict rules, developed in the 12th century by Dogen, that governs every aspect of their life: eating, sleeping, bathing, even the way they use the toilets. A typical day begins at 3:30am with morning zanzen and chores such as shoveling snow, washing and sweeping. Sutra chanting and reading are conducted in the morning, afternoon and evening. The Spartan meals consist of rice, thin soup and some vegetables. Lights are out at 9:00pm.
The temple opens at 5:00am. The entrance area is a busy place with monks selling amulets and talking on phones. Before visitors are allowed to explore the rest of the temple, they have to first sit through a lecture in which they are told they are expected to act like people receiving religious training and informed of the temple rules, namely to keep quiet, always walk to the left, stay on the wooden corridors and not to photograph any of the monks.
Location: 5-15 Shihi, Eiheiji-cho, Yoshida-gun, Fukui Website: fuku-e.com; Getting There: From Fukui Station it takes 40 minutes by bus or tram and bus to reach Eiheiji Temple. Fukui Prefecture is just 2 hours from Osaka by limited express train, or 3-plus hours from Tokyo by Shinkansen and local trains. Websites: Eiheiji Temple site daihonzan-eiheiji.com; Japan Guide Japan-guide ; Wikitravel Wikitravel ; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Photos Reggie.net
Buildings and Rooms of Eiheji Temple
The placement of the seven main buildings follows a pattern used in Chinese Zen temples in the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The “sodo” (monk hall) is the most important building and one of three places where vows of silence are honored (the other two are the bath and the toilet). Here the monks in training do zen exercises, eat and sleep on a single 2-x-1-meter tatami mat. At the center of the hall is a statue of Monju Bosatsu, the bodhisattva of wisdom.
<Other important rooms include the “Butsuden” (Buddha Hall), with a stone floor, Chinese-style double roof and statues of Buddhas of the past, present and future; the “Hatto” (Dharma Hall), where morning, midday and evening services are held; the “Joyoden” (Founder’s Hall), with the ashes of Dogen zenji and some of his disciples; the “Daikuin” (the Kitchen), where the simple, basic meals are prepared. Among the many treasures in the temple is a picture painted by Dogen.
There are rooms in the modern entrance building in which guests are allowed to stay. Visitors eat vegetarian meals and receive religious training and attend services as if they were monks in training. There is also a special overnight program. </At the temple you can go souvenir shopping at one of the shops around the temple that sell local noodles, sweets and incense. If your legs are up to it, you can also try Sutra copying (Shakyo) . Facing small table in silence with brush and ink, diligently try copying the complicated characters.
Becoming a Meditating Monk at Eiheiji Temple
At Eiheiji Temple you can sit alongside the monks and take part in one of their zazen (sitting zen meditation) sessions. Enter the mysterious, dimly lit Zen hall surrounded by the hazy scent of incense, and prepare your cushion and sit cross-legged. Try to empty your mind for sometime, however it will feel like ever under the watchful eyes of the head monk.
You can also stay for a day or two at Eiheiji Temple and experience their ascetic life. Join the monks for zazen and sutra transcription, dine with them on strict vegetarian fare and rise early in the morning to take part in a morning incense-burning service. All of this takes place in a vast temple complex of 70 buildings set in an ancient forest, housing numerous historical treasures.
The one-night program costs ¥ 9,000. You are expected to follow the schedule and the rules of the temple. Accommodation is available only when this temple can provide rooms and an English interpreter. This program includes: 1) Two 40-minute periods of zazen (shikantaza, “single-minded sitting”). 2) Participation in the morning service. 3) Watching a movie about Eiheiji. 4) A guided tour of the historical temple facilities. 5) Two meals of traditional temple cuisine. According to circumstances, further activities may be included as well. There is also a new hotel near the temple that gives you a hotel-temple experience for ¥16,000 per person.
To apply for the One-Night “Sanro” program, you must apply by submitting the application below at least one month in advance. Please also specify alternate dates in case your first choice is not available. If a group of people would like to stay, a single person should write the application, and send a complete list of the people in the group (names, sex, age). Once your reservation is confirmed, we will send a permission letter by email, which you must present when you arrive at Eiheiji. Check-in Time” 14:00 to 15:00. The Fee (as donation) of 9,000 yen per person is to be paid in cash as donation when you arrive. Official site daihonzan-eiheiji.com
Staying at Eiheiji Temple
Junko Fujita of Reuters wrote: “If you want to glimpse life that has not changed much in eight centuries, Eiheiji temple in the mountains just outside Fukui city is the place to find it. Just mind the monk with the stick, who may tap you with it if you fail to meditate.[Source: Junko Fujita, Reuters, December 4, 2015]
“Visitors can tour the temple for a day or stay there overnight as Eiheiji provides lodging, including two meals and the chance for zazen meditation and the reading of Buddhist scripture. The charge is 8,000 yen ($65) per person for an overnight stay with two meals. Reservations are required, particularly for non-Japanese speakers who must reserve well in advance so the temple can secure an English-speaking monk to attend them.
The black-garbed monks welcome you at the entrance of the complex and give a brief lecture on the temple and their life. When they move from building to building, the monks form two lines and walk side by side. “Visitors stay in a modern building, called "kichijokaku" and are given a room with tatami mats with a futon and a table, but there are no amenities like television sets or mini-bars.
“At mealtimes, you can smell food as the monks carry their meals from the kitchen building, called "daikuin", to their training quarters called "sodo". A monk lets his colleagues know the food is ready by ringing a bell that is actually a large piece of wood curved in the shape of a fish. Monks keep their own lacquered dishes and cutlery. Their founding monk Dogen did not allow his followers to waste water, so after each meal, they rinse the bowls with hot water, drink the water and clean the bowls with a cloth-topped stick.
“Meals are all vegetarian dishes known as "shojin ryori", derived from the dietary restrictions of Buddhist monks. The meal is served in a set of five lacquer bowls in different sizes that can be stacked together when not in use.The day's dinner may consist of a bowl of rice and miso soup, along with stewed vegetable and fried tofu, daikon and carrots marinated in vinegar as well as a dish with eggplants marinated with sesame. Eiheiji's special sesame (goma) tofu, something like pudding made from sesame paste, water and kuzu power, is also served.
“Visitors who stay overnight eat the same meal as the monks but during the meal, they are not allowed to talk or make sounds. When you finish, tea is poured into your cup and you dip chopsticks in it to wash them. You will use the same chopsticks for breakfast.
After a dinner that ends before 6 p.m., visitors may take part in zazen. For this you sit with crossed legs on a "zafu", or cushion, while you look down at the floor at a 45-degree angle, take a deep and slow breath and meditate. You face the wall when you take part in Soto School's zazen. If you cannot concentrate, a monk walking around could hit your shoulder with a wooden stick called a "kyosaku". In the morning visitors may join the reading of scripture that starts a little before 4 a.m. The sun emerges in the quietness of the temple and trees gradually gleam with light. The whole experience ends after breakfast.
Tojinbo (30 kilometers northeast of Fukui) features impressive rock columns and sea side cliffs. Created from cooled lava and carved by wave action, rainwater and wind, the gray andesite columns stretch for about one kilometer and have been compared with the Devils’s Staircase in Northern Ireland. Some of the columns have a hexagonal shape. What is particularly interesting about them is that they slant at different angle in relationship to the sea. The area is popular with tourists and suicide jumpers. About 30 people leap off the 80-foot-cliffs in hopes of killing themselves. Around two thirds are successful. The rocks are named after a monk who fell in love with a woman and was thrown off the cliffs by her jealous lover. The monk’s spirit is believed by some to be responsible for the rough weather and crashing waves that strike the region. The nearby town of Awara is famous for its hot springs.
These huge cliffs extend for 1 kilometers along the coastline and as one of the top three places in the world of rare rock configuration, (the other two being in Norway and Korea), attract tourists and geologists who come to admire and study this rarefied natural monument of scenic beauty. The best way to see these rocks is from the pleasure boat cruise which takes you deep into the shadows of the rock pillars and around the small islands just off the coast. Back on land, take the time to stroll around the small shops selling local produce (mainly seafood), sweets and crafts. Also, not far from Tojimbo is the esplanade where stones engraved with poems and haiku line the tree-covered route, making for a cultural walk through the beautiful greenery — a pleasant contrast to the coastline attractions.
Getting There: It takes about an hour from Fukui: 15 minutes by train from Fukui Station to Awara Onsen Station and then 40 minutes by bus ride to the cliffs of Tojimbo. From Tokyo, take the Tokaido Shinkansen train to Maibara Station and switch to the JR Hokuriku Line. From there, it takes 3-1/2 hours to Awara-Onsen Station. From the station to the Tojinbo Cliffs it takes about 40 minutes by the Keifuku Bus. For more information, call the Awara City Tourist Association at (0776) 78-6767. Websites: JNTO article JNTO ; Wikipedia Wikipedia
Image Sources: 1) Japanese Guest Houses 2) 3) Sado Island site 4) 5) 6) Kanzawa City 7) NASA 8), 9) reggie.net 10) Fukui Dinosaur Museum 11) 14) 16) Wikipedia 12) Japan National Parks, 13) 15) Matsue City 17) Wikitravel
Text Sources: JNTO (Japan National Tourist Organization), Japan.org, Japan News, Japan Times, Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan Ministry of the Environment, UNESCO, Japan Guide website, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in January 2023