5 Places to Experience Zen Meditation in Japan
Zen Buddhism came to Japan from China, and flourished in part because it complemented many of the country's pre-established values. Zen is all about zazen, or seated meditation, which is a great way to practice mindfulness and engage with traditions at the same time. There are many places where visitors can enjoy an authentic zen experience!
Sogen-ji Temple (Okayama)
Sogen-ji Temple is a working monastery that welcomes foreigners just 20-minutes from the downtown area of Okayama. The temple was originally founded over 300 years ago by the Ikeda clan as their family temple, but today it is home to around 20 people from all around the world seeking enlightenment and studying the principles of Buddhism. The temple offers visitors a chance to experience Zen meditation with one of the foreign monks who have dedicated their lives to the practice. Here, it's very easy to let the beautiful, tranquil surroundings of the temple take you away to a world of peace and relaxation.
Address: 1069 Maruyama, Naka Ward, Okayama, 703-8271
Kencho-ji Temple (Kamakura)
The beautiful Daihonzan Kofukusan Kencho-ji Temple is considered one of the "Five Great Zen Temples of Kamakura," and is one of the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan. Kamakura is very close to Tokyo, which makes this particular facility pretty easy to get to! It offers zazen sessions to visitors on Friday and Saturday evening. The Rinzai Zen temple was completed in 1253 and consists of a large number of temple buildings and subtemples. The hatto (Dharma Hall) is the largest wooden temple building in eastern Japan, and is home to a statue of Kannon, as well as a cool dragon on its ceiling. The garden behind the main hall is also impressive and was designed by Zen master Muso Kokushi (1275-1351).
Address: 8 Yamanouchi, Kamakura, Kanagawa 247-8525
Eihei-ji Temple (Fukui)
Eihei-ji Temple in Fukui Prefecture is one of the two main temples of the Soto school of Zen Buddhism, which is one of the most practiced sects in Japan. The temple—located deep in the mountains of Fukui—was completed in 1244, and its halls have been filled with dedicated Zen practitioners ever since. The temple’s name means "Temple of Eternal Peace," and you too can stay and enjoy meditation through one of the Zen practice programs that involve a relaxing overnight stay.
Address: 5-15 Shihi, Eiheiji, Yoshida District, Fukui 910-1228
Kennin-ji Temple (Kyoto)
The historic Kennin-ji Temple was constructed in 1202, which makes it the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto! It's the perfect place to dive deep into Zen in Japan’s ancient capital, which is almost literally swimming in it. Located in the Higashiyama Ward near the famous geisha district of Gion, zazen meditation classes are held the second Sunday of each month from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. or 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The classes last about an hour and include two 20-minute sessions, a lecture about Buddhist priesthood and a cup of tea.
Address: 584 Komatsucho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0811
Eko-in Temple (Wakayama)
No piece about Zen meditation could be complete without including Koyasan, Wakayama’s holy mountain, with deep cedar forests, moss-covered stone lanterns and ancient pilgrimage sites. The center of Shingon Buddhism is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to around 120 temples. Eko-in Temple is a 1,000 year-old temple on Koyasan that offers shukubo, or "temple lodgings," to pilgrims. Guests are free to attend Buddhist morning services and meditation, as well as enlighten their palate with shojin ryori, seasonal vegetarian meals eaten by the monks.
Address: 497 Koyasan, Koya, Ito District, Wakayama 648-0211