All about Zen!

Zen meditation has become one of Japan’s most successful exports, ranking up there with cars and Sailor Moon, yet its apparent simplicity makes it all the more mysterious and compelling. There are several places in Japan where you can try meditation, but few where you can ask the monk all kinds of questions about his traditions and everyday life, as well as eat delicious monastic food! It is not surprising, then, that the visit to a Zen temple is one of our most popular options.

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The temple is located at the top of an old stone staircase (but don’t worry, there is also a road up if you prefer!)
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Many stone Buddhas keep watch as you climb.
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“Welcome to my temple!”

The monk may not quite fit with your idea of a Zen practitioner: he is relatively young, and very approachable. However, he has completed studies not only in meditation, but also in temple cuisine.

Before the meditation session, he shows visitors around his temple.

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The temple is centuries old, and serves the local community
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Explaining how he conducts the daily services. The round gong is in the shape of a fish, which always keeps its eyes open, even while sleeping, and is a symbol of how believers should always be aware.
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Chanting the sutras

He even shows us the kitchen and living area.

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The dinner gong!
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A monk’s living room is picturesque but not luxurious…

Finally, it is time to try Zen meditation…

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The meditation area, with the necessary equipment: tatami mats and black cushions
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Demonstrating the correct way to sit. It is not as easy as it looks!

Zen practitioners usually meditate for around 40 minutes at a time, but beginners usually try around 10. Be careful not to let your concentration slip, however; otherwise, you will be rapped on the shoulder!

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Luckily, the teacher does not look too scary, even with that big stick!

After all that concentration, the reward is the temple lunch! Buddhist cuisine is vegetarian and does not use a lot of strong seasonings, but it is delicious and perhaps provides a welcome change after days of rich ryokan food… While you are eating, you have the chance to ask the monk all kinds of questions about his daily life and Buddhist customs.

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Temple cuisine may be simple, but it is not plain or austere

So why not add this temple visit to your next trip to Japan? We cannot promise that you will find enlightenment, but you are sure to come away with a deeper understanding of Japanese Buddhist tradition.

 

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