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  It is not hyperbole to state that Erin-ji Temple, est. 1330, and its environs are without comparison in Japan. The temple is located in the picture-perfect enclave of Oyashiki, Kōshū City, Yamanashi. Oyashiki literally translates to “Mansions,” and there certainly are many extravagant homes in this unique area. Unlike modern urban centres, groups of local students doff their caps, bow and then say in unison, “Thank you very much!” to motorists who stop to let them cross the road. This is deep Japan. If you are lucky enough to visit in November, you will be bedazzled by the multicoloured autumn leaves and thousands of drying persimmons suspended under the eaves of traditional Japanese houses. 


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  As you approach the temple, be conscious of its distinctive Zen Buddhist layout with its long approach featuring 3 elaborate gates. Continue walking in a straight line from the last of the 3 gates to the temple’s butsuden (a building which contains the main image of the Buddha). Just beyond the butsuden is the priests’ living quarters.

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  As beautiful as the surroundings of the temple are, nothing can prepare you for the grandeur of the main temple itself. Erin-ji is the final resting place for one of Japan’s most famous warriors, Takeda Shingen (1521-1573). In addition to being a renowned Zen practitioner, Shingen came within striking distance of conquering the whole of Japan before he died under suspicious circumstances during his final military campaign. In order to approach his grave, you must walk along a corridor featuring a nightingale floor. One can only assume that the floor is meant to announce your approach to the resting warrior. 

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  Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), who feared Takeda Shingen in life, destroyed Shingen’s family temple, Erin-ji, in 1582. The final words of the monks who lost their lives in the temple fire are written on the southern side of one of the gates. The monks are said to have proclaimed that despite the heat of the fire, their zen practice helped them endure. Oda wanted to erase every trace of Shingen who had died 9 years prior. However, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616), who had greatly respected Shingen, ordered the temple be rebuilt, employed Shingen’s retainers and even maintained Shingen’s system of local laws.

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   The historic garden at Erin-ji Temple, established by one of Japan’s most celebrated landscape gardeners, Musō Soseki (1275-1351), is recognized as a national site of scenic beauty.

  However, your main purpose for visiting this grand temple will be to peer deep inside rather than outside. An English-speaking monk will be your 21st-century guide for this endeavour. He begins his Zazen session with a short introduction to Zen. Mindfulness, he says, is about gaining something, while Zen meditation is about losing something. His aim is to help you clear your mind of the all-consuming mental chatter that prevents many of us from realizing inner peace. He says that the clarity that comes with inner peace will help release your true potential.

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  Sitting in a half or full lotus position, you are taught to breathe and exhale fully through your nose. Ignore what other people around you are doing and simply breathe. You quickly realize that you are not going to be successful at this endeavour if you overthink it. You are never going to find peace outside your own head. Enlightenment is seeing things without attachments, without judgement and without “spin”. Be in the moment! Don’t let the past or the future ruin your concentration. Absorb the sounds of nature emanating from the garden. Imagine you are part of the garden. If you are having trouble meditating, put your hands together and submit to the keisaku (a flat wooden stick or slat). A strike or series of strikes, usually administered on the meditator's back and shoulders in the muscular area between the shoulder and the spine actually feels quite therapeutic! Don’t miss this rare opportunity just a 45-minute drive from Mount Fuji and Lake Kawaguchiko.

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Published on

  • December 6, 2019


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