Taiyoji Temple

Taiyoji is a Zen Buddhist temple built during the Edo period atop the mountainous region of Chichibu Saitama. Originally serving as a Shukubo (temple lodging) for pilgrims passing by, the Temple now serves anyone wanting an escape from the stresses of their busy lives. Visitors can spend a night or two at this Temple stay, where Asami-san, the temple’s Monk and sole caretaker, will share some of the more fascinating elements of Zen Buddhism.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Taiyoji is that it has stood the test of time. Unlike most Temples in Japan, it has never had to undergo restoration and stands as it was built in the 1700’s. As a result, being on temple grounds is almost like stepping into a world outside of time.

The stay will cost 9000 yen/night and includes breakfast and dinner. If you are willing to volunteer, you can stay additional nights at a discounted rate, including meals. For more information, check out the temples English website below:

Getting There

The nearest station to Taiyoji Temple is Mitsumineguchi station. From here, there are two options available to you. First, you can arrange for Asami-san to pick you up (arranged during the reservation process). Or you can catch a bus to the Taiyoji Entrance stop. The temple is roughly a 2-hour walk from here, part of which is a historical Edo trail marked throughout by stone Buddhist statues.

For more detailed directions, see the temples access page:

The Temple Grounds

As I’ve already said, Taiyoji has stood the test of time. Built in the 1700’s, the temple has never undergone reconstruction. The reason this is a big deal is that nearly every other temple in Japan has sustained some type of serious damage via fire, weather, natural disaster or what have you. So it’s actually pretty difficult to find a temple which doesn’t have a sleek new look. My immediate impression of Taiyoji’s main temple when was akin to the gate from the film Rashomon .

Not all of Taiyoji is as old as the main temple, however. The temple grounds actually has a zendo, or meditation hall, for zazen meditation. It’s here where I practiced zazen with Asami-san and company, as well as on my own throughout the excursion. I’d have to say this particular part of the grounds is my favorite of the bunch. The reason for this being, the zendo‘s outer walls are lined with large windows, in front of which you can sit upon padded blocks for meditation. These windows overlook the edge of the mountainside that Taiyoji resides on.

In addition to the two temples, there is another smaller shrine as well as a more modern building which was under construction when I was there. These two I didn’t really spend much time checking out. I did, however, utilize an outdoor bath which Asami-san built himself. The bath is actually an onsen, or hot spring, and it too rests at the edge of the mountain so to speak. Surrounded by trees rising from the edge of the mountainside, you can’t help but feel completely vulnerable in it.

The Itinerary

My stay at Taiyoji actually lasted two days. The first day I spent volunteering and the second as a guest. As a volunteer, I basically helped to clean the temple and prepare meals. While I spent a good amount of time helping out, there was actually plenty of free time, and despite being a volunteer Asami-san insisted I make time to explore the temple grounds. At the time, I had been practicing zazen in Tokyo for about 6 months, so I ended up spending a great deal of that time meditating on my own in the zazen temple.

Day 2 consisted of several activities spread throughout the day. But before any of them, I was advised to wake up super early to catch the sunrise and enjoy a morning hike. Considering the first event was to happen at around 6:30, this meant getting up way earlier than I am used to. Luckily, it was well worth the lost sleep. The tranquility of nature turned out to be the perfect way to begin before jumping into the day.

Morning Chanting

The first activity in the line-up was an early-morning chanting of a Buddhist sutra. Each participant was given a sheet of Japanese text to read aloud from, and the chanting was led by Asami-san, who’s voice guided us throughout the session. I was relieved to find that the kanji in the sutra was accompanied by its matching hiragana, making it possible for me to chant along. (I’m not sure, but I believe you can request romaji (Roman characters).) The chanting lasted for about 15-20 minutes before we moved into the next activity.

Zazen Meditation

After our morning chant, we were led to the zazen meditation hall. Here, we were given the choice of meditating in the innermost section of the hall, or along the outermost section, in front of one of the numerous large windows. Because I had done my fair share of meditating in the outermost section, I chose to be inside with Asami-san.

The session, which lasted for roughly 50 minutes, was broken into two segments with a few minutes in between to give our legs a rest. While meditating, as Asami-san explained before we began, we were given the option to be struck with a bamboo stick in order to help us regain focus. This practice is actually very traditional amongst zazen monks, and in some temples is even considered an honor. In any case, if we wanted to request a strike, all we had to do was look up during our meditation session. The strikes were firm, but did not hurt very much and actually help me regain my concentration.

Breakfast

The breakfast, like every other meal in Taiyoji, consisted of traditional vegetarian dishes that monks typically eat. I actually helped Asami-san and another volunteer prepare meals for all of the guests and ourselves, which was really quite fun and gave me the opportunity to learn a bit more about him and his very interesting story (I’ll leave that for you to discover when you meet him for yourself).

Sermon

After breakfast there was a small break followed by a roughly 30-minute Buddhist sermon. We gathered in one of the rooms of the temple and listed to Asami’s chanting once more, only this time we weren’t chanting along, and could take in all of what was being said.

Break and Lunch

At this point in the day, we had done quite a bit and it wasn’t even noon yet. So it was great to hear we would have the rest of the day free to spend as we please until later in the evening. I took this opportunity to get some rest and sneak in a nap. Afterward, I spent some time playing with Asami-sans dogs, his only companions in the mountains, and taking a small hike.

Upon arriving back to the main temple, I found lunch had already been prepared. It was smaller than breakfast and dinner but still very filling.

Sutra Copying

Shortly after finishing lunch, the group I had done the morning rituals with and I were ready for sutra copying. It seemed Asami was quite flexible with the timing on this, so we actually started earlier than planned. We were all led to a room with a large table and given a quick explanation on how to copy sutra. After that, we were given supplies and told we could choose any location in the temple to do the copying. I decided to do it atop one of the benches in front of the temple. The sutra copying lasted for about an hour and when we finished we were told we could spend time freely until the evening chant and dinner.

Evening Chant and Dinner

Finally, to wind down the day we met again for sutra chanting, which was exactly like the morning rendition, after which we had another delicious vegetarian meal. The dinner was particularly fun as we all spent some time getting to know one another. And at some point, someone broke out sake, and we ended up having a very lively evening until we were all ready to get to bed.

The next morning was a repeat of the previous, but it all felt just as fresh as the first day. And by the time the second round of mediation and chanting had finished, I felt completely refreshed. I had definitely forgotten about my life back in Tokyo and was actually a bit sad to be going. Taiyoji was an incredible experience, and honestly, one of the most memorable I’ve ever had in Japan. If ever you are looking for a unique thing to do, I highly recommend visiting Asami-san and his amazing temple in the mountains.

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