Eiheiji is a massive temple complex just outside the city of Fukui that serves as one of two head temples overseeing the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism. Built by the Buddhist monk Dogen, Eiheiji has over 70 buildings set amid cedars in the mountains. A thriving place that offers plenty of opportunity for calm contemplation — there are seven monasteries on the grounds — this temple also gives you the chance to live as a monk for a few days.
You can reach Eiheiji via a combination of rail and bus or taxi.
From Tokyo Station, take the JR Tokaido Shinkansen to Maibara Station, which takes about two and a half hours. From there, board the JR Hokuriku Line to Fukui Station, which takes a little over an hour. 25 min from Fukui to Eiheiji-Guchi Station on the Echizen Katsuyama-Eiheiji Line. Board the bus bound for Eiheiji (10 minutes), and get off at the Eiheiji Monzen Shopping District. The entrance to the temple is located at the very end of the shopping district, which is just a short walk from the bus stop. Taking a taxi will get you there slightly faster. All JR legs are covered by your Japan Rail Pass.
The Buddhist scholar Dogen founded Eiheiji in 1244
The temple grounds cover 330,000 square meters
This is the main training temple of Soto Zen, and over 200 trainee monks reside here
Stretching over 330,000 square meters, there are 70 structures on the temple grounds. Only a select few of the main buildings are open for public viewing, including the Founders Hall that contains the ashes of Dogen and his successors. The buildings are all connected by covered halls which are meticulously cleaned daily by the trainee monks as part of their training.
There are a number of important Buddhist artifacts housed in Eiheiji, such as the Fukan-zanzen-gi, a text written by Dogen himself in 1233 upon his return from China. This text is essentially an instruction book on Zen meditation, and is registered as an Important Cultural Property by the Japanese government.
Built on a hillside, the structures of Eiheiji are surrounded by tall cedar trees, which are as old as the temple itself. There are also a great many maple trees which colour the temple grounds with reds and yellows in the fall. Exploring the greater area of the temple grounds, you can also find a short hiking path which leads to a fantastic view of Eiheiji from above.
Visitors to Eihei-ji can also practice Zen meditation at the disciplinary hall. For those who want to experience the everyday life of trainee monks, one-day and three-day meditation retreats are available. Visitors taking part in these retreats eat, sleep and train just as the monks do — including a 3:30 a.m. start to the day. Though far from an easy experience, it is a truly rewarding one.