Zen Practices, Spiritual Sites, and Local Heritage in Eiheiji and Katsuyama

Zen Practices, Spiritual Sites, and Local Heritage in Eiheiji and Katsuyama

Recommended Length: 2 Days

The Eiheiji and Katsuyama areas east of Fukui City are easy to reach by bus, train, and car, and can be included on trips between Kanazawa, Fukui, Tsuruga, and Kyoto.


Day 1: Experience Zen in Eiheiji

Daihonzan Eiheiji (“Temple of Eternal Peace”) is a massive Buddhist temple complex on a cedar-covered mountainside, with over 70 buildings, many connected by covered walkways. The active monastery was founded in 1244 as one of the two head temples of Soto Zen Buddhism. Immerse yourself in the tranquility of the sacred grounds as you stroll the walkways and tour the halls. You can also sign up to take part in a seated meditation (zazen) session, typically held three times a day.

One of the first halls you arrive at after entering the Eiheiji complex is the Sanshokaku. This large meditation hall has a coffered ceiling decorated with 230 paintings of seasonal motifs, such as birds and flowers. Walkways lead to historically important buildings such as the Buddha Hall, which enshrines the Buddhas of the Past, Present, and Future. The oldest surviving structure on the grounds is the two-story Main Gate which dates from 1749. Many of the structures including the Buddha Hall and Main Gate are designated Important Cultural Properties.

Zen Master Dogen founded Eiheiji and trained his followers to practice Zen in every action of daily life. His teachings are carried out to this day by over 100 monks who live at the temple. Eiheiji offers overnight temple stays (shukubo) for visitors to experience Zen practices and daily life at the temple. The stays include zazen meditation sessions, participation in morning service, a guided tour of the temple complex, and Buddhist cuisine (shojin ryori). Hakujukan is a luxury inn nearby, which has connections with Eiheiji. It offers similar experiences at the temple and on-site, with the comforts of a modern hotel.


Day 2: Katsuyama

Traveling east to Katsuyama, you’ll come across Yoshida Brewery Limited. The family-run sake brewery was founded in 1806 and is renowned for cultivating its own rice and using only locally sourced ingredients. The brewery has a shop where you can purchase a variety of brews, including sparkling sake.

Katsuyama is home to Echizen Daibutsu, a massive, bronze, seated Buddha (17 m) located in Daishizan Seidaiji Temple. The scale of the temple complex is breathtaking: the 22 hectare-complex is filled with impressive buildings and sculptures. See the Buddha Hall lined with 1,821 Buddha statues, and the 75-meter, five-story pagoda, which is one of the tallest in Japan. An elevator takes visitors to the top of the pagoda for views of the surrounding countryside.

Around 20-minutes on foot from the Temple is the Katsuyama Castle Museum, built to resemble a castle. The museum exhibits the private collection of a wealthy entrepreneur from Katsuyama. Artifacts on display span 700 years of history, and include suits of armor, textiles, and calligraphy, as well as a contemporary mural by Imai Toshimitsu (1928–2002), a famous Art Informel painter. The museum building has a height of approximately 60 meters and stands out among the surrounding rice fields.

While in Katsuyama, you can visit the tranquil, moss-covered grounds of Heisenji Hakusan Shrine, nestled in a forest at the base of Mt. Hakusan. The shrine was founded in 717 for the worship of Mt. Hakusan. Over its long history it has been affiliated with various faiths, and at one point was a branch temple of the famous Hiezan Enryakuji Temple in the mountains east of Kyoto.

You can learn about the shrine’s history at the Hakusan Heisenji Historical Museum Mahoroba, which has displays of unearthed artifacts and visuals of what the worship site looked like in its heyday. Chugu Heisenji Sando, the beautiful stone path to the shrine, is flanked by carpets of moss and ancient trees, some over a thousand years old.

Onward Travels

From Katsuyama, Ono is approximately 10 kilometers to the south. The city is famous for Ono Castle and its historic townscape, as well as the beautiful Mt. Arashima (1523 m).
Returning to Fukui City offers convenient rail connections to Echizen, Tsuruga, and destinations in Ishikawa and Kyoto Prefectures.