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Monday, November 13

Finding Zen at the Hokokuji Temple

Like church after church in Greece that I took pictures of on our honeymoon, I just cannot get enough of the temples and shrines that dot the landscape here in Japan.

This past weekend the goal was to find yet another temple - the Hokokuji Temple located in Kamakura.

Nestled in a bamboo forest, the Hokokuji Temple is a Zen temple that originated in the year 1334 and commemorates the grandfather of the Ashikaga shoguns. Shoguns were high ranking military equivalent to a general of the army and held great power in Japan for centuries. It seems hard to imagine that this temple was built to commemorate a man that established one of many military dictatorships through bloody struggles or that any temple would be built to honor such a principle. But during the period of the shogun, Zen and Buddhism had a growing number of followers and so people of the shogun period saw that this leader, this shogun, epitomized the Zen way of life: a life of humility, labor, service, gratitude and meditation.

And Zen meditation is not necessarily a solitary pursuit. Zen temples such as Hokokuji are places where meticulous daily practice is emphasized and practicing with others is encouraged because it helps the individual avoid the traps of ego.

Laid out behind the temple, the grounds allow you to walk through almost 2,000 Moso-bamboos, the largest of the bamboo species, which is where the founding priest’s own retreat used to be found. The area alone inspires peace and mindfulness to me and I didn’t even have the opportunity to enter the temple.

Hidden in the bamboo forest is a small building offering warm tea in the cool, late afternoon and a chance to reflect on the gardens and the quiet that surround you. More of that same Zen meditation. Every inch of the grounds brings the visitor back to that initial purpose.

Bordering the temple grounds on one side is a cliff in which yagura (caves) are seen. These yagura are the tombs and ashes of several Ashikagas and are found and reflected on over a stone garden typical of a Zen temple. The temple built there also serves to console the souls of the departed family who often died in tragic circumstances.

I did discover that this temple holds a zazen (Zen meditation) every Sunday morning and I am tempted to go. Visiting these places in Japan is just like it was in Greece with Kimono Hubby… short and sweet. His interest ends once he has seen it and feels no need to stand around waxing philosophic for hours like I wish to. Zazen would definitely have to be experienced on my own. Hence, it looks as if I will have to conquer yet another of my fears of going it along for that future Sunday morning visit. Until then, I will say my own prayers that meditation is more like a universal language and doesn’t require the written or spoken word. Some day soon, I’m certain to be there…


Mike S said...

That's always been a favorite of mine, among many other favorites. Sunday is definately worth the trip. That temple must be visited several times in different seasons and when not under pressure of time in order to discover the true magic of the place. Great photos. Going alone will be easy, just talk a neighbor into accompanying you, the Japanese love playing tour guide. Just make sure the neighbor has a car and knows the roads if you don't take the trains & busses.

ÅNG€L said...

Hello !
I like how you decorate this blog. and i really enjoy your pictures. Greetings from a Mexican in NY.

Anonymous said...

From Yokohama, Japan. Never knew such site existed about Japan by an expat. Very interesting to find our culture from different angles I have not looked at. The Hokoku-ji temple led me to your site. I will be taking my Finnish friends there in March and was checking English written guides. If you are interested in the Japanese garden, I strongly recommend SHIGEMORI Mirei, the modern classic. Will now bookmark this site.

sven said...

very nice.
i'm looking for an exporter of japan bamboo plants and seeds. Maybe you can help me.

best regards

sven / germany