Located midst of mountains, east of Fukui city, the town is renowned for Eiheiji Temple, which was established in 1244 by Zen Master Dogen (道元禅師 Dōgen Zenji). Survived through a number of disasters and wars in its 700-year history, the temple remains one of the most respected sanctuaries to Zen Buddhist monks in Japan.
A famous poem by Dogen goes:
- To study the way is to study the self.
- To study the self is to forget the self.
- To forget self is to be enlightened by all things.
- To be enlightened by all things is to remove the obstacles between oneself and others.
Eiheiji is located about 15 km from Fukui City; either take a direct bus from Fukui Station (6 daily, 30 min, 720¥) or a train to Eiheiji-Guchi (25min, 440¥) and then a connecting bus (15min, 410¥). Keifuku Bus operates Eiheiji Liner (永平寺ライナー), a 30-min direct bus service (6 daily, 30 min, 720¥) from the bus stop of Keifuku located in front of the east exit of Fukui Station.
It's possible to leave Kanazawa (north) or Kyoto (southwest) in the early morning by train and get to the temple by noon. Ask the bus driver to notify you when you arrive; there are several stops called "Eiheiji-something", which can be confusing.
- Eiheiji Temple (永平寺 Eiheiji or Eihei-ji). An extremely impressive structure totally constructed from wood, with intricate frescoes decorating the inner walls. The atmosphere of tranquility is further enhanced by a stream that flows through the inner court yards. The temple is a true testament to the ability of the ancient Japanese to fuse architecture and nature in a seamless and timeless endeavor. Eiheiji is the head temple of the Soto Zen school. At any time of the year, there are more than 200 unsui (雲水), or Zen Buddhist monks in training, in the temple. All visitors to Eiheiji are considered to be worshippers and treated effectively as unsui; there are no "tourists". Prior to entering, everyone is given a list of rules that must be followed (English translations are available). In particular, you must be quiet the entire time you are within the temple grounds, and pictures of priests or any staff are strictly prohibited. The required silence is really a blessing; it helps maintain the spiritual atmosphere that is lost at many other temples in the country.
- Meditation. Visitors can apply to attend a two-day (sanrosha) or three-day (sanzensha) meditation training program at Eiheiji Monastery. Since the 3-day program is quite strenuous, applicants must have long Zazen (meditation) experience to gain admittance. While the program is advertised as 2 or 3 days, it is in fact less as the first day activities start 4PM with those on the final day ending at 10AM. During the full days there is 3:30AM wakeup until 9:30PM lights out. Gaining admission for the program requires faxed permission from the temple before arriving, and applications must be made at least a month in advance. There are several possible dates in any month for a stay, and it is possible to take the meditation training in English.
- Johoji-san (浄法寺山) and Daibutsuji-san (大佛寺山), mountains that surround the temple, are casual camping and hiking spots enjoyed by local people.
- Books and esoteric stuff can be bought at the temple.
- Souvenir biscuits, cakes and trinkets related to the temple are available in the town.
- Dansuke Goma Dofu (團助ごまどうふ). A traditional food chosen by Eiheiji temple to keep its abstemious monks vital. Made of ground sesame and kuzu (葛) powder. Smooth and chewy. Enjoy the rich flavor of sesame with miso paste. There is a cafe in the shop where you can enjoy fresh goma dofu.
- There are several small restaurants on the main streets.
- Accommodation is available at the monastery for ¥8000 per night (¥3000 per night for stays of more than a few days or those admitted to the meditation programs), and at the same time guests can experience the training methods of the Soto Zen tradition. Tel:+81 776 63-3640 / 3631.
- There are several hotels in the town.
- Ono. A historic castle town.