Zazen at Taiyo-ji temple

We visited Taiyo-ji temple in Chichibu for our second temple stay (shukubo) there a few days ago and my wife took this video of me doing zazen in the very beautiful zazen hall of the temple. The unique experience of this remote, mountain top temple makes me feel one with nature and at peace.
The monk speaks English and Taiyo-ji temple is very accommodating for tourists from everywhere wanting to get the shukubo experience.

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Daiba Park, Tokyo

For a unique view of the Tokyo skyline and the Rainbow Bridge, make your way to Daiba Koen, preferably after dark for some great night photography. And if you visit on a Saturday, wait for the fireworks at 7PM. The location as pointed out on the map below is pretty popular, as you can imagine, and I met several other photographers, we’re a great and friendly bunch no matter where we’re from. 🙂

Fujichrome Provia 100F
The Rainbow Bridge on Fujichrome Provia 100F
Easy access from central Tokyo via the JR Saikyo/Rinkai Line in the direction of Shin-Kiba, alight at the JR Tokyo Teleport station.

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Seni Onsen Iwanoyu

If you know us, you know that we like to visit onsen on our trips to Japan. Our favourite onsen resorts include Naruko Onsen, Nyuutou Onsen and of course Hanamaki. We’re clearly more into the rustic and smaller onsen of Northern Honshu than the larger pools in the south.

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And this year we can add Seni Onsen to this list. Iwanoyu at Seni Onsen is keeping a bit of a low profile on the Internet without an own home page but regardless of that, it is doing very well as you need to make reservations months in advance, often long before you are able to buy a ticket for your trip.  Robert Neff, in his book Japan’s Hidden Hot Springs has it listed as the best onsen in Japan. We booked late and only the best rooms were available so we decided to splurge and enjoy the full luxury that this ryokan has to offer which was a lot!

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Normally, at a ryokan you have a tatami room in which at night the futons are spread to sleep in. This time we had several rooms “en suite” and a private garden. The dinner was a long series of delicious courses often made of local produce, breakfast was pretty good too.

Dinner menu from the day we visited, delicious!
Dinner menu from the day we visited, delicious!

But the most impressive thing were the baths. The main bath is a cave dug into the rock that meanders left and right and you have to climb up for waterfalls to get to the depths of it. It has a bit of an Indiana Jones feeling to it. At the same entrance there are several other baths including an outside bath. These are the baths that you share with the other guests. Some are gender separated but the cave bath is mixed and you had to wear special shorts and a cover for modesty. Furthermore there are several private baths with an inside bath with jacuzzi and an outside bath. When you get in, you lock the door so you and your family can enjoy the bath in private.

The service, everything was immaculate and we’re already planning our next visit in two years time 🙂

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Zenkō-ji, Nagano

Before going to Seni Onsen Iwanoyu, we had a stay in a ryokan close to Zenkō-ji temple in Nagano.

That's me, walking towards the main building of Zenko-ji

During our visit of Zenkō-ji, we bought tickets to the inner sanctum (read the Wikipedia article about the treasures) and made our way to the tunnel in search of the Key to the Western Paradise of the Amida Buddha. The tunnel is pitch dark, as dark as a darkroom. What you do is to keep your right hand onto the cold wall and grope for the key. Of course, as it is busy, people keep bumping into each other so it is quite funny. For some reason my wife assumed that the ceiling would get low and crouched down. I’m standing about 40cm taller than her and the idea hadn’t occurred to me so we would had made quite the hilarious sight making our way through the tunnel together if only somebody had been able to see in there.

The next morning we went to the morning ceremony but as we got there early, we got to talk to one of the people working at the temple and as we still had time, he explained a lot and showed us around and showed us some other sights inside the other temple buildings. Then he led us to the building from which the 80 years old priest who would conduct the ceremony would come. This was very lucky as only local people were gathering here and it became clear that these people met up every morning: some were walking the dog, others were on their way to work. The priest emerged and everybody, including me, knelt down to receive a blessing from him which was a touch on the back of the head. We then made our way to the main temple again and where the ceremony was about to start. Very recommended!
After the ceremony was over, everybody made their way through the tunnel again and as it was even busier than the day before, it was even more fun. 🙂

Some thoughts:

  • No other non-Japanese tourists that I noticed went to the morning ceremony, why not? It really is a great opportunity to see the temple in action, it is not just an old building with some statues.
  • If you do decide to visit the morning ceremony, hold on to the ticket you bought to the inner sanctum, it will give you access to the tatami area the next morning.
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