Heirinji Zen Temple and Tranquil Grounds: Japanese Tourism on the Edge of Tokyo

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Heirinji Zen Temple and Tranquil Grounds: Japanese Tourism on the Edge of Tokyo

Tomoko Hara

Modern Tokyo Times


The stunning Heirinji Zen Temple is located in Niiza and while this part of Saitama prefecture may not appear to be out of the ordinary, the same can’t be said about this temple which is blessed with large grounds. Therefore, given the closeness to Tokyo this temple is accessible to tourists who visit this huge metropolis. This reality means that a visit to such a beautiful place is extremely rewarding because the tranquil grounds and richness of “a living Buddhist faith” is a real treat.


The original temple was based in Iwatsuki in the same prefecture but the original area was destroyed by the centralizing forces of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1590.  This in itself also reminds people about the violent nature of aspects of Buddhism in this period of Japanese history within certain branches. Therefore, Oda Nobunaga, who began the centralization of Japan, also attacked militaristic Buddhist sects which were intent on preserving their power bases.


Josh Baran states “Japanese Zen, especially the Rinzai lineage, had long been linked to the samurai culture and bushido, the way of the sword. For hundreds of years, Zen Masters trained samurai warriors in meditation, teaching them enhanced concentration and will power. Zen helped them face adversity and death with no hesitation, to be totally loyal and act without thinking. To put it bluntly, bushido was a spiritual way of killing infused with Zen philosophy. The sword had always been a Buddhist symbol for cutting through delusion, but under bushido it was taken literally, evolving from metaphor into concrete reality. The sword became an object of veneration and obsession, idealized and worshipped.”


However, the old ways have gone and through the passages of time the wisdom of Buddha is the sole focus once more in this stunning religious place.  Heirinji Zen Temple is now a place of worship which connects strongly with the positive teachings of Buddha. Therefore, the ethics of simplicity, open space, serene backdrops, the noise of birds singing and “the other world” does play on the senses when you visit Heirinji.  After all, the architecture, serene grounds and the mystery of life  does strike a chord within the inner-soul in this holy place.


Heirinji is certainly worth a visit irrespective if you are a tourist or reside in Greater Tokyo because it is a place whereby you can connect with nature, the inner-self, reflect on the passages of time and refresh all the things that need to be refreshed.   It isn’t important if you are a Buddhist or non-Buddhist because Heirinji Zen Temple is about individuals escaping the daily trappings of life in order to reflect on “the bigger picture.” Of course, the “bigger picture” will be different for all individuals but it is important to view another world in order to learn from “simplicity.”


Also, people often only see “the bigger picture” when something dramatic happens in their life but when you visit Heirinji you understand “the bigger picture” of life irrespective of your current situation.  This is the beauty of Heirinji whereby Buddhist monks on the whole are in the backdrop. It is also clear that you have no commercial aspects to this well preserved area apart from a basic fee to enter.

Today the temple still trains Buddhist monks but unless you knew this fact then just like the history of Buddhism in Japan; it may pass you by and this is why Heirinji is so special.  It is not about gimmicks or showing anything because Heirinji is spiritual by being itself and not bending to the modern world of commercialism.


If you are lucky enough to either reside in Tokyo or Saitama then Heirinji is accessible because from Ikebukuro in Tokyo it only takes around 30 minutes in total train and bus time to arrive.  Therefore, Heirinji is well worth a visit and this applies to visiting several times because the changing nature of each season is very striking in Japan.


Heirinji is surrounded by the usual aspects of a build-up area but once you are close to this stunning place then you can feel the pace of life changing.  The none-missionary feel of Heirinji is also welcomed because zealous religious people from all faiths often try to convert people based on their “one world view” but the real world doesn’t work like this. Also, the monks of Heirinji don’t need words because the architecture, lovely grounds, quaintness of the graveyard and other aspects of this stunning place says everything.


Heirinji is a place of tranquility and who needs to read books about philosophy and religion when you have a place of sublime beauty amidst simplicity and the reality of “your own reality.” Therefore, if you want to experience the finer qualities of Japanese culture and witness the passive nature of Buddhism in modern Japan then Heirinji provides this.


If you are a visitor to Tokyo or you reside in either Tokyo or Saitama, then a visit to the stunning grounds of Heirinji should be high on your list because the simplicity of this place is a real treasure. Also, it is a real treat to see “living Buddhism” in this part of Japan.

Modern Tokyo Times images 

Lee Jay Walker gave guidance to the main writer

Heirinji Zen Temple from central Tokyo  - Train from Ikebukuro by Express or Semi-Express takes 17 to 19 minutes respectively to Asakadai Trian Station by Tobu Toju Line.  Then travel by bus from Asakadai to Heirinji Zen Temple which takes around 15 minutes.




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