The essence of Zen; Zen Culture and Meditation

Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that developed in China during the 6th century as Chán. From China, Zen spread south to Vietnam, Northeast to Korea and east to Japan.

The word Zen is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the Middle Chinese word 禪 (dʑjen) (Modern MandarinChán), which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna, which can be approximately translated as “absorption” or “meditative state“.

Zen emphasizes the attainment of enlightenment and the personal expression of direct insight in the Buddhist teachings. As such, it de-emphasizes mere knowledge of sutras and doctrine and favors direct understanding through zazen and interaction with an accomplished teacher.

The teachings of Zen include various sources of Mahāyāna thought, especially Yogācāra, the Tathāgatagarbha Sutras and Huayan. The Prajñāpāramitā literature and, to a lesser extent, Madhyamaka have also been influential.

There are a great many places to get close to ‘Zen’ but the opportunity afforded courtesy Shunko-in Temple, a sub-temple in Myoshin-ji Temple in Kyoto ranks up there as amongst the best in the English language thanks to meditation classes and tours offered by Rev. Taka Kawakami.

Besides learning about the concepts of Zen philosophy and meditation and how they can be worked into daily life, the Shunko-in experience also offers insights on a great many artistic and cultural properties related to Christianity, and the Japanese religion of Shinto.

Meditation classes and tours lasting 90 mins cost ¥2,000, are offered three times a day (9:00, 10:40, 13:30), and include the chance to try “matchagreen tea and Japanese sweets when done, the class alone available for a lower fee.

Address: 42 Myoshinji-Cho, Hanazono, Ukyo-Ku, Kyoto

Tel: 075-462-5488 (ENG)

If Kyoto is too far for you, here are some other places you can go:

Buddhist English  Academy
802 Diamond Place, 3-5-3
Nishi Shinjuku,  Shinjuku-ku
Tokyo 160 Japan
Tel: (03) 342-6605  (The office can be contacted in English)
The Academy is an  excellent source of information for those interested in both the  theoretical and practical aspects of Buddhism, at all levels. It has  contact with all the main Buddhist sects and with a wide spectrum of  Buddhist organisations. It is a good contact point for foreigners recently  arrived in Japan.

Dharma Center of  Japan
2-21-4 Kohinata, Bunkyo-ku
Tokyo 112-0006 Japan
Tel: [81] (03)  5395-1088, Fax: 3-5395-4257

• Email:
• Web site:
Lineage: Universalist  lineage of Ven. Namgyal Rinpoche, integrating Karma Kargyu and Theravadin  traditions.
Description: Classes and retreats taught by Achariya Doug  Duncan focusing on practical methods to awaken in this  lifetime.
Contact: John Munroe:

Dhamma Dipa
2F, 1-3-4- Nakai, Shinjuku-ku
Tokyo 161 Japan.

Teacher: Ven. U  Vicittasara
Meditation Method: An affiliated Mahasi Sayadaw Meditation  Centre.

Aza Hatta,  Mizuho-cho
Funai-gun, Kyoto-fu 622-03 Japan.

Tel: 81-771-86-0765,  Fax: 81-771-86-0765

• Email:

Tradition:Vipassana  Meditation Retreats in the tradition of Sayagyi U Ba Khin as taught by  S.N. Goenka.

Dhammakaya  International Meditation Center (Tokyo)
2-59-20-201 Kaneko Bld.,  Shimo, Kita-Ku
Tokyo 115 Japan
Tel: +81-3-39036571 To 72
Fax:  +81-3-39036573

• Email:
• Web site:

Founder: Luang Phor  Sodh
Tradition: Thai Meditation Organisation
Do Ngak Sung Juk  Centre
1004  1-8-2 Saiwaicho
Mihamaku, Chiba-shi, ZC 261

Tel/Fax: (43) 246  1266

Tradition: Tibetan  Buddhism – Foundation For the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition  (FPMT).
Dogen Sangha (Ida  Ryogokudo Zazen Dojo)
5-11-20 Minami Yawata
Ichikawa City Chiba  Prefecture, Japan 272
Tel: +81-473-79-1596, Fax:  +81-473-78-6232
• Email:
• Web site:

Zen Buddhist group  based in Tokyo and following the teachings of Master Dogen, who  established the Soto sect in the 13th century, offers an opportunity to  practice Zazen and study Buddhism under the guidance of Master Gudo Wafu  Nishijima.

Our Zazen Dojo,  situated near Ichikawa City, a 30 minute train ride from central Tokyo,  has accommodation for up to 11 people in individual rooms. The Dojo also  houses a large Zazen Hall and Lecture Hall, a library, and a communal  kitchen and dining room. Zazen practice is four times a day: at 5:30 –  6:15 a.m., 10:00 – 10:45 a.m., 3:00 – 3:45 p.m. and 8:30 – 9:00 p.m.  Residents pay a fee of 2,000 yen per day for the first month, and then  40,000 yen per month thereafter. The fee covers accomodation, the use of  cooking and washing facilities, and the cost of food. Residents are  requested to practice Zazen at least two times each day, and participate  in the chores needed to keep the Dojo running smoothly.

Honganji  International Center
Higashi-naka-suji  Rokujo-sagaru,
Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan 600-8341

Supervisor: Rev.  Hayashi Yasuaki

Tel: (+ 81 75) 371  5547, Fax: (+ 81 75) 371 4070

Tradition :  Jodo-Shinshu Honganji-ha (Pure Land Buddhism)
The center hosts the  International Department of Nishi-Honganji. It also publishes translations  – mainly in English – from Shinshu Scriptures.

International Zen  Dojo
611 Tsurushima, Uenoharacho
Kita Tsura-gun, Yamanashi-ken  409-01.

Tel: (05546)  2-3198

Teacher: Rev. Kanemaru  Roshi

This is a small Rinzai  country temple, little more than an hour’s train journey from Tokyo. The  resident teacher, Kanemaru Roshi stresses that his temple is not a hotel.  He describes his training as kibishii – strict. Students must get  up early for zazen, and he uses the keisaka stick regularly to stimulate  concentration. They will also be expected to study and put in a lot of  work in the fields and gardens around the temple.

Note that some  foreigners have just turned up at the temple without advance notice.  Therefore you must contact the Kanemaru Roshi several days in advance.  Beginners are welcome, with the proviso that a week of zazen for someone  with no experience can be physically demanding.

How to get there: A  twenty-minute walk from Uenohara station on the Chuo line.

Japan Vipassana  Centre
c/- 92 Ginkakuji-cho, Sakyo-ku
Kyoto 606,  Japan.

Tel/Fax: [81] (075)  752-3685

• Email:

Meditation System:  Vipassana meditation in the S.N.Goenka tradition.

Kaioji  Temple
642 Katsuura, Nachi Katsuuracho
Higashi Muro-gun
Tel: (07355)  2-0839

This is one of the few  temples in Japan where foreigners are made welcome at any time for Zen  instruction. It is a small Rinzai temple with a relaxed atmosphere. The  priest in charge, Sosen Takeuchi, speaks a little English. He has also  prepared an English language pamphlet with basic Zen instruction. Kaioji  is suitable for those with little or no Zen experience. The temple is  registered as a youth hostel.

The temple boasts its  own small zendo, and regular sesshins are held there:
These are  scheduled for February 10-15, April 1-8, June 1-7, August 1-7, October  7-12, December 1-8, and December 31-January 1st.
Three of these: April,  August and the end of the year sesshin are for women only.

How to get there: A  ten-minute walk from Katsuura station.

Kyoto Kokusai  Zendo (International Zen Centre Kyoto)
c/o Tokoji Rinzai Zentempel,  Hozumi Gensho Roshi
621-0027 Kyoto-fu, Kameoka-shi, Sogabe-cho,  Inukai
Sogabe-cho, Inukai
Phone and fax: from abroad:  ++81-771-23-1784
in Japan: (Tokoji) 0771-23-1784
• Email:
• Web site:

The International Zen  Centre Kyoto is situated in Inukai, a rather rural municipality surrounded  by rice fields and mountains, which belongs to Kameoka, a western suburb  of Kyoto. Two temples, Tokoji (Zendo, Hondo) and Jotokuji (Hondo), and a  guest house are open to visitors from Japan and from all over the world.  The temple is under the direction of Muishitsu Rotaishi (Hozumi Gensho  Roshi).

Terms and Conditions:  You may register by phone, fax, or in writing (English or German). We need  to know your name, address, date of arrival and proposed length of stay.  Please, wait for confirmation before arriving! Minors (under 18) need the  written consent of their parents or legal guardians. Participants should  arrive before 4 p.m. (Exceptions need to be discussed in advance.) Please  bring along comfortable clothes in muted colours suitable for Zazen. You  further need personal items like pyjama, towels, toilet things, etc. Only  vegetarian food is on offer (traditional temple food). Daily routine is  handled flexibly depending on the occasion.

Kyoto Meditation  Centre
Residence: Okura A407,
Mibu, Fuchida-cho 12,
Nakagyo-ku,  Kyoto T604, Japan
Tel: 81-75-821-5507
• Email:

Tibetan tradition:  Kagyu-Nyingma Linaege
Teachings: Meditation, Buddhist / Shambhala  discussion groups, social dinners thrice monthly.

San’un  Zendo
2-16-5 Komachi
Kamakura-shi, Kangawa-ken 248.

Tel: (0467)  23-2010

San’un Zendo is not a  temple but a zendo, (meditation hall) under the direction of Koun Yamada  Roshi, who has many foreign disciples and who sometime lectures overseas.  He is a layman as are most of his students. Training is strict, with  regular attendance expected. Practice is a mixture of Rinzai and Soto  methods, with zazen done facing the wall, but with koan, or Zen  riddles, employed and a certain emphasis on satori, as in Rinzai. Nightly  zazen is organised while zazenkai are held on the second and fourth  weekends of the month.

The San’un Zendo is  closely associated with the Diamond Sangha in Hawaii, which is headed by  Robert Aitken Roshi.

For further  information: contact Kan’un Miyazaki Roshi.

Seitaian Zen  Hermitage
Gentaku Kita-machi 35, Kita-ku
Kyoto, Japan  603

Tel/Fax:  (075)491-2579
Abbot: Rev. Takamine Doyu

This small Zen temple  located in the northern part of Kyoto holds bi-monthly zazen gatherings  (usually the 2nd and 4th Saturdays) for all who would like to sit with a  small group (no previous experience necessary, no money needed).
For more information  in English, contact: Rev. Daitsu
Tom Wright, Awata Horiike-cho 373-27,  Higashiyama-ku
Kyoto, Japan 605-0038. Tel/Fax: (075)752-0421

• Email:

Contact  address:
Tom Wright, Awata Horiike-cho 373-27, Higashiyama-ku
Kyoto,  Japan 605-0038. Tel/Fax: (075)752-0421

Sayagyi U Ba Khin  Memorial Trust
Komatsuri-Cho 923
Kishiwada-Shi, Osaka-Fu, 596  Japan

Tel: +81 724 45 0057,
Fax: +81 724 45 0057 or +81 722 97  3201

• Visit the Web site  for more information:

Tradition:  Theravada/Vipassana meditation
Teachers: Mother Sayama and Saya U Chit  Tin

Retreats: Vipassana  Meditation Courses.

Tendai Lotus  Teachings
468-0069  Aichi-Ken, Nagoya-shi
Tenpaku-Ku, Omoteyama 2-2102
Yagoto LOdge  A205

Contact: Jion  Prosser

• Email:
• Web site:

Gateway for Tendai  Teachings and translator for the Tendai monthly newspaper, the  Jiho.

Toshoji  International Zen Center
4-5-18 Yutaka-cho, Shinagawa-ku
Tokyo  142-0042 Japan.
Tel: 81 (0) 3-3781-4235, Fax: 81 (0) 3-3781-6168

Abbot: Rev. Deguchi  Tetsujyo
• Email:
• Web site:

You should telephone first to  arrange your stay.

Toshoji offers regular  early morning zazen (meditation). It also offers rooms for people who wish  to experience life in a Zen temple. Consequently, many foreigners have  stayed there. It must be stressed that Toshoji is not a hotel, so your  primary purpose for seeking to stay there must be to practice zazen. The  temple’s ten small guest rooms are quite bare, and in general you are  expected to supply your own bedding. Toshoji is a new temple, built after  the war, and largely resembles the houses, shops and offices between which  it finds itself squeezed.

How to get there: A  five-minutes walk from Togoshi Koen station on the Oimachi  line.

Free Zazen mediation classes in Tokyo

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