Over the past few years, Zen Buddhism experiences such as meditation, scripture-copying, and painting have received a lot of attention abroad and, more recently, even here in Japan. In Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture, a place where you can experience precisely such activities has just opened, so I decided to go and check it out!
Shinshoji Zen Museum & Gardens
Shinshoji Zen Museum and Gardens is located about 20 minutes drive from the center of Fukuyama City. Since opening in September 2016, there has been a steady stream of people from oversees visiting this newly popular spot. The area belongs to the Tenshinsan Shinshoji temple, which was constructed in 1965, and the entire area covers approximately 230,000 square meters. The temple has a variety of both old and new buildings including an international training dojo, a teahouse and a monastery. The museum has undergone major improvement works in order to make the temple less formal and more accessible for the younger generation.
The most prominent feature is Kotei, a 46-meter long art pavilion. Led by sculptor Kohei Nawa, the sculpture was designed by Kyoto-based art group SANDWICH. While the sculpture has traditional roof shingles and makes a tremendous impression on visitors, the surrounding Japanese garden was designed by famed architect Shiro Nakane. The contrast of the new, fresh pavilion and the traditional, sophisticated Japanese garden is really cool!
Going up the gentle slope took me up into the ship-shaped pavilion. Awaiting inside was a jet-black room of a kind I had never before experienced. As I shifted my gaze around the room, waves of light rippled through the space. It felt like all my 5 senses got honed when I was in there, but that might just have been my impression.
The other main attraction is the permanent collection of Edo Period works by Hakuin of the Rinzai sect. Hakuin’s popularity is as strong as ever, and Shinshoji owns one the most prominent collections of his work. While they’re swapped regularly, 20-30 pieces of his work are always on display in the museum.
Everything from Hakuin’s vivid writings to his dharma paintings are exhibited here. It feels like you can almost still hear his breath in the empty space.
Shinsoji Zen Temple and Garden are found up in the mountains. As such, the area is also a fantastic, rich natural environment packed with sights and many kinds of superb views.
Throughout November this year, autumn color illuminations were visible on Saturdays and Sundays. It is an excellent time to take a walk around this mysterious garden… Read on to hear about the very best spot to view the autumn colors.
This bath offers an unrivaled view of the autumn colors. In Zen Buddhism, the bath is an important monastery where you rid yourself of all the filth and grime of your body and soul. While the bathtub is made entirely of zelkova timber, the natural hot spring water contains radon. This combination makes anyone who takes a dip doze off. Anyone can take advantage of this great bath for only 800 yen (including towel). What better way to enjoy the autumn colors than in this fantastic scarlet bathtub.
Souvenirs, Zen & Perfecting Hospitality
At the museum, visitors can experience various Zen activates such as the copying of scriptures, meditation, matcha tea, and so on. I took a quick break at teahouse Shuroken.
I indulged in matcha tea and Japanese confectionary in this elegantly designed Japanese-style room. I was astounded by the quality of the handmade confectionary. The rich, melt-in-the-mouth deliciousness of the anko (bean paste) was exquisitely sweet. The secret to this otherworldly flavor must be in the devotion of the staff. This particular set is limited to only 10 per day.
The souvenir shop is also packed with goodies. Kohei Nawa has collaborated with French patissier Pierre Herme to create a line-up of products uncompromising on taste and design, such as this wonderful baked sweets set.
The three hours I spent here went by in the blink of an eye. From trimming the garden to preparing food and servicing customers, everything is perfect here at Zen Museum and Gardens. Such is the hospitality of those who work at Zen Buddhist temples. I cleansed my body and soul, and ventured out into the world with a new perspective on things.
Shinshoji Zen Museum and Gardens
Address: 91 Kamisanna, Numakumacho, Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture
Open: 9:00 – 17:00 (last entrance 16:30).
※ November 2016 – Illuminations from 18:00 – 21:00 (Saturdays & Sundays).
Admission: Adults 1200 yen, high school students and older 900, junior high school children 500 yen, elementary school children and younger free-of-charge.
※ Extra fees apply for the various activities (contact directly for more information)
Setouchi Finder Photo-writer: Eri Hatano
Photography: Yusuke Minami
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Eri Hatano I was born in Miyazaki Prefecture in 1978 and now live in Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture. I used to be a newspaper journalist, but work as a freelance writer now. Though I left Ehime 2 years ago, I did not forget the place itself nor the unfailing hospitality and warmth of its people. I finally returned in the spring of 2017. I am absolutely positive that anyone who visits Ehime, even just once, will fall in love with it. That is why I write articles to support those who plan to visit.
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