Iroha Nihon – Experience the Soul of Japan
Enabling overseas tourists to experience the essence of Japan, while helping to preserve Japanese cultural properties
The Nippon Foundation is providing a limited-scale cultural program for tourists from overseas who are interested in Japanese culture. The program includes an overnight stay at a Buddhist temple that is normally closed to the public, with activities that tourists would otherwise be unable to experience. The goal is to increase awareness of the value of Japanese culture both in Japan and overseas, and to cultivate a better understanding of Japan and an interest in cultural properties. With a portion of the program fee being used to preserve cultural properties, the program also contributes to the preservation and passing on of Japanese culture.
The theme of the first portion of the program is Zen, focusing on Zen Buddhism, an important element of traditional Japanese culture. Participants are able to experience zazen meditation, sutra chanting, and a tea ceremony. They can also have a conversation with the head priest and receive a tour of the buildings and other cultural properties. These activities, and being able to relax on the grounds after the temple has closed for the evening, give visitors full immersion in traditional Japanese culture.
(Note: The activities available differ by temple, and are subject to change. Please confirm the specific itinerary when making reservations.)
Zazen (seated meditation) – One of the basic Zen practices, zazen aims to clear and focus the mind while sitting on the floor and concentrating on one’s breathing and posture. Guests will experience this practice with instruction from one of the temple’s monks.
Tea ceremony – A ritualized ceremony for preparing, serving, and drinking powdered matcha tea, the tea ceremony is an expression of the Japan aesthetic known as wabi-sabi. Guests will be served tea by one of the temple’s monks in a room on the temple grounds built specifically for the tea ceremony.
Sutra chanting – Reciting sutra (Buddhist scriptures) is another basic Zen practice, which guests will experience with instruction from one of the temple’s monks.
Broad-brimmed bathtub – Guests will experience Japanese culture by bathing in a traditional Japanese bathtub.
Chinese-style vegetarian cuisine – Guests will be able to enjoy a meal of Chinese-style vegetarian cuisine introduced to Japan by a Zen monk from China in the 17th century, with a monk from the temple explaining the dishes and the manners associated with the meal.
Temple tour and history – Guests will receive a tour and explanation of the temple’s history from one of the temple’s monks or the chief priest (if available), and visit the sub-temple’s main temple and surrounding area.
Free time – Guests will be able to walk around the temple grounds, which are otherwise closed to the public, and enjoy the tranquil setting of carefully designed gardens and historical buildings.
The guest rooms at all of the temples are equipped with a toilet, bathtub/shower, air conditioning, and free Wi-Fi, with amenities provided by the Hyatt Regency Kyoto. At all of the temples except for Koun-ji, guests will sleep on a Japanese futon (floor mattress). Each temple can accommodate one party of up to five people per night.
Guests will depart from the Hyatt Regency Kyoto at 1:30 p.m. and return at 11:30 a.m. the following day. They will be accompanied by an interpreter from departure through dinner on Day 1, and until they return to the Hyatt Regency Kyoto on Day 2.
Participating Temples (as of December 2016)
(Note: The Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism has 15 branches, each with its own head temple.)
Daiji-in – Sub-temple of Daitoku-ji, a head temple of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, located in Kita-ku in northern Kyoto. Daiji-in was originally built in 1585, and features an elegant tea ceremony room and beautiful Japanese rock garden.
Activities: Zazen, sutra chanting, tea ceremony
Youmei-in – Sub-temple of Tenryu-ji, a head temple of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Founded in 1413, Youmei-in is located in the scenic Arashiyama area of western Kyoto.
Activities: Zazen, sutra chanting, broad-brimmed bathtub, visit to Tenryu-ji
Kaiho-ji – Temple of the Obaku school of Zen Buddhism, built in the 18th century in southern Kyoto.
Activities: Zazen, sutra chanting, hand-transcribing of sutras, Chinese-style vegetarian cuisine
Shinnyo-ji – Sub-temple of Shokoku-ji, a head temple of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, founded in 1342 and located near the famous Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavillion) in northwest Kyoto. Shinnyo-ji is surrounded by large gardens that are particularly beautiful in the autumn.
Activities: Tea ceremony, exploration of surrounding area, explanation of temple history, zazen
Koun-ji – Sub-temple of Nanzen-ji, a head temple of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, relocated to this site in the Higashiyama area of eastern Kyoto in 1664. Koun-ji is famous for its garden designed around a central pond and spring, set against the backdrop of Kyoto’s Higashiyama area.
Activities: Zazen, tea ceremony, explanation of temple history
- Kyoto Culture Association (Overall coordination)
- Hyatt Regency Kyoto (Reservations, services during stay)
- Kyoto National Museum (Advisor to program to protect cultural properties)