[Okayama] Temple tour and Zen meditation experience with a monk in the Josai area of ​​Tsuyama City

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The Josai district of Tsuyama City retains the townscape and atmosphere of the Edo period and is the castle town's largest concentration of temples. On the "Okage Meguri with a Guide" experience tour held in this area, the temple's head priest will guide you through the history and charm of the temp...

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Walking around Josai town "Going around the area with our guides"

The area west of Tsuyama Castle, the Josai district, is the castle town's largest concentration of temples, and retains the townscape and atmosphere of the Edo period. In 2020, the Josai district was designated an "Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings."

The "Okagamine Tour with Guides" is a walking tour of the Josai Town Preservation District, guided by the Josai Jakuso Association. You can choose from the matcha course, the sutra copying/copying Buddha course, or the zazen/meditation course and experience it at the temple.

*Prior registration is required to participate.

The tour starts from the Sakushu Folk Crafts Museum (Tsuyama Machi no Eki Josai)

Our tour of Okage begins at the Sakushu Folk Crafts Museum. We meet the head priest who will be our guide here. Our group consisted of three people: an American, a German, and a Finnish man living in Japan.

First, we heard an explanation about the history of the Izumo Kaido and why temples are concentrated in the Josai area. Apparently, temples were concentrated in the Josai area about 400 years ago to protect the castle town from enemies attacking from the west.

Town guide by the chief priest

We walk through the Josai district while listening to explanations about the history and architecture. If you walk alone you might pass by places without noticing, but with a guide you can learn and discover many things, and it becomes a fun walk. The gate is high so that people on horseback can pass through it.

A stone monument prohibiting the consumption of alcohol and strong-smelling vegetables. One of the reasons why strong-smelling vegetables were forbidden was that monks would not be able to concentrate on their training if they became virile.

The bell tower is missing its bells, as they were salvaged to make up for the wartime metal shortage.

Musha-hashi. A slightly elevated passageway built inside the wall for surveillance and attack of enemies. This passageway was at a suitable height for Japanese men to hide and move about without being seen from the wall, as the average height of adult Japanese men at the time was under 160cm. It seemed a little difficult for a tall Finnish man to hide and move around.

Temple visit 1: Hongenji Temple

Hongenji Temple is the family temple of the Mori clan, the feudal lords of Tsuyama, and was built about 400 years ago in 1607 (Keicho 12). While I was praying, the head priest of Hongenji Temple happened to be passing by, and I was lucky enough to be able to see inside.

Since it was after the Flower Festival held on April 8th, the Buddha's birthday, the Kanbutsu-e, the temple was decorated in a way that you can't usually see. The Flower Festival is open to the public.

For him, coming from a foreign country, praying to Buddha was a first-time and valuable experience. He learned the proper way to pray and imitated what others did.

[Hongenji Temple]

Address: 1373 Odanaka, Tsuyama City, Okayama Prefecture

Temple visit 2: Soeiji Temple

Soeiji Temple is the family temple of the mother (Keikain) of Mori Nagatsugu, the second feudal lord of Tsuyama. 33 Kannon Bodhisattva statues are enshrined in the Kannon Hall. I had the opportunity to try zazen at this temple.

The tombstone is called "Imo-baka" (potato tomb) because of its shape resembling a taro. The graves of successive chief priests are lined up here.

The Gorinto pagoda at Soeiji Temple was built in stages from the mid to late 17th century. It is a tomb built for a feudal lord.

Zen meditation experience

First, you will be taught how to do zazen, including how to sit, join your hands, and breathe.

Next, we received an explanation about Keisaku (Kyosaku), a stick used to strike monks. When monks are unable to concentrate on zazen, they will hit them on the back with the Keisaku. It is said that this is a way of encouraging monks.

They actually hit us on the back with the kesaku stick. We were surprised at the heavy impact, which was much stronger than we had imagined. We were even more surprised when we heard that in real training, you are hit much harder. After about 10 to 15 minutes of zazen, our minds became a little calmer. It was also the first experience for the three foreign visitors. We were very satisfied to have been exposed to ancient Japanese culture. After the zazen experience, we were allowed to worship the 33 Kannon statues, which are said to be quasi-national treasures. (No photos available as photography is not permitted.)

[Soeiji Temple]

Address: 1303-8 Odanaka, Tsuyama City, Okayama Prefecture

Temple visit 3: Myohoji Temple

The third place we were taken to was Myohoji Temple. It is said to be the largest Nichiren sect temple in the Mimasaka region. It was moved to its current location when Tsuyama Castle was built.

On the day we visited, the weeping cherry trees in the temple grounds were in full bloom. Everyone was so moved by the beauty of the weeping cherry trees that they took lots of photos.

[Myohoji Temple]

Address: 65 Nishideramachi, Tsuyama City, Okayama Prefecture

Stop by a retro sweet potato shop

Naganoya is a retro sweet potato shop in the Josai district. We had some very sweet and steaming sweet potatoes.

All three foreign visitors said, "It's the best roasted sweet potato I've ever eaten!" [Yakiimo Naganoya] Address: 54-1 Nishiimamachi, Tsuyama City, Okayama Prefecture TEL: 0868-22-8445 Business period: October to April

Details of the Josai Town Walk "Going around the area with guides"

"Okage Meguri with a Guide" is a walking tour around the temples and shrines guided by a monk. It is a tour recommended for both Japanese and foreign visitors who are interested in Japanese history and culture. In addition to the Zen experience, there are other programs that you can experience, such as the "Matcha Course" and the "Copying Sutras and Copying Buddhas Course." There is also an option to take a rickshaw and join the Okage Meguri tour.

[Walking around Josai town "Going around the blessings of others"]

Event period: Monday, April 1, 2024 to Monday, March 31, 2025

Event times: ①10:00~, ②11:00~, ③13:00~, ④14:00~, ⑤15:00~

Duration: Approximately 1 hour 30 minutes

Experience courses: 1) Matcha tea, 2) Sutra copying/Buddha copying, 3) Zazen/meditation

Meeting place: ① Sakushu Mingeikan (18 Nishiimamachi, Tsuyama City) or ② Josai Romankan (122 Tamachi, Tsuyama City) Number of participants: 2 to 8 people per time slot *Please inquire for groups

Participation fee: 1,000 yen (elementary school students and younger only pay actual costs)

[ Rickshaw Tour of Okage]

Date: Saturdays and Sundays only

Duration: Approximately 1 hour 30 minutes

Participation fee: 5,000 yen for one-seater, 6,000 yen for two-seater (3,000 yen per person)

Tsuyama City Urban Planning Council (Josai Romankan)

How to apply: Make a reservation by phone at least one day before the desired date. *Please contact us separately for any further reservations.

TEL: 0868-22-8688

Reception hours: 10:00-17:00

Closed: Mondays (or the following day if Monday is a public holiday)

Click here for details

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Okayama Prefecture is located in the center of western Japan and is known as the ``Land of Sunny'' due to its mild climate with little rain throughout the year. Conveniently located in the middle of famous sightseeing spots in Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima! It is also the gateway to Shikoku via the Seto Ohashi Bridge. Okayama is also known as the "Fruit Kingdom," and the fruits that have been exposed to the sun in the warm climate of Setouchi are of the highest quality in terms of sweetness, aroma, and taste. You can enjoy seasonal fruits such as white peach, muscat, and pione! There are also world-class sightseeing spots such as ``Okayama Castle'', ``Okayama Korakuen'', one of Japan's three famous gardens, and Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter, which are proud of their history, culture, and art!

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