Shoju-an, Zen temple in Iiyama, Nagano

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

I have always wanted to visit Shoju-an in Iiyama since reading the book on Hakuin( Wild Ivy), the famous Edo era Zen priest. Hakuin was born in Hara (Shizuoka) about more than 300 years ago. He trained in many temples in Japan. One day he visited Shoju-an to see the head priest Etan. That time Hakuin was kind of conceited and the old sharp priest at Shoju-an saw through Hakuin’s mind. The old priest was very hard on him but Hakuin somehow came to respect him. However the old priest didn’t accept Hakuin as his pupil. Eventually Hakuin was allowed to stay at the temple and he learned a lot from the old priest.  

   This uphill path to the temple is called “ Hakuin keotoshi no saka “.

“ Keotoshi” means to kick one down and “saka “ means slope. It is said that Etan, a son of the lord of Matsushiro (Nagano) kicked Hakuin down the slope. Etan ( the old priest at Shojyu-an)  went through a lot of harsh training, he became a distinguished priest and was offered many good positions and donations but he kept turning down many kind offers. He was happy to be at Shoju-an, which is small and located in country.



 The night before I visited Shoju-an, I had dinner at an Izakaya style restaurant. I had a chance to talk with the owner of the restaurant. He told me a lot about Iiyama City and Shoju-an.

   He was an alpine skier himself and he has been a coach for Olympic competitions. One of the famous skiers who he has coached is Aiko Uemura.  According to him, Iiyama has been famous for manufacturing skis. The ski firms Ogasaka and Imura are from Iiyama. They were originally manufacturing furniture. The owner also knows a lot about Zen.

  His story about the present priest of Shoju-an was very interesting to me. This area was affected by a big earthquake a few years ago. One day a person offered some amount of money to repair the building of Shoju-an but the present priest turned down this kind offer. Everybody asked him why he didn’t accept the donation. He said that the money would help him and the temple only temporarily and he shouldn’t grow to always expect that kind of money. He is far from greedy. For example, he grows vegetables at the temple and he often gives them away to the supporters of the temple. He probably takes after Etan’s spirit. Shoju-an is not big but it is a very pleasant temple.

   I really enjoyed listening to the owner’s story. The food they serve is very delicious. I also like the wide line up of their sake. The quality of the food and drink are good but the price is very reasonable. I strongly recommend the people who visit Iiyama should go to this restaurant called “ Rokubei “.



 Another interesting thing I found in Iiyama is this golden lavatory.

I asked why they applied gold on a lavatory. Iiyama is also famous for making family Buddhist altars and the interiors of these expensive altars’ inside are covered with gold. I was just amazed to see it and I felt kind of guilty about using the toilet. I just viewed and took some photos of it.







Viewing Mt. Fuji from Kurodake

Monday, May 21st, 2012

I climbed Kurodake with some friends. Kurodake is located in Susono City in Shizuoka Pref. and if the weather permits, it commands a great view of Mt. Fuji from its summit.

Usually this time of the year, mid of May , is too late to have a nice view of Mt. Fuji. However it has been rather cool and we could have great view of Mt. Fuji from the top. Our guide Atsuko has a lot of experience of climbing mountains and she also knows nice spots in this area. Two other ladies have some experience of climbing. Two young American friends are very strong and love outdoor activities. And it was a little difficult for me to keep up with them. We were really lucky to have perfect weather for hiking. Since the trails are surrounded by many trees with young beautiful leaves or evergreen trees, the air is fresh and I didn’t get much suntan. As we admire some seasonal vegetations, flowers and new leaves,

It took about two hours to reach its summit.

One of our purposes to climb this mountain is to worship Mt. Fuji.

Recently some scientists discovered an active fault below Mt. Fuji. I gave thanks and asked Mt. Fuji to keep protecting and supporting our lives, with staying as the most beautiful symbol of Japan.

It’s hard to believe but this highest mountain in Japan used to be in deep ocean long time ago. The earth is ever changing planet and each of our life span is too short to realize it.


On top of the mountain we boiled water to make green tea, coffee and cup noodles. I was too lazy to make box lunch for myself but I could enjoy eating others’ delicious lunch! Thank you! it was very nice.


I introduce this green tea drip ( not a teabag ) to American friends.

They enjoyed it. Whenever I take his photo, he always makes funny face.

I really like it. And let me introduce this fairy I came across in the mountain. This is Eric’s trip mate.

Great view spot of Mt.Fuji ( Fuji and Fujinomiya in Shizuoka )

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010


We went on a hike the other day. It was a very warm and windless day for December. We met at Jittusouji temple in Fuji City. This is a Nichiren temple. The head temple is in Minobu town in Yamanashi and called Kuonji. One of my American friends visited Kuonji and he said it was the best and most impressive place for him. In fact I was a kind of surprised because he has visited many famous temples in Kyoto and Kamakura. But he named Kuonji in Minobu as the best. Temples or shrines in Kyoto, Nara, Kamakura are great but they are often too crowded so some people can’t relax.


First, we greeted Nichiren-san, then, started our hike toward the top of Mt. Myojyo. Atsuko has a lot of experience of mountain climbing and she goes on a hike probably once a week. Kazuko and Chikako know this area very well.





We walked along tea fields and orange gardens. We could still enjoy autumn colors. I like this time of the year because I rarely meet snakes and there are no mosquitoes. The first half was very easy but the second half was hard for me. We had to walk up a rather steep trail to the summit. I perspired very much and my sweat was running down. Finally, we reached the top ! There we saw a clear Mt. Fuji. Fuji City where I live stretches to the right and Fujinomiya city stretches to the left. Looking back, we could see Fujikawa River, its mouth and Suruga Bay. On the top we didn’t have any wind but had a lot of sunshine. We saw only a few people besides us. Atsuko carried a portable gas stove to boil water and made us coffee. It was out of this world ! She sometimes makes instant ramen on the mountain and it’s also great. We had lunch and tea there. We suddenly realized we had already stayed there more than one and half hours. I felt like only 30 minutes or so. On our way back we found a lavatory near the top. It was unexpectedly clean. Also my friends showed me the parking space in case I go there by car. But I don’t want to drive up there. I definitely need to walk to enjoy tea on the summit. We saw farmers on our way and we got some oranges from them. They are very generous. Thank you !














Sumo Champion Asasyoryu

Monday, February 8th, 2010


 Asashoryu  announced his retirement. He has already been involved in several scandals and his recent violent behavior toward a man has provoked this consequence. Some are great fans of him and others think of him as a disgusting guy. I think he is a very interesting sumo wrestler so I miss him. Of course he should have behaved better but I dont think we can only blame him because sumo society and outside of sumo society couldnt stop his behavior and they just let him do as he wanted. I always wonder why sumo wrestlers can often go for a drink so late at night, as late as the wee hours of the morning.  Originally sumo was a sacred event to foretell if the following year would bring an abundant harvest or not. It was a kind of ritual art. Then it turned into a martial art. Now look what it has become! In many parts of the world, merely making money is not enough to gain any respect any more. Asashoryu won the Emperors Cup as many as 25 times . The authorities told him to behave with more class as a sumo Grand Champion but they didnt show him or make him understand what class was.  We have some traditional sports and games such as kendo, judo, or shogi.  Being strong is important but being polite and fair is essential. Whenever Asasyoryu won a Championship, Takasago sake brewery in Fujinomiya ( this is my favorite ) received an order and sent a lot of sake to the Takasago stable to which he is attached.

Mt. Zao

Monday, January 11th, 2010


 I went to Yamagata Zao hot spring. Yamagatas hot spring is different from the spring on the Miyagi side of Zao. The hot spring is very effective. Its really good for your skin, stomach, après-ski bruises and cuts, high blood pressure and nervous tension. Since it contains hydrogen sulfide , if the water gets in your eyes it causes smarting. Its better to take off any metal things such as rings. The water will rust the metal. Or if you soak cloth in the water the cloth will weaken.  I am a bath fanatic and whenever I stay at a hot spring resort I take baths for too long and too often. It is said on the first day, one should take a bath just  once or twice for a short time and on the second day one can take more and stay in longer. I wish I could stay at that resort for a week without doing anything.I also sleep long hours when I go there. I could sleep 10 hours in a row. Am I too lazy ?





This resort is located as high as 880 meters above sea level. The hot spring shrine is on the hill. In Shinto we worship nature and are always thankful for its blessings. This is Ashiyu or foot bath. After enjoying skiing your feet are cold and tired but this hot bath might soothe them.



Mt.Fuji, Zazen, Hakuin

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

I joined the Sunday Zazen meeting in Hara ( numazu, Shizuoka). I got up early and drove to the temple.

On my way to the temple I saw a beautiful sunrise illuminating Mt. Fuji splendidly so I pulled over my car and took some photos of the mountain. I wanted take some photos of the sunrise too, but I didn’t have enough time to do that.

People say ” The early bird catches the worms.” And I think it’s true. I often sleep late on Sundays and I feel bad having done so. Particularly in winter because daytime is shorter so getting up late only emphasises this. I hate my lazyness. But I feel happy tody. I did zazen and became totally refreshed.


The people at the meeting are all nice and calm. The priest told me not to think when I do zazen. But it’s not easy for me. I have a lot of things in my mind. To have peace in the mind I have to make it clear and empty.It may takes ages for me to accompliah it. The priest recommended me the book ” Wild Ivy ” written by Zen master Hakuin and translated by Nrman Waddell. We are going to have a reading class on this book in English. If you are interested in this study meeting feel free to ask me.

I heard the basketball player, Michael Jordan practices zen and it makes him happy. Why don’t we try,too ?

Scuba Diving in Izu

Friday, September 4th, 2009

Izu is located to the South of Hakone. It’s a peninsula with many hot spring spots, beautiful waterfalls, beaches and mountains.

I used to go scuba diving when I was younger but I stopped doing that for various reasons. Somehow I went diving again for the first time in many years.

Izu is known as one of the best diving spots in Japan. Particularly ” Ose Zaki ” in Numazu is known for its various kinds of fishes. It’s a part of the Suruga Bay and the cove faces to the north, so even if a tyhoon approaches that sea is calm .

I saw a little of Mt. Fuji. This time of the year, you can’t see it very often and Mt. Fuji in Summer doesn’t have snow on the top so it looks very different from winter one. Also the part is on the west side of the peninsula so we can see a beautiful sunset over the ocean.

Each tme I dive in the ocean I always feel something interesting about the sense of time. I don’t know how to put it. It always riminds me of the old Japanese folk tale ” Urashima Taro “. I’m going to write the plot roughly and if you know anything similar please let me know. I guess the author of this folk tale must have been a diver.

Urashima Taro saw a turtle on the beach. The turtle was being tormented by a group of children. He felt sorry for the turtle and made the children stop. The turtle was so thankful that he took Urashima Taro to a casttle at the bottom of the ocean. There Urashima met a pricess Otohime and they had a big party.Urashima stayed there having a lot of fun. But eventually chose to go back to the ” real world “. Otohime gave him a jewel-encrusted chest to take back to the land. She told him not to open it. When Urashima got back, he was confused because he couldn’t find anyone that he knew. In fact , 300  years had passed instead of three years ! Finally, he opened the chest and a cloud of smoke enveloped him. Then he turned into 300-year-old man.

Unlike this story, by my experience when I came back from diving I felt more energetic and younger , though.