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Japan is filled with all sorts of temples and shrines. Some are more memorable than others and some warrant a second or third visit. Eiheiji Temple in Fukui falls into the ‘multiple visits’ category for me. My first visit to Eiheiji was during the New Year Holidays. My job at the time had the same vacation periods as just about every other Japanese company – New Year, Golden Week and Obon. Everyone is traveling at the same time and while it’s exciting, it is also exhausting. When I told a friend I was going to Eiheiji, he excitedly informed me that it was a ‘power spot’.
“A power spot?” I asked, confused.
“Yeah, a power spot. That’s good,” he replied, sounding confused that I had never heard of such a thing.
When I hear ‘power spot’ I think, Great! I can charge my phone and camera battery! A charging station is not the same thing, unless the concept is to charge one’s self.
My first trip to Eiheiji was unremarkable. Yeah, I had a good time, but it was crowded. I went over the New Year period, which was a mistake. It wasn’t that it was cold – winter in Hokuriku, the region Eiheiji is located in, is known for winter. It also wasn’t that it was difficult to get to from Kanazawa. Really just a train and then a bus.
The second trip was different.
The night before I charged my camera batteries, cell phone and power bank the night before since Eiheiji isn’t a charging station…
I woke up earlier than normal so I could get to the station in time to get a local train to Fukui. The local train takes longer, but it’s also about half the price of a limited express ticket. Traveling by train is usually comfortable if you have a seat, so I saw no reason to pay extra for the privilege of rushing to get to a place meant for relaxation. Seriously, why rush when the whole point of the trip was to relax?
It was a weekday so I figured the train, bus and temple wouldn’t be overrun. I arrived at the station just after the morning rush. After buying my ticket (plus my return ticket), I made my way to the convenience store. I had packed my water bottle, but Japan during the rainy season is hot. Sweltering. Think of any number of adjectives to describe oppressive, humid air and you can describe tsuyu. I don’t do heat. I don’t do summer. I don’t do sun. And just because it’s the rainy season doesn’t mean it’s always raining.
I picked up a few extra beverages and a couple of rice balls to see me through the train ride down to Fukui. The train was relaxing. At times the sun was obscured by clouds, but it seemed I had lucked out with the weather. I mean, it was hot and I was sweating, but at least my feet weren’t wet. The train was quiet, so I put on my headphones and listened to music while looking out at the rice fields and towns. Green. That was the one word that kept coming to mind. Everything was so green.
Once again I crossed the river and went over to the waterfall. I imagine if Eiheiji really is a ‘power spot’ that the waterfall is the most powerful part of all.EM
We stopped for a little while in Komatsu. It was at this point that they got around to checking tickets on the train. Sometimes they check, sometimes they don’t. It doesn’t really matter though since you can’t exit the station without relinquishing your ticket. Eventually the train started back up and I was once again on my way to Fukui.
Ah, Fukui. Famous for being one of the settings in a manga recently turned live action movie about competitive karuta. It’s also known for the beautiful cliffs of Tōjinbō. Oh, and dinosaurs. Specifically, the Fukuisaurus. Everyone always thinks I’m making that up, but it’s true. Fukui’s main claim to fame is that dinosaur, and it’s everywhere in the train station. Fukui even has its own dinosaur museum. Nice for a city that isn’t connected by Shinkansen!
Arriving at Fukui Station, I made my way outside to the bus ticket center. The bus ticket center is really a tiny building with a ticket vending machine and a counter with three clerks. After inquiring if I could buy a return ticket (and being informed that I could not), I bought a one-way ticket for the Eiheiji bound bus, checked the time table and headed towards the convenience store. I figured I would pick up another beverage.
It was not to be. As I turned towards the station one of the men from the bus ticket center stepped outside and started talking to me.
“The bus is platform two,” he said. I nodded.
“Platform two,” I repeated. There aren’t really platforms for the buses at Fukui station, but that’s how bus stop numbers are given at a station.
“Yes. It leaves soon,” he replied.
“Uh. At 50 minutes?” I asked, looked at the bus schedule in my hand. The bus was leaving at 50 minutes past the hour and it was only about 15 past at that point.
“Today it’s 20 minutes.”
“Okay,” I replied, a little bewildered. Japan does not deviate from schedules. If your plane, bus or train is running even a minute late there is usually a lot of apologizing.
“Your good at Japanese,” he added as we walked toward platform 2. If I had a dollar for every time I had a conversation move along this line, I’d be set for the next few years.
“Thank you, but it isn’t. Grammar is difficult. I speak English every day.”
“See here. 20 minutes,” he said, pointing to a flier taped to the schedule at platform 2.
“Thank you,” I said, going to sit on the bench.
The bus pulled up a few minutes later. After boarding the bus, I made myself comfortable. Besides the driver there was a middle-aged woman with a small roller bag and an elderly woman with Buddhist robes in a tote bag. That was it. We started toward Eiheiji, which is about a 30-minute ride from Fukui Station. The elderly woman exited the bus before we reached the final destination, leaving just the middle-aged woman and myself as passengers.
The middle-aged woman busied herself with fixing her hair and makeup. She was dressed smartly, not uncommon around here. When she boarded the bus, she was wearing flats. As we drove up a winding mountain road she changed into heels. Also not uncommon. I’ve seen women hiking in heels!
Exiting the bus in Eiheiji was like getting smacked in the face with a hot, wet towel. It was humid and I immediately adjusted the towel I was wearing around my neck to absorb as much sweat as possible. At first I was a little embarrassed to be seen with a towel around my neck, but this summer I’ve noticed that many people are doing the same thing. Pulling out my hand towel to mop up any sweat on my forehead, I started the uphill trek to the temple. Okay, it’s only about a five-minute walk, but with the humidity it felt like a bit of a trek. Ms. Heels was headed in the same direction.
Approaching the temple grounds, I was relieved to see that it was not as busy as my first visit. There were groups of mostly elderly, but it wasn’t that bad. Entering the temple grounds, I was greeted by cooler, less humid air and shade. Glorious shade provided by the large, often moss covered trees. After purchasing a ticket from the vending machine, I went inside the first building of the complex. I put my shoes in a plastic bag and carried them to a room were a monk was giving a brief introduction of the temple complex and explaining the rules. I timed it perfectly, just as he was getting ready to finish.
The rules are pretty simple. Don’t go where the signs say not to go. Don’t wear your shoes. Don’t take pictures of the monks in training. Yes, there are monks in training at this particular temple. You can also spend a night or two and participate in temple life if you wish. I have a feeling that is why Ms. Heels had a roller bag. There really isn’t anything else in Eiheiji.
The monk finished up and everyone headed up the stairs to the reception hall. The main attraction in this room is the ceiling. Gliding across the tatami with my head tilted back I tried to take in as much as I could. The ceiling is covered in paintings. According to the pamphlet I was handed after purchasing my ticket, there are 230 paintings. All of the paintings are birds or flowers. I was tempted to lay down on the floor and gaze at the ceiling for an hour or two, but I could hear a tour group start up the stairs. Although not crowded due to it not being a holiday or a weekend, a few tour groups were still making a stop at the temple.
It is also in the reception hall that the smell of wood and incense started to hit. The smell is quite relaxing, especially combined with the temple’s atmosphere. Even when small groups are speaking it is quiet and calm. Leaving the reception hall, I made my way through an enclosed passage. Actually, you can move between most buildings via covered or enclosed passageways.
Moving at my own pace, like a snail slowly moving across a hydrangea leaf, I went building to building. Occasionally I would catch a glimpse of the monks and those in training dressed in black going about their day. I made my way to the Hatto, or, Dharma Hall. Sitting on the tatami I gazed at the gold hanging from the ceiling. Turning around, I was greeted by a view of the temple grounds and the mountains. It was cooler up here. Although it was still humid, the humidity was tolerable.
And that’s when I heard it. It sounded like a velociraptor. If you’ve seen Jurassic Park, you know the sound I’m talking about. I searched for the source, sure it was not actually a raptor or even a Fukuisaurus (because, uh, dinosaurs are extinct and all). Despite reminding me of a velociraptor, the sound wasn’t alarming. It was steady enough that it became strangely soothing. I decided to move back down toward the bottom of the complex.
There weren’t any visitors around the Butsuden (Buddha Hall) so I trod along the wooden planks put down to protect the stone walkways. Everything was going smoothly until one of the planks let out a massive screech! Frozen in place, I looked up to find one of the monks cleaning in the garden look up at the same moment. Making eye contact, he struggled to contain a laugh before returning to cleaning. Trying not to laugh myself, I continued to the front of the building. After gazing inside I returned to the main walk, carefully avoiding the offending plank.
After exiting the main part of the temple complex I made my way up the road. There is a small river that runs in front of the temple. Across the river there is a path that goes up the mountain. The sign states that it’s a 15-minute walk. Looking out from the Hatto, I saw a small building on the mountain. I figured the walk must lead there. I started up the path, which quickly turned from gravel to a set of steep moss covered stone stairs that felt like a sure way to break some bones. Looking at the sky, which was starting to fill with clouds and then at my sneakers which didn’t have the best traction, I decided to turn back.
Once again I crossed the river and went over to the waterfall. I imagine if Eiheiji really is a ‘power spot’ that the waterfall is the most powerful part of all. The temperature drops noticeably when you approach the waterfall. It isn’t very attractive and runs under the road into the river. There are a couple of small Buddhist statues, one right next to the large waterfall. I was able to cool down a bit before exiting back to the main street. As soon as I exited the tree filled temple complex, I was hit by the heat. Sweating, I made my way to the bus stop.
The bus back to Fukui Station, although filled with more passengers than in the morning, was quiet. Checking the timetable, I saw that I would be able to grab a few drinks and a bite to eat from the convenience store before catching the train back to Kanazawa. The train was crowded compared to the morning, but I had no problem finding a seat. As the train pulled out of the station heavy raindrops began to fall. Feeling calm and rejuvenated, I watched the rain out the train window on the ride back.