禅 ZEN—the heart of Japan

What do you look for in your Japan trip? If you are looking for a retreat experience, why not step into the world of Japanese “Zen” and make time to find your inner peace?

Detaching yourself from your busy daily life and having a moment of self-reflection while being surrounded by lush nature—the beauty of a retreat experience is that it helps you to surrender yourself to the passage of time and to get yourself refreshed while enjoying an out-of-the-ordinary atmosphere. People try to relax in a variety of ways such as yoga and other fitness activities, but in this article, we would like to introduce the unique world of Japan’s Zen.

It is difficult to describe Zen in one word, as it has many aspects to it, and it has surely influenced many Japanese cultural traditions such as Sado (tea ceremony), Shodo (calligraphy), and Karesansui (dry garden). One of the purposes that these traditions have in common is to ease one’s mind, reflect on oneself, and try to attain a higher self.

It is said that the founder of the Zen sect, which uses Zen as its training method, is Bodhidharma, a Buddhist monk who went to China from India. In Japan, the Zen sect gained popularity around the year 1200. Its teachings were first shared among samurais, then it rapidly became widespread among common people, and Zen underwent a unique course of development, later affecting many different cultural traditions and art forms such as Sado.

The main training practice of Zen sect monks is called “Zazen.” In this training, one just keeps sitting silently with one’s legs crossed while keeping one’s back straight and breathing steadily in order to focus on the moment. Keeping oneself under control, being grateful for everything in this world, getting rid of unnecessary things, and rethinking one’s own life—this way of thinking can also be applied to your daily living. Living with discipline, gratitude, and care leads to living a Zen life.

In Japan, you can find many temples that let you experience Zazen. Definitely visit one of them if you would like to get a taste of the world of Zen. Some of these temples include Nanzenji and Kodaiji in Kyoto, Daitakusan Ryuunji in Tokyo, and Engakuji in Kamakura. For details, visit each temple’s official website. Making time to experience Zen would be a wonderful memory of your trip. (Information as of August 2023)