We’re all for the inherent beauty of your typical Japanese shrine or temple, but ask any expat or tourist who has made the rounds enough times and you’ll start to hear a similar refrain: “Yeah, they’re nice and all, but they all start to look the same after a while.”

Throw in the fact that many temples, especially the most well-known ones, nickel and dime tourists with entrance fees at multiple locations on the premises, sell souvenirs incongruous with anti-materialist Buddhist teachings and promote fortune raffles with a heavy, gossip magazine-esque emphasis on love and romance, and it’s easy to forget why the temples were built in the first place.

So, here we’ve put together a list of some of Japan’s most “Zen” temples: religious facilities that maintain a strong focus on doctrine, while allowing guests (obviously, for a small fee) to transcribe sutras for themselves, experience meditation classes and more:

Myoshin-ji (Kyoto)

myoshinjiPhoto: Wikipedia

The founder of the Myoshin-ji temple apparently told followers upon passing away, “Research only into the fundamental,” solidifying the temple’s spartan attitudes that continue to this day. On Saturdays, guests can take part in meditation classes, learning to give repentance for evil deeds and gain stability and peace of mind. The classes are overnight and include traditional Buddhist meals.

Fumon-an (Kyoto)

fumon1Photo: Official website

Fumon-an is a quaint little temple located near the behemoth – and much more famous – Kiyomizu-dera. The temple’s mission statement is to provide a quiet place for contemplation where you can study Buddhist teachings, take meditation classes, transcribe sutras for a fee and watch performance re-enactments of Buddhist historical events.

Choko-ji (Tokyo)

chokoji1Photo: Official website

Nestled unassumingly amidst the bustle of trendy Shinjuku, it’s easy to pass up the eerily quiet Choko-ji. But then you’d be missing out on not only meditation classes, sutra transcriptions, and even the opportunity to learn some traditional Buddhist hymns.

Kencho-ji (Kamakura)

kenchoji1Photo: Kamakura Info

At Kencho-ji, you can experience the life of a real Buddhist monk and even take part in semi-regular trips to Laos. You can also hear Buddhist poetry readings and, like those above, participate in meditation classes to learn how not to attack people or shout at your TV so much.

Engaku-ji (Kamakura)

engakuji1Photo: Treep Kamakura

Also in Kamakura, Engaku-ji boasts a pretty wicked zen garden – which are actually sort of uncommon in Japanese temples – and a laundry list of meditation classes to fit your schedule and social circle, so you can learn to be generally more chilled out schoolgirls, schoolboys, crocheting old ladies, soccer players, or what have you.

Hosen-ji (Kyoto)

hosenji1Photo: Official website

The spiritual pillars of Hosen-ji are Zen, healing, and communication, and you can experience a bit of all three here with two-day courses that cover a range of Buddhist teachings. There are even readings and discussions, and you can choose from a number of traditional Buddhist meals.

Kennin-ji (Kyoto)

Photo: Wikipedia

If you’re a Buddhist on the go, Kennin-ji offers a shotgun approach, with short meditation classes that last as little as 40 minutes and see up to 130 students kneeling shoulder-to-shoulder. There are various events throughout the year at Kennin-ji as well, so you can pop in just about any time and see something new.

Of course, these aren’t the only temples that offer classes and guidance for those seeking enlightenment, but the majority of them are foreigner-friendly and not too far off the beaten path, so if circumstances have you considering quitting your job, shaving your head and donning the robes to maintain your sanity, these friendly temples are a good first step.

Source: Naver Matome