Let’s not forget to visit the temple after the hot spring (onsen) in Shuzen-ji.
For some, Shuzen-ji seems to have been a place for inspiration: Koyo Ozaki, one of the literary legends; Taikan Yokoyama, a masterful artist; and the 7th generation Koshiro Matsumoto, a celebrated Kabuki actor, were all here and stayed at the Arai Ryokan, which started its operation as a Ryokan or a traditional inn since 1872 and has been named a cultural asset. Perhaps, they were relaxing in the hot spring (onsen) placing themselves in a remote town but not too far from Tokyo, and later taking home the creative inspiration or simply been re-energized.
Shuzen-ji, written as 修善寺 may be known as an onsen spot, but little do they know that 修禅寺, or the zen-temple (unlike the onsen spot Shuzen-ji, without the kanji character “zen”) actually exists in the middle of this modest town of hot spring.
The temple, which was established by Kobo Daishi in 807 goes through different phases with different sects throughout its history: Shingon sect, Rinzai sect, and Soto sect. Historically, the temple is also known as a place where the second generation son of Minamoto-no-Yoritomo, who had established a government in Kamakura, had been confined in the political turmoil at the time.
Today, the temple is a tourist’s attraction for those who have enjoyed the onsen at nearby inns. The guardians of the temple located at the gate welcomes the guests, leading them to the compound of a modest yet refined temple. The hand washing basin will perhaps be the first things one sees with a warm welcome by a dragon sculpture. Sculptures in various forms will also greet the guests while they enjoy the cozy atmosphere of the temple. The main temple, the oldest wooden structure in the Izu region enshrines the seated Shakanyorai with a rare blue head sculptured in early Kamakura period. Variety of treasures is housed in an annex building in the compound. There are just much to see in such a modest compound.
If you are an owner of a goshuin-cho (temple stamp booklet), don’t forget to ask them to give you a stamp with the name of the temple in an elegant brush strokes.
Apart from the temple, don’t miss other quiet spots in the area including the bamboo forest and the foot bath by the river. A stroll through the bamboo forest will take you back years in history with the serenity of the bamboo bushes brushing each other in the sky up high. To see this, don’t forget to look straight up to see the branches growing up high as if they are trying to reach the sky. The little hut by the river is where you can enjoy the foot bath among other tourists. The footbath always does a wonder to people to want to simply chat with each other although among total strangers.
And another highlight when it comes to onsen trip is, of course, cold soba (buckwheat noodles) with fresh wasabi root to grate on your own. The fresh and clean water in the mountain seem to get the best out of the two, allowing you to have a blissful moment. Most of the inns and the soba restaurants will surely give you a little bag for you to take it home, allowing you to a reminiscent moment of the trip back home
The coziness of the town will surely offer extraordinary experiences even in a place not more than a couple of hours away from the city jungle of Tokyo.
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