Tue, Mar 31, 2020

Zuiganji: Renowned Zen temple with natural caves by scenic Matsushima Bay

Japan’s beauty in the eyes of CIRs

Natural caves are seen within the premises of Zuiganji.
By Robert Duanmu / CIR for Miyagi Prefecture

Japan is known across the globe for its lasting traditional culture, religion and traditions. Those with passing interests in Japan may have heard of popular locations such as Fushimi Inari, Meiji Shrine or Kiyomizudera, but astute enthusiasts will know that there are many varieties of religion throughout Japan, and that a plethora of other wondrous religious sites are waiting to be found by those curious. Miyagi Prefecture, found north of Tokyo in the Tohoku region, is home to one of the “Three Most Scenic Spots of Japan,” Matsushima Bay. While mainly known for having hundreds of tiny islands sprinkled in a small inlet of sea, Matsushima is also dotted with numerous shrines and temples, one of which is a renowned Zen temple called Zuiganji.

Zuiganji was originally a Tendai temple founded in 828 CE by priest Jikaku Taishi under the orders of Emperor Junna, but was later converted into a Zen temple during the Kamakura period. Zen Buddhism is a sect of Buddhism particularly known for its sitting meditation known as zazen, which focuses on letting thoughts flow without involvement or mental engagement by the meditator. The temple would however, only arrive at its current condition when Date Masamune, famous warlord and founder of Sendai city, rebuilt the structure in 1609. While primarily recognized as a tactician and ruler, Masamune was also known for his sensibilities in fashion and style; during Zuiganji’s reconstruction he brought in top craftsmen and artisans from various regions to construct and decorate the temple into the gorgeous state it is today.

The main building known as the hondo, now a national treasure, is slightly unusual from other temple main buildings in that it has a special room called Jojodan no Ma, an exclusive room for just the emperor that remained unused for 267 years until 1876, when the Meiji Emperor finally broke the streak and stayed overnight. Other notable rooms of the temple include the Sumie no Ma, which holds original ink paintings, and the Kujaku no Ma (Peacock Room), the center room used to hold Buddhist services even to this day.

Another unique aspect of Zuiganji is the number of natural caves created by ocean tides long ago. Ever since the temple’s founding different priests and monks practiced Buddhism in these caves, resulting in ruins and lasting imprints from the eighth century. Nearby in a separate building is also the museum, which holds around 30,000 items detailing Zuiganji’s extensive history, including Date Masamune’s original armor, swords, and statues of his family.  

Zuiganji hondo (main building) ; National treasure
Zuiganji kuri (kitchen)

The temple sits right across the actual Matsushima Bay, only minutes away from the main train station, making it very easy to access and frequented by many tourists throughout the year. The area is also quieter than many other quintessential tourist locations, giving visitors more space and room to enjoy their time at a leisurely pace; local travelers enjoy its religious significance and calming presence in the Matsushima tourism experience. Religion and culture enthusiasts as well as visitors who find themselves in the Matsushima Bay area have a historical, well-loved temple to explore.

(Photos courtesy of Zuiganji)

(Cooperation: Council of Local Authorities for International Relations)


Robert Duanmu

Robert spent his childhood in the state of New Jersey before moving to Hong Kong. He returned to the United States and attended Cornell University, where he developed an interest in Japanese culture and language through his studies. Graduating with a degree in Asian Studies, he moved to Sendai in 2017 to work as a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) for the Miyagi prefectural government, where he is now involved in foreign investment projects and tourism promotion.

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