Rinsoin Temple visit

Rinsoin Temple is located in Yaizu city, Shizuoka Prefecture Japan and is the original home temple of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi who founded San Francisco Zen Center in 1962.

The trip from Kyoto to Rinsoin temple takes approximately 4 hours. The shinkansen bound for Tokyo passes through Shizuoka city. From Shizuoka one must transfer to a local train to Yaizu. It is three stops to Yaizu and takes about 15 minutes. From Yaizu station it is another15 minutes by taxi up the winding road to Rinsoin. The mountain that Rinsoin is located on looms tall behind the town of Yaizu.

Yaizu is a delightful rather run down small town. With the exception of the ocean nearby, it is somewhat reminiscent of mid west America. There are vibrant businesses and small restaurants and bars mixed in with abandoned buildings and overgrown areas.

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Yaizu is spread out length ways along the oceanfront. There is a working port with many ocean going fishing vessels but no tour boats visible at all.

The harbor is definitely not meant to be a tourist attraction. There are no trendy expensive places overlooking the bay but rather down to earth shops and ship maintaining enterprises. Walking along the street next to the harbor I saw this little Albacore fishing boat. These little boats go out on the open sea for days at a time.










In addition to commercial fishing, the Shizuoka area is known for large scale tea agriculture. From the shinkansen one may see many fields of tea plants dotting the hillsides and valleys.

DSCN1000  On the drive out of Yaizu one passes by smaller, more human scale fields that are planted in tea. The raw leaf of the tea plant does not taste particularly noteworthy. To transform the raw leaves into green tea it is necessary to bruise the leaves and then steam them to draw out the subtle flavors. The steam also removes the acidity from the leaves. Though black tea comes from the same tea plant it is put through a completely different process of curing. When the fresh tealeaves are harvested from the plant there are two cuttings.  The primary harvesting produces the most premium tea.                 DSCN0833    On the outskirts of Yaizu the narrow road begins winding up the mountain named Takai Kusa Yama or Tall Black Mountain. As it approaches Rinsoin, a large cemetery begins. This cemetery is well maintained and continues upwards in the valley and around the back of Rinsoin.DSCN0766This graveyard stretches up to where the mountain becomes so steep that it cannot go any further. From the mountain heights above the cemetery there is a beautiful view stretching down the valley to the ocean.DSCN0767  Along the driveway approaching the temple grounds are many clusters of beautiful Ajisa flowers (Japanese hydrangia) that have been planted there by Chitosi, the wife of Hoitsu Suzuki Roshi. She is a master sensei of Japanese flower arranging (Ikebana) and she has several long-term Ikebana students in Yaizu.


She creates several works a week and these beautiful arrangements adorn the entry to Rinsoin. Chitosi san is a very wise woman and she once explained to me about her duties. She said, “no mater what, a temple wife must always be with open arms” to visitors.





When Shunryu Suzuki Roshi moved to America and passed control of Rinsoin to his son and Dharma heir, Hoitsu was only 25 years old and his wife Chitosi was a mere 20. By tradition this is an exceedingly young age for a priest to be entrusted with the management and responsibility of a temple. Usually a priest must be 50 years of age before accepting the responsibility for running a temple, especially a temple so large as Rinsoin.


Rinosin was once a Tendai temple before changing to Soto-shu.


Rinsoin is such a large temple complex that there are old buildings that are seldom used.


Below is the small altar in the guest quarters.


Wooden fish outside the Sodo (Zendo) hall which is struck with a wooden mallet to signal time for Zazen .



There are 14 seats in the Sodo hall.



Altar in the Sodo.


DSCN0800The Abbots seat.



Main altar in the Butsuden. The hall can seat several hundred people.

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From left to right, Sungo, Marumi, Kumi and Chitosi in front is Chitosi’s little granddaughter.

Flying to Japan

Beginning of the trip

The direct flight on United / All Nippon Airlines from SFO to Osaka was enjoyable and it took only eleven and one half hours. The previous flights I have taken that went through Taipei usually took about 16 hours flying time. Because the trip seemed much shorter, I was not so tired when I arrived at KIX (Kansai International Airport). As I was walking through the airport looking for my taxi service a news crew  from a local television station accosted me. I don’t know why they chose me but they wanted to interview me as to why I came to Japan. I was obliging and I told them that I came here because I love Japan. That wasn’t enough though and they presented endless questions so finally I had to excuse myself from them in order to locate my prearranged taxi service. I did not want to get distracted and miss my ride to Katsura talking to a news crew.

Katsura is a western suburb of Kyoto. This small town is located along the Katsura River. The hurried and noisy atmosphere of Kyoto dissipates here giving way to quiet and more tranquil rhythms. During the Heian period members of the court found this area an elegant location for viewing the full moon and that tradition still persists today in certain places outside of town particularly near certain lakes and ponds that the reflect the moon. The Katsura tree predominates the landscape and in fall the leaves turn from green to beautiful autumn shades. Arishiyama is a district of Katsura that is well known for it’s temples and tourism. Arishiyama in Japanese means stone mountain. In the autumn the orange coloring of the Katsura trees cover it.

My final destination, Fukujo-ji temple is a small neighborhood Rinzai temple that is 1325 years old. It is located high up in the hills of Katsura adjacent to a thick bamboo forest. By coincidence I came to this temple on my last trip to Japan to attend the funeral of a friend that I had known from the 70’s at San Francisco Zen Center, Mike / Shunko Jamvold. When I subsequently came back to attend a Zazenkai on a Sunday I was invited to stay here in the guest house.

The priest is an ex-pat from Germany who is fluent in both Japanese and English and of course, German. He trained at a Rinzai monastery for 3 years intensively beginning at the age of 50 which is considered old for the strenuous training.  He told me that originally he had no intention of becoming a temple priest however his master (teacher) decided to turn the temple over to him after he was asked to become the head monk at a training monastery. I was very fortunate to be invited to stay here and so I couldn’t let the opportunity go by without accepting. I have come come all the way from Northern California in order to stay here for 6 weeks this summer to experience the authentic temple life in Japan and learn a little about Rinsai Zen. I am finding that I will also learn a lot about myself in the process.

A few weeks into it

I can barely stand the climate of Kyoto in the summer, it is so hot when the sun is out. It is always a relief when it rains for a day or so but after the rain when the sun comes out again there are suddenly so many mosquitos everywhere. Kyoto is really hot in the summer and I had not realized how intense the change would be to go from the rather cool Northern California climate directly to the heat of Kansai prefecture during the height of summer. It took me about 2 weeks to adjust to the heat.

The little grocery store right down the street from the temple is usually very busy late in the afternoons when people are heading home. It is a good time to interact with the Japanese working class up close and first hand. Of course you have to observe without it being noticed that you are observing.  As one of my senseis used to say Nihongo is all about ambiguity.

Kiyomizu-dera temple


Kiyomizu-dera temple is one of Kyoto’s most famous Buddhist temples. It is located in the eastern hills overlooking the city. For many centuries, it was affiliated with the Hosso sect, which in English means “Mind Only.” The Mind Only sect is one of the seven schools of ancient Buddhism that came to Japan towards the end of the 7th century during in Nara period. The temple was founded in approximately 780 CE and presently it is designated as a UNESCO world cultural heritage site.

In January of 2016 I visited there and created the photographs that make up the photo essay on this enchanting place. It is displayed under the Buddhist temples heading. I hope you enjoy the photo essay.



Konichiwa こんにちわ   +++   Greetings from Kyoto,

Today our class went on a field trip accompanied by two of the Senseis from Kyoto Minsai Japanese Language School. We took the subway to a small shop that makes Yatsuhatchi; a traditional sweet from Kyoto that is made from rice paste, cinnamon and soy flour. Inside are different sweet fillings.


This little doll is the mascot of the shop.     +++      Below are my class mates from Kyoto Minsai. The word Minsai means  “all of us together”.  The school’s policy is fellowship rather than competition.  The class I am in is a short term class. A student may attend the short term classes for as brief a period as 2 weeks up to 3 months. The school also offers longer term classes too with a more serious program of up to 2 years study.  If you attend a longer term course the school will help you get a cultural visa to stay in Japan for a more extended time than the standard tourist visa of 3 months.



There are a variety of fillings that are placed inside Yatsuhatchi such as chocolate, sweetened bean paste and different types of fruit fillings. The rice batter that the confectionary is made of is the same type of material as Mochi. Traditionally, the cooked rice was beaten with wooden hammers on a raised stone mortar.  In modern times however an industrial food mixer is used to beat the rice paste until it becomes a glutenous batter.


Below is the beginning set up to make Yatsuhatchi. The portion of raw dough is cut into small pieces. Beside the tray you can see the bowl of soy flower and the small dishes of fruit, bean and chocolate filling. There is also a wooden dowel that functions as a rolling pin. After the batter is kneaded by hand until it is softened and gains elasticity it is then rolled with the dowel until it is flattened out like a small tortilla. The wooden dowel is covered in soy flour to prevent the batter from sticking. The tortilla shaped piece is cut into a square, then the filling is added. Though they are entirely different pastries, the shape of the finished Yatsuhatchi is formed like an Empanada, which are deep fried pastries that are Spanish in origin but can be found in Mexico and other Latin American countries.



Yatsuhashi is a famous Kyoto sweet. It was named after Kengyo Yatsuhashi, a well-known koto player and composer of koto music. The koto is a long, 13-stringed instrument that is plucked like a harp or a guitar. In 1689, four years after Yatsuhashi died at age 72, a sweet that was shaped like a koto was named after him — “yatsuhashi” — and began to be sold on the approach to Shogoin Shrine. Soon after, the sweets began to be called “Shogoin yatsuhashi”. The main shop that made these confections was Genkaku-dou. “Gen” means “black,” and it was also used as a common name for Konkaikoumyou-ji Temple, which Kyoto people also referred to as “Kurodani-san” (“black valley”). “Kaku” means crane, and the cry of the crane is similar to the sound of a koto. This store has been in business for over 300 years. Around 1905, yatsuhashi became a popular Kyoto souvenir among Japanese visitors to Kyoto. At that time, vendors stood outside Kyoto Station and sold packages of yatsuhashi.    (Chiaki, 2006)



There are two types of yatsuhashi: baked and unbaked. Generally, most people think of yatsuhashi as baked. Unbaked yatsuhashi is called “hijiri.” The ingredients used to make baked yatsuhashi are only pounded rice with a little bit of cinnamon and sugar added for flavor. Baked yatsuhashi has been around since 1689 and is like a crisp cracker. Now it is made by machine, but until 1970 it was handmade and baked on a hot plate. During WW II, yatsuhashi couldn’t be made because of the scarcity of rice. (Chiaki, 2006)



Hijiri, or unbaked yatsuhashi, began to be sold around 1960. To make this kind of yatsuhashi, rice flour is kneaded with hot water and steam; it is then mixed with sugar, cinnamon, and sometimes poppy seeds and finely rolled out flat. It is then cut into 8cm x 8cm squares and soybean flour is sprinkled on both of its sides. Azuki red bean jam is placed inside, and then the hijiri is folded over to form a triangle. These days three new flavors have been added to the traditional taste of zuki red bean jam: macha (powdered green tea), strawberry, and peach.   (Chiaki Imanaka, April 16, 2006,  viewed, 1/20/2016, http://thekyotoproject.org/english/shogoin-yatsuhashi/ )

Take care my friends, life is short,   ++++   the message of the photo below expresses impermanence.




Below is a sign at the Kyoto Shin Buddhist Temple,  Higashi Hongonji  +++  Higashi Hongonji means Eastern Honganji. Basically, there are two schools of Shin Buddhism, East (Higashi) and West (Nishi). There are numerous sects among the Shin Buddhists, but East and West is the basic division. When I need a RESET, I like to visit Higashi Hongonjji. The place radiates deep transcendental peace. When I am near Kyoto Station, I usually drop in there. I go inside and get a folding chair from the stack and sit Zazen in the back. They have a noon service that is beautiful. During the service there is singing and incense offerings. The thought expressed on the sign below is inspirational. So much so, I wanted to share it with you. I hope you all have enjoyed this photo essay.    +++    AA