When it comes to cultural experiences in Japan, there are countless options to choose from depending on what you are looking for. If you want to try something which is not only cultural but also beneficial to your body and mind, why not consider some of the best Zen experiences that Japan has to offer?
From ancient Buddhist temples in Kyoto to a World Heritage-listed mountain in Wakayama, there are a number of locations that offer memorable Zen experiences that are worth adding to your travel bucket list.
Miho Shimizu is a Japanese freelance writer settled in Shizuoka with her husband and two rabbits. Fascinated with travelling at the age of 18, she has spent most of her long holidays exploring incredible spots around Japan. She also loves to listen to music, draw, and read novels over a cup of green tea.
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- What is Zen (禅)?
- Zen meditation (座禅)
- Shojin Ryori (精進料理)
- Shukubo (宿坊)
- Best Zen Experiences around Japan
- SAMURAI Style ZEN Meditation & YOGA
- Western Kyoto Spiritual Tour: Forest Spirits of Bamboo and Zen
- Authentic Zen Experience at Gionji Temple in Chofu, Tokyo
- Zen Meditation at National Treasure Temple in Kyoto
- Zen Meditation&Traditional Vegan Food
- Experience Authentic Japanese Zen Culture
- Kamakura Zen Art, Zen Philosophy, and Zazen Experience at Zen Temple
- Small-Group Zenpoji Temple Zen Experience in Yamagata
- Mt. Koya 2-Day Walking Tour with Round trip Transfer from Osaka
- Japan Wonder Travel Tours
- Other articles you might be interested in
What is Zen (禅)?
The word “Zen” (禅) in Japanese originally came from “Chan” in Chinese. Chan is the translation of the Indian word “Dhyana”, which has the meaning of “meditation” in Sanskrit. It is difficult to clearly define what exactly Zen is in simple words, but it is basically a Buddhist traditional meditative training that has been practiced since ancient times.
It is widely believed that Zen was brought from China to Japan by a Buddhist priest around the 12th century. During the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333), Zen become popular as a part of Japanese Buddhism, and its influence started to spread across Japan. Many Zen Buddhist temples were also built around the time.
Even today, Zen is widely practiced as a type of meditation. Through Zen practice, you will be able to understand who you really are, seek the meaning of your life, improve your mental focus, and get a deep insight into everything around you!
Zen meditation (座禅)
Zazen, widely known as Zen meditation in English, is a meditative practice that originated in Buddhism. This is an effective way which helps you relax, calm down, and cope with anxiety and stress in everyday life. Zazen is generally done in a sitting posture, with no particular thoughts in your peaceful mind. Zazen is one of the most popular Zen experiences that is widely offered in traditional Japanese Tatami rooms at Buddhist temples across Japan.
Shojin Ryori (精進料理)
Shojin Ryori is a traditional religious cuisine that is served at Buddhist temples for Buddhist priests in Japan. You can also find Shojin Ryori on the menu at many Japanese restaurants as it is really a delicacy.
Typical ingredients for Shojin Ryori include plant-based foods such as seasonal vegetables, beans, and fruits. On the other hand, meat, seafood, and other ingredients with a strong flavor are strictly avoided. Shojin Ryori is a perfect dining option not only for those who are interested in traditional healthy cuisine but also for vegans and vegetarians who have restrictions on what they can eat!
See our blog below to learn more about Shojin Ryori!
Shukubo is a style of temple lodging that allows guests to stay at historic Buddhist temples in Japan. Many Buddhist temples around Japan provide accommodations for tourists where they can stay overnight. Shukubo is also a great way to get a clear understanding of what it is really like to live as a Buddhist monk through a variety of experiences, including traditional Buddhist meals, Zen practices, and Buddhist ceremonies held inside the temple. Staying at a shukubo is getting more popular and is an interesting cultural experience not only among international tourists but also among Japanese people.
See our blog below to learn more about Shukubo!
Best Zen Experiences around Japan
SAMURAI Style ZEN Meditation & YOGA
This reasonably-priced Zen lesson will allow you to learn how to do Zen meditation properly and effectively from a highly skilled Kyudo master (Kyudo is Japanese archery). In his lesson, you will be able to understand how to calm your mind, relax, and improve concentration by practicing both traditional Zen meditation and basic Yoga poses.
Duration: 45 minutes
Western Kyoto Spiritual Tour: Forest Spirits of Bamboo and Zen
If you are planning on visiting Kyoto, this guided tour is a perfect option to add to your travel bucket list! Joining the tour will enable you to explore the best tourist attractions in Arashiyama, a beautiful neighborhood surrounded by mountains in western Kyoto.
Immerse yourself in Japanese culture by visiting historic spots, including Nonomiya Shrine, picturesque bamboo grove, and Togetsu-kyo Bridge. Afterward, you will join a peaceful Zen meditation session held by a Buddhist priest at an ancient Buddhist temple. You will also be able to get a chance to attend a traditional tea ceremony!
Duration: 3.5 hours
Authentic Zen Experience at Gionji Temple in Chofu, Tokyo
Located in the Chofu area, Tokyo, Gionji is a Zen Buddhist temple that offers an impressive Zen experience for everyone! You will learn the history of Buddhism in Japan, the basics of Zen meditation, and Zen sutras. You will also be given a chance to recite Zen sutras on your own in a peaceful setting at a lovely Buddhist temple which is nestled only an hour away from the central city. It is an ideal option not only for foreign travelers but also for residents in Tokyo who are searching for an authentic Zen experience in a refreshing atmosphere nearby!
Duration: 1.5 hours
Zen Meditation at National Treasure Temple in Kyoto
Originally built in 1509, Daisen-in is an ancient Buddhist temple that belongs to the Rinzai Sect of Japanese Buddhism. This sacred temple is located in Kita-ward, Kyoto city, and the main hall is officially designated as a National Treasure. For travelers who are interested in Japanese culture and history, this majestic temple provides an unforgettable Zen experience. You will be able to learn how to practice Zen meditation, walk around the beautiful Zen rock garden, and enjoy a tasty Japanese green tea which will be served with traditional Japanese sweets.
Duration: 2 hours
Zen Meditation&Traditional Vegan Food
Another Zen experience at Daisen-in Temple is a suitable option for vegetarians and vegans who are interested in Buddhist vegetarian meals! You will be taught how to do Zen meditation in a traditional Tatami room, and spend a peaceful time appreciating their lovely Zen rock garden afterward. At the end of the tour, you will be served a traditional vegan meal which is typically prepared for Buddhist monks. The special meal is not only healthy but also visually attractive, and you can taste the natural flavor of the fresh ingredients carefully cooked in a traditional way.
Duration: 2 hours and 20 min.
Experience Authentic Japanese Zen Culture
In this tour, you will learn the basics of Japanese calligraphy, and how to write your name in Kanji characters by using traditional Japanese paper and ink. You will get help and advice from a master of calligraphy who has teaching experience in the U.S. in her career as a professional calligraphy artist. Your calligraphy will be made into a beautiful hanging scroll which you can take home as a memorable souvenir!
Duration: 1.5 hours
Kamakura Zen Art, Zen Philosophy, and Zazen Experience at Zen Temple
Kamakura is a beautiful city in Kanagawa prefecture and it is home to a number of historic temples and shrines. Founded in 1378, Kigen-in is a small, charming Buddhist temple that stands within the temple grounds of Engakuji Temple. What you can find here is an authentic, meditative Zen experience in a peaceful setting surrounded by nature. Practicing Zen meditation in a traditional Tatami room will help you relax and reduce anxiety from a stressful life. You will also be able to take a relaxing walk in a quaint Japanese garden. This temple is easily accessible within walking distance from JR Kita-Kamakura Station.
Location: Kamakura, Kanagawa
Duration: 3 hours
Small-Group Zenpoji Temple Zen Experience in Yamagata
If you are eager to immerse yourself in a memorable Zen experience in a peaceful setting away from the hustle and the bustle of the city, why not book a great Zen experience tour at a Buddhist temple in Yamagata prefecture? This small-group tour is held at Zenpo-ji, a 1000-year-old Buddhist temple nestled in the peaceful mountainous area in Tsuruoka city, Yamagata. Start your Zen experience by learning the basics of Zen Buddhism from a Buddhist monk, which is a good introduction to understanding the world of Zen deeply. This tour includes an English-speaking private guide who will help you through the 3-hour Zen experience. Shojin Ryori lunch will also be served for a relaxing lunch break, which will be followed by a Zen prayer ritual at a sacred Buddhist hall.
Duration: 3 hours
Mt. Koya 2-Day Walking Tour with Round trip Transfer from Osaka
If you love spending a refreshing time in nature, don’t miss the memorable 2-day walking tour at Mt. Koya! This tour will take you to Mt. Koya, the iconic mountain in Wakayama prefecture officially designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This sacred mountain is full of natural wonders and is home to ancient Buddhist temples where you will be followed by a private English-speaking guide. This tour also offers you an unforgettable Shukubo experience (You will be able to stay overnight at a Buddhist temple in Mt. Koya). For lunch and dinner, you will be served traditional Shojin Ryori.
Location: Osaka to Mt. Koya (Wakayama)
Duration: 2 days
Many Zen experience tours above are offered both in Japanese and English, which is helpful for international tourists who don’t speak Japanese. You can also flexibly choose the date and number of participants depending on your travel itinerary. In addition, most of them are held at convenient locations such as Tokyo and Kyoto, so you can easily plan how to spend the rest of your time there. If you want to make the most of your stay in Japan, but don’t know where to start, let us help you plan a perfect trip to Japan with helpful tips and professional advice!
Japan Wonder Travel Tours
Japan Wonder Travel is a travel agency that offers guided tours throughout Japan.
From private walking tours to delicious Food and Drink tours, we can help you organize the best tours just for you! If you want to explore Japan and learn more about the history and backstories of each area you are visiting, our knowledgeable and friendly English speaking guides will happily take you to the best spots!
In addition, we can provide you with any assistance you may need for your upcoming trip to Japan, so please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or need some help!
▶Tokyo Fish Market Tour @Tsukiji – Enjoy Local Food and Drink
Explore the most lively and popular fish market in Tokyo and try some of the local’s favorite street foods and sake with one of our friendly and knowledgeable English speaking guides!
▶Tokyo 1–Day Highlights Private Walking Tour (8 Hours)
There’s no better way to explore an area than taking a tour with a knowledgeable local guide. You will have the chance to learn about the history and interesting background stories of Tokyo, as well as discover some hidden gems which can be hard to do without a guide.
▶Kyoto Private Full Day Walking Tour
On this full-day private tour of Kyoto, you will be able to see the highlights of Kyoto in just one day and at the same time develop a deeper understanding of both the culture of the area and Japan as a whole.