Hokyoji Temple in Fukui is the second head temple of the Soto school of Zen Buddhism in Japan. It was founded by Jakuen, a Chinese Zen monk who trained in Zen with Dogen, who was visiting China at the time, and later founded Eiheiji Temple.
When Dogen left China, Jakuen, who respected and worshipped Dogen, followed him to Japan and settled down here. When Dogen passed away, Jakuen was disappointed by changes at Eiheiji Temple. He felt they were forgetting the true Zen spirit that Dogen taught. He left Eiheiji Temple and practiced Zazen on a stone for eighteen long years in the deep woods of Ono City near the upper part of Kiyotaki River.
One day, a samurai from a local ruling family passed by and saw Jakuen sitting there silently. The sight of Jakuen devotedly practicing Zazen struck him like a lightning bolt, and he built a small shelter for Jakuen. That was the origin of Hokyoji Temple.
Along the pathway to Hokyoji Temple, you'll find a small altar in which statues of a dog and a cow are sitting. This dog was always beside Jakuen whenever he practiced Zazen, and accompanied Jakuen when he traveled around for Takuhatsu (Japanese traditional form of alms).
The austerity and the simplicity of this temple never ceases to amaze me. The sight of the training monks practicing Zen is something you can never see in the popular temples for tourists.
There are two ways to access this temple (both by car). One is to drive along Hokuriku Expressway and get off at Fukui IC, and drive toward Ono City. When you pass by Ichijodani Valley, take Kendo 2 (Prefectural Road 2) at Miyama, then take Route 476. Pass through Shimo-ajimi, turn left just before Ikeda and take Kendo 34. (This narrow mountain road is closed during winter.) Along thisroad, you can see an abandoned village in Hieda, the Oketsu (big holes in a valley) of the Heko River, and the beautiful Soryu Waterfall. (Soryu means Twin Dragon)
The other way is to take Route 158 toward Shiratori. When you reach Ono City, turn right at Shinoza Higashi intersection, take Matsugaya Line of Kendo 34,vand drive 12 km straight through mountains (on the same narrow road mentioned above).
On the way, there is a place where Jakuen used to practice Zazen, but bears will be there in autumn, so I wouldn't recommend that you get out of the car to see it up-close!