Saijoji Temple

An amazing Zen temple, hidden among giant cedars

By Sandra Isaka    - 3 min read

Saijoji, located in southern Kanagawa Prefecture, is an amazing temple that even most Japanese have never heard of. The temple was founded in 1394 by Ryoan Emyo Zenji, former head priest of Sojiji, one of the two head temples of the Soto Zen Buddhism Sect.

Currently the temple complex consists of more than 30 halls and temple buildings. Many giant cedars, planted over 500 years ago, line the road leading to the temple and tower over the compound itself. The atmosphere is similar to that of Nikko's Toshogu, but without the crowds of people.

There are many legends associated with the temple. One of the most interesting occurred in 1411, when Emyo Zenji passed away. His most trusted disciple, Doryo Myokaku, was devastated. As a result, Doryo Myokaku magically transformed and flew off into the mountains where he became a Bodhisattva, protector of the temple and its followers. He took the form of a tengu.

All seasons at Saijoji are lovely, but 10,000 hydrangea bushes lining the road to the temple make June especially lovely. The autumn colors are equally impressive.

Since then, many make the pilgrimage to visit the 'Goshin-den', a hall built to honor 'Doryo-son'. Followers have donated metal geta sandals in his honor (as tengu usually wear geta). Some of them are gigantic, and it is said that if a pregnant woman walks under the largest pair, she will have an easy delivery.

The main hall enshrines three statues, Shaka Nyorai and two attendants, Monju Bosatsu and Fugen Bosatsu. It is a gorgeous building and visitors are welcome to enter (sans shoes) if there are no ceremonies taking place inside. The oldest structure within the compound is a pagoda, built in 1863.

The entire complex, hidden in the forest, is breathtaking. Weekdays there are rarely more than a handful of people there. Visitors are always welcome, but they should keep in mind that Saijoji is a Zen monastery where novice monks are training. Speak quietly, especially when ceremonies are taking place, and only take photos outside the buildings.

All seasons at Saijoji are lovely, but 10,000 hydrangea bushes lining the road to the temple make June especially lovely. The autumn colors are equally impressive.

Near the parking lot are two souvenir shops, both of which serve simple soba/udon lunches. The food is very tasty, healthy, and inexpensive. As there are only two shops, I recommend that if you buy anything, try to purchase something from each shop. I usually eat at one, and buy local snacks from the other.

Saijoji is also referred to as Doryo-son or Daiyuzan. Entry to the temple grounds are free, but as with any temples without admission, it is good to offer a donation.

If you visit in June, be sure to also see the Ajisai Matsuri in the neighboring town of Kaisei, a wonderful hydrangea festival.

More info

Find out more about Daiyuzan Saijoji Temple.

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Sandra Isaka

Sandra Isaka @sandra.isaka

As an intercultural consultant & Japan travel specialist with 20+ years in Japan, I love sharing my favorite places with others.

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Sandra Isaka Author 6 years ago
Ariana, I'm very glad you enjoyed the photos! Most were taken with a Nikon D300, but a couple were taken with a simple 'point-and-shoot' camera (Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX77).
Ariana Fischer 6 years ago
What incredible photos! If you don't mind my asking, what camera did you use to take these?
Nicole Bauer 7 years ago
These are indeed AMAZING temple grounds. I went there today and couldn't believe my eyes. It is a very special place; so beautiful, peaceful and inspiring. So far, Daishoin on Miyajima has been my favorite temple, but this might have changed today. A bit of a ride for a day trip from Tokyo, but it was definitely worth it! Just a handful of people out there... as you said. Loved it. Thank you so much for sharing, Sandra.