Meiso no Mori

A meditation grove in Tochigi

By Sleiman Azizi    - 3 min read

The great spiritual centres of Japan are home to scores of temples and shrines open to visitors seeking something of the way of the soul. From the Kumano Kodo sacred sites of Wakayama prefecture to the shukubo temple stays of ancient Kyoto, Japan is not short on destinations for a spiritual sojourn.

Japan's approach to spiritual reflection often revolves around an awareness of the person in relationship with their surroundings. One such approach, born of the Jodo Shinsu Buddhist tradition, can be found at Meiso no Mori, a spiritual retreat located two hours north of Tokyo in the woodlands of Tochigi Prefecture.

The three questions

Meiso no Mori translates as meditation grove and represents the Naikanho approach to self-realisation. One of the more recent additions to Japan's growing list of spiritual centres, the phrase naikanho itself simply means 'method of introspection' and was originally offered as a means for people in trouble with society to reflect and learn from their actions. Based on the questions of what have I received from you, what have I given you and what troubles have I caused you, the method has spread and centres like the one in Tochigi can be found in many places across Japan.

Silence is golden

Week long retreats form the basis of Meiso no Mori. Participants making the trek to Tochigi will surround themselves with silence - the modern world of information technology is left behind as visitors make do with themselves. Seated in their private spaces, participants reflect on the three questions, seeking answers and insights into their attitudes and behaviours. Every two hours or so, a guide will visit to listen to what has been discovered.

Interior cubicles where participants sit and reflect (Photo: Photo courtesy of Meiso no Mori, Tochigi - used with permission)
Interior cubicles where participants sit and reflect (Photo: Photo courtesy of Meiso no Mori, Tochigi - used with permission)

A modern experience

Other than these short interview sessions, everything else at Meiso no Mori is quietness and solitude. Meals - which are delicious - are prepared, served and removed by instructors while time is made available for bathing and cleaning chores. The rest of the time is spent in silent contemplation, discovery and revelation.

Meiso no Mori is not about the food but... it is nice. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Meiso no Mori, Tochigi - used with permission)
Meiso no Mori is not about the food but... it is nice. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Meiso no Mori, Tochigi - used with permission)

In this day and age of energy tourism and brand name experiences, it is a sobering thing to discover that from such simple silence and reflection, life changing experiences can be born. A modern taste of Japan's capacity to change the visitor, Meiso no Mori in Tochigi may be just the Japan experience a person needs.

Getting there

Take the JR Tohoku Main Line to Ujiie Station. From the station, take a 15-minute Bato bus ride and get off at Asahibashi bus stop. Meiso no Mori is about a 15-minute walk from the bus stop.

If you are coming by car, take the Tohoku Expressway and get off at the Yaita Exit.

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Sleiman Azizi

Sleiman Azizi @sleiman.azizi

A Japanese Permanent Resident, I have over 400 published articles on Japan as well as 5 English language books written in a traditional Japanese style. I happen enjoy writing. Funny that...I'm also the Regional Partner for Tokyo, Japan's never ending capital, so if you've anything to say about Tokyo - or Japan in general - don't be shy and contact with me via sleiman.azizi@japantravel.com

Join the discussion

Elizabeth S 9 months ago
I've only ever done a three-day silent retreat, but it was a wonder. Many of us at the end of the session said we wished it was longer! A week may seem long, but silence and introspection can relieve a lot of trouble.
Kim B 9 months ago
I was sold when you said modern technology is left behind. Something about that just seems good for the mind and soul!
Kim B 9 months ago
Yes, in today's hectic world it's a must!