Located between Odawara and Hakone and surrounded by a centuries-old cedar forest, there is Daiyuzan Saijoji temple.
Home of prayer and study of young Zen Buddhist monks, is a place rich in history and enrich by folklore legends that attract many pilgrims every year.
Daiyuzan Saijoji is pure beauty in a magical atmosphere.
お正月 – New Year’s Eve in Japan
If Christmas with its lights, decorations and gifts is celebrated as a pure Western influence (not a holiday), New Year’s Eve is instead that moment of the year when the country finally stops for a few days of relax!
Schools, offices (or at least most of them) and businesses close their doors for a few well-deserved days off in order to be able to enjoy お正月 (osyougatsu – New Year’s Eve in Japanese) together with the whole family.
Busy women at home intent on preparing rich Obento, young people who live far away for study or work, ready to face long (and crowded) train journeys just to go back home for the occasion…the key word for New Year’s days is without doubt “Family”.
Unlike the western one, however, unless you live in big cities, you will hardly hear fireworks or street parties.
New year is usually celebrated at home, sitting at tables set with traditional dishes (among which soba toshikoshi, symbol of longevity, can not be missed), watching TV, (shows give their best during that night), and waiting for the midnight countdown to greet each other and head to the temple.
Our Hatsumode – 初詣
Hatsumode refers to the first temple visit in the New Year. It is part of those historical customs that are said to be able to bring good luck, and are still observed by the majority of Japanese.
Some people do their visit after midnight, while most decide to go in the following days (January 1-2), taking the chance of Street Food at the temple entrance to continue the festivities in an atmosphere of pure relaxation.
This year our Hatsumode was special.
2020 has been our New Year’s Eve of the first times: the first one in the new house, the first one as a married couple, and in particular the first one here in Japan with a family member from Italy! (My older brother).
For the occasion we wanted to choose a special, suggestive place that would remain in our memories.
Relying on the advice of our neighbors, we discarded our first option (Kamakura – famous, beautiful, but too crowded the first of January) and opted for a temple we had never heard of, located in the middle of the nature in Odawara.
After seeing some photos, more motivated than ever, we get on our bikes (always reliable friends) and we headed to the Daiyuzan Saijoji Temple.
Beauty in the middle of the forest
What can I say, the best choice we could have ever made (I thank my neighbors here again for the advice!)
In the Southwest of Kanazawa Prefecture, located between the forests that connect Odawara and Hakone, there is a temple that at first glance, leaves you breathless.
Daiyuzan Saijoji Temple is a complex built in 1394 by a Zen monk called Ryoan Emyo Zenji.
Consisting of 30 buildings scattered all over the area, it is surrounded by a forest with more than 20,000 secolar cedars that, with their long trunks and colorful foliage, give to the area a mystical, almost mysterious atmosphere.
Arrived with our bikes at the big entrance gate, about 2 km away from the temple entrance, we decided to continue our journey to the temple by foot, on a pathway along the main road.
For those who don’t feel like walking or don’t have too much time available, buses and taxis can take you as far as the entrance. For all the others, I suggest you to take the opportunity and give a try to this walk! Despite the climb, the beauty of nature and the silence of the forest around, will make let you forget the pain!
Street Food for New Year Celebration
At the entrance, being the first day of the year, we could breathe a happy festive air crowned by a Street Food that with its perfumes made our appetite grow!
Obviously we didn’t miss the chance to stop for something to eat and, while the men went for crispy Senbe (rice crackers), steaming Hiroshimayaki, tasty Yakisoba and Karaage, I opted for something sweet, with a good hot glass of Amazake and a skewer of Dango with Azuki cream.
(And yes, as you can see in the picture, we weren’t able to stop ourself in front of a banana covered with chocolate, sorry about that).
Daiyuzan Saijoji Temple
Once arrived in the central area of the temple, we immediately notice that the various buildings were scattered in different parts of the forest, and to reach them we faced long stairs marked by lanterns. Everything was absolutely stunning.
As soon as you climb the first steps you we found ourself in front of the Hondou Shrine. This location is still used for the service of monks in the morning and evening and is considered the main shrine.
From Hondou onwards, roads branch off to the other facilities. I advise you to pay special attention to the Kaizandou monument, a building dedicated to Ryoan Emyo Zenji (easily recognizable by the colorful painting on the outside). But in particular you should challenge yourself in the staircase with 354 steps that will take you to Okunoin at the top of Myojin Mountain.
The legend of Tengu
There are several legends related to Daiyuzan Saijoji Temple
The most popular, and also the reason why many pilgrims come to this place, concerns the story of its founder and his disciple.
After the death of Ryoan Emyo Zenji in 1411, 17 years after the construction of the temple, his most faithful student, in desperation, magically turned into a tengu and flew into the mountains where he made a commitment of guarding and protect the area.
If you’re wondering, the Tengu are mystical creatures belonging to Japanese folklore culture. They have been rappresented similar to humans with a bright red face, a long nose (often portrayed as a beak), wings on the back (or head) and monk’s clothes.
Being inhabitants of the mountains, in the past people thought that the summits were supernatural places because home of the presence of these creatures.
Despite its slightly creepy appearance, he is celebrated and prayed in several other famous areas of the country. Such as Mount Takao, or the Kuramadera temple in Kyoto for its charitable actions. (Although he has often played the role of the “villain” in some popular stories.)
The Tengu of Daiyuzan Saijoji is celebrated by its devotees through a special gift. People give to him Geta – metal sandals as it is said that by offering this object to the Tengu, you are able to receives strength and courage. Outside the temple dedicated to him it is in fact possible to observe sandals of very small dimensions up to some exaggeratedly giant.
Legend says that if a pregnant woman walks under the giant red Geta outside the temple, the Tengu will help her to give birth without pain.
- Daiyuzan Saijoji Temple is not a tourist destination. It has always been hidden by the thick cedar forest that surrounds it so much that it is unknown to many Japanese despite its beauty. For this reason, beside festive days, you will hardly find crowds of tourists. A good thing if you are looking for a relaxing place.
- There is a refreshment point! At the entrance of the complex there are two souvenir shops as well as small restaurants offering simple soba/udon.
- The entrance is completely free, but you can leave a small offer (recommended!).
- Daiyuzan Saijoji Temple is a Zen monastery where young monks are educated inside. It is therefore important to respect the silence so as not to create disturbance.
How to get there!
From Odawara station take the Izuhakone Tetsudo-Daiyuzan Line And get out at Daiyūzan Station, few step in front of the station you will find the bus stop that will bring you to the entrance of the temple. The bus has written on the top: Daiyuzan Saijoji Temple .
Travel with train from Odawara + Bus from Daiyuzan station: 40 minutes
Train from Odawara + Bus from Daiyuzan station 600 ¥ (one way).
Have a safe trip!