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3-Day Model Trip Day1 / Fukui - Eihei-ji Temple - Tojinbo - Kanazawa

3-Day Model Trip Day1 / Hokuriku / Fukui - Eihei-ji Temple - Tojinbo - Kanazawa

First we are getting on a pretty, nostalgic train from Fukui Station, and heading for Eihei-ji Temple. Eihei-ji is the main headquarters of the Zen sect Sotoshu. It was opened in 1244 as a temple for practicing Zen meditation, and is one of a number of old Japanese temples with a history of more than 750 years. It is surrounded by old cedars in the mountains, and is known for its magnificent buildings, which are called Shichido-garan - the seven temples. These include Hatto, the main temple, which houses the principle image of Buddha and is where sermons are read, as well as Sanmon - the two-storied temple gate.

When you get off the train at Eihei-ji Station, you are in the Monzen-machi, town built around the temple. Both sides of the pathway to Eihei-ji Temple are lined with souvenir shops, restaurants and shops selling Buddhist wares, and they are always busy with tourists. Right in front of the temple gate, you can see that rather than souvenirs, there is vegetarian food like soba noodles and tofu with sesame. As well as this, you will see wooden pestles for grinding food in an earthenware mortar. These became souvenirs because there is a giant, four meter-long wooden pestle, in Kuin, the Eihei-ji kitchen. It may seem strange to have a wooden pestle decorating a temple, but the wearing down of the pestle as it grinds symbolizes a person wearing down his or her own body while doing as much as possible for others.

When you pass the main gate of the temple, there is a line of large cedar trees said to be 680 years old, which make the light dim even in the middle of a sunny day. Even the air feels colder and clearer than in other places, and it feels like you have already entered a world removed from reality. Even today at Eihei-ji, there are nearly 200 practicing monks called Unsui, who live here and put themselves through hard training. This makes the air inside the temple seem bitingly cold, and even people who do not believe in Zen Buddhism will be in awe of the austere mood. The 330,000 square meter temple precincts contain over 70 magnificent buildings, large and small, which are all linked by corridors. There are so many buildings, that if it was not for the signs pointing out the "usual route for visitors", you could easily get lost. Essential viewing includes Sanshokaku, a large room the size of 160 tatami mats with 230 pictures on the ceiling, the 4 meter-long wooden pestle in the Kuin (kitchen), and the giant Buddhist string of beads hung in Shidoden, which also enshrines the believers' Buddhist mortuary picture. These are all things unique to Eihei-ji Temple, which you cannot see in many other temples. It would be nice too to take some time looking at the huge two-storied temple gate, which is the oldest construction in the temple. But there are so many "essential" sights in the temple that it is hard to find them all.

As we walk around inside the temple, we will sometimes cross paths with unsui (monks) dressed in black who are in the middle of their training. They all walk fast in a bolt upright position, and make strangely little noise for the speed they are walking. Just passing them, you will feel that there is a tension in the air around them. I find that this frosty atmosphere cleanses my heart a little, and I come away from Eihei-ji Temple feeling a little refreshed.

Next we are going to Tojimbo, which is known for its fantastic views. Tojimbo has been nationally designated for its magnificent scenery, and the sight of waves breaking along 1 km of cliffs on the Japan Sea is truly dynamic. The peculiar rock formations were caused by magma solidifying to form pentagonal and hexagonal columnar rocks called "columnar joints". These pyroxene andesite columnar joints are a very rare geological phenomenon, and only exist in three places in the world. The other two are Kumgang-san (the Diamond Mountains) on the Korean peninsula and the west coast of Norway. Let's go to the top of the cliff now. It was really sunny, but we are now being buffeted by a strong wind, which makes us feel the power of nature. Looking down at the sea from the cliff top, the height and the spray from the breaking waves are almost enough to make your legs give way. Because there is no fence at the Tojimbo cliffs, it is a really intense experience to look down at the sea from right on top of the sheer bluffs.

If you look from the cliff top over the navy blue Japan Sea, you can see Oshima Island out at sea to the north of Tojimbo. Though Oshima is just a small island with a circumference of about 2 km, it has a shrine and a path which takes you all the way round. On the other side, you can also walk across the 224 meter, red-lacquered bridge to Anto district, the entrance to the Oshima Island. If you have time, you can see a view of Tojimbo from a different angle, from out at sea. Anto Island is about 1 km from Tojimbo, and takes about 15 minutes to walk there. There are other ways to enjoy the dynamic scenery at Tojimbo from different angles, including a sightseeing boat that travels round the area in about 30 minutes, and the 4 km Araiso ("Windswept, wave beaten shore") Walkway.

After taking in the great power of nature, we have come to have a look at the souvenir shops along the road to Tojimbo bus stop. Among other things, the shops display seafood like "echizen" crab and sweet shrimps - the taste of the Japan Sea. Echizen crabs are especially tasty in the winter season from November to March, and lots of salespersons call out to the visiting tourists. For people who don't want to take home raw fish, some shops sell squid and scallops grilled on a stick for eating right away. Without realizing it, I have stopped because of the fragrant, appetizing smell.

Now that we've eaten enough, it is time to head for Kanazawa, where we are going to stay tonight. To get to Kanazawa, we will first get on a bus for Awara-onsen Spa at Tojimbo bus stop, then board a train at the terminus, JR Awara-onsen Station. There is another station in Awara called Awara Yumachi on the Keifuku Dentetsu Line, so be careful not to mix them up. I really love the hot springs at Awara-onsen, which are among the best in the Hokuriku region. But because we are going to see Kanazawa tomorrow, we have to get on the Raicho ("Thunderbird") Limited Express.