Throughout the stresses and intricacies of everyday life, Japanese culture has developed many ways to alleviate, reduce, and manage these complex feelings. Easing the mind through experiences meant to enrich you both culturally and spiritually has been one technique used for generations to address this issue. Whether it is spending time in a temple to establish a connection to the spiritual, walking amongst the peaceful serenity of nature, capturing the essence of beauty within objects, or sharpening the abilities of your five senses, these experiences have allowed countless people over the years to realign themselves internally and find comfort. Tochigi Prefecture is home to many such experiences that will help enrich you both spiritually and culturally while providing a sense of wellness to those looking to calm the noise of our busy modern-day world.
Meditation Beads and Sutra Copying at Chuzenji Temple
Chuzenji Temple was founded in 784 CE by the monk Shoudou Shounin alongside Lake Chuzenji, which draws its name from the temple itself. However, although the lake may have been called something similar to its current name as early as 1691, the first concrete evidence of it being officially referred to as Lake Chuzenji comes from an elementary school textbook dating back to 1887. The temple is a branch temple of Nikko Rinnoji Temple, which is found adjacent to Nikko Toshogu Shrine and is included in the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Shrines and Temples of Nikko. The main deity enshrined within the temple is the eleven-faced, one-thousand-armed statue of the Buddha of mercy—Kannon. This particular statue of Kannon is said to have been personally carved by the founder of Chuzenji Temple, Shoudou Shounin, from a Japanese katsura tree after he saw a vision of the deity on a lake during a pilgrimage. The tree itself still stands to this day, welcoming pilgrims wishing to receive divine blessings from the deity to help them in their daily lives.
For those wishing to take the next path on their journey of mindfulness after exploring the majestic temple grounds and admiring the incredible pieces of art found throughout the complex, the monks at the temple also provide various activities to help alleviate the stress of visitors. Two of the activities offered by the temple's monks are meditation bead making and sutra copying.
Buddhist meditation beads, also known as mala beads, are used in rituals performed in both Hinduism and Buddhism and have been utilized for thousands of years to enhance one's focus during meditation. Depending on the length of the accessory being made, the total number of beads used can vary, but they always include one bead that is significantly larger than the rest to serve as a center and hold the energy manifested during a meditation session. These beads are commonly worn during practices that promote mindfulness, such as meditation or yoga, and are believed by many to create a focal point on your body to ground yourself and open your mind to the realm of the spiritual.
The actual process for creating the meditation beads is relatively quick. The most time-consuming part of the experience is usually selecting the size of the accessory as well as the color of the beads you wish to attach to it. There are no restrictions on the colors used for meditation beads, so the monks generously offer a whole range of colors, from subtle earth tones to vivid pinks, metallic blues, and turquoise greens. After you have finished selecting the color of your beads and have threaded them onto the string provided, one of the monks at Chuzenji Temple will gladly take over and ensure that the meditation beads are properly tied and fitted to your wrist.
Before departing the temple, a monk will carefully present the beads you've skillfully crafted upon a homa-mandala, also known as a homa fire altar. There, a sacred ceremony unfolds, invoking blessings from the temple's enshrined deities. This ritual imbues the beads with a potent essence, transforming them into a formidable instrument for your mindfulness journey.
In addition to the creation of Buddhist meditation beads, for those wishing to continue on their journey of mindfulness, Chuzenji Temple also offers the practice of Buddhist sutra copying. Sutra copying is a practice that first originated in China before making its way to Japan, with the first recorded example being from 673 C.E. The act of sutra copying is a central ritual in many manifestations of Buddhism and is considered an act of piety and devotion in one's quest for enlightenment. The practice also has meditative properties, as the concentration and attention required to write Japanese characters for extended periods is an excellent way to focus and center oneself mentally. Through the act of sutra copying, many people are able to enter a meditative state, similar to those reached through chanting rituals.
For those with limited time who cannot commit to writing an entire sutra but still wish to engage in the practice, Chuzenji Temple offers single-page versions of the activity. This also includes the opportunity to inscribe one's wish, which will be conveyed to the enshrined deities of the temple by one of the monks. Additionally, for those who want to participate in this ritual but do not wish to write Japanese characters, they also offer a Buddhist picture of the eleven-faced, one-thousand-armed statue of Kannon.
Located roughly 30 minutes by car from Utsunomiya Station, the 24-hectare, hand-cultivated Four Seasons Bamboo Forest Wakayama Farm is home to one of Japan's finest bamboo forests.
While many people may think of Arashiyama in Kyoto or Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture when they think of bamboo groves, Wakayama Farm offers something entirely distinct.
Wakayama Farm is a bamboo farm that has been cultivated for more than 100 years by three generations engaged in the trade of high-quality bamboo shoots (young bamboo shoots harvested in spring) and bamboo seedlings.
In fact, bamboo management is quite time-consuming and labor-intensive. Bamboo is highly fertile, and if left unattended, it will expand beyond its designated area and kill other trees and plants.
Bamboo is said to have a lifespan of about 10 years, and as it ages, gradually stops producing bamboo shoots. Every winter, approximately 20,000 out of the 100,000 bamboo plants on the farm are replaced, with new bamboo shoots emerging the following spring to replace them. This process is carried out every year and has resulted in an unparalleled expanse of a lush forest of bamboo at Wakayama Farm.
Upon entering the bamboo forest, you will encounter a unique space that stimulates your senses: warm sunlight filtering through the trees, lush bamboo groves, the sound of leaves rustling in the wind, the aroma of the earth, and the flavor of the seasonal harvest. The expansive grounds are not crowded, allowing you to feel as if you have the entire space to yourself. A stroll in this peaceful and tranquil atmosphere will naturally calm your mind.
On weekend nights, visitors can enjoy the beautifully illuminated bamboo grove. The lighting was constructed by the staff at the farm under the supervision of world-renowned bamboo light artists, providing visitors with a space where they can enjoy a fantastic nighttime stroll through the bamboo grove. The illumination is a work of art that expresses the concept of sustainability and eco-tourism using bamboo, and it is popular on social media.
The spirit of ecotourism is also found in the cozy tent-type tea house located in the middle of the bamboo forest, where you can savor matcha green tea in cups made from the farm's bamboo, which are free to take home as a memento of your time spent at Wakayama Farm. The tea comes accompanied by sweets made from chestnuts grown on the farm.
The healing essence of wellness tourism is present here, reflecting the farm’s environmentally friendly approach to nature.
Located in the eastern part of Tochigi Prefecture, the town of Mashiko is known for sake breweries, strawberry picking, and a large number of small cafés where locals can relax. Some have speculated that the large number of cafés found in Mashiko is the direct result of the town being a haven for artists, with the cafés offering a place for them to visualize and contemplate their next work. The artists living in Mashiko town are both young and old and, depending on their specialty, practice anything from traditional to modern techniques. However, both domestically and abroad, there is one form of art that the town of Mashiko is best known for – pottery.
The practice of pottery making took hold in Mashiko during the end of the Edo Period when a potter, Keizaburo Otsuka, discovered that the clay found around Mashiko was perfect for making pottery. After this discovery, Mashiko prospered as a center for potters due to its relatively close proximity to Tokyo and the large number of consumers found there. However, it wasn't until the arrival of the famous potter Shoji Hamada that the pottery culture in Mashiko evolved from simply creating consumer goods to being recognized across Japan as a center for the creation of fine art.
This culture of pottery as fine art has continued throughout the generations in Mashiko, with many people from around Japan, as well as from international destinations, having moved to Mashiko to pursue their love of creating ceramics. Many of these contemporary masterpieces can be seen at art museums both in and outside of Japan, but they can also be found locally at the Mashiko Museum of Ceramic Art. The museum’s collection contains works of both contemporary artists as well as works of famous pottery artists such as Shoji Hamada. Additionally, every year during the fall and spring months, a large pottery fair known as the Mashiko Pottery Fair is held in front of the Mashiko Museum of Ceramic Art, as well as in many parts of the surrounding area. The fair has been running twice a year since 1966 and features approximately 600 tents selling everything from everyday consumer goods to fine art.
For anyone wishing to continue their journey of mindfulness and reflection, many of the pottery artists found in Mashiko are eager to welcome visitors to join them on the pottery wheel in creating beauty through shaping and molding clay. Through this process of creation, many have found greater meaning in their lives, both on an emotional and spiritual level.
Kaoridokoro Honoka is a place where you can experience the art of creating essential sprays and fragrances using natural ingredients, such as the essential oils of flowers and other natural Japanese sources. In an era where aromatherapy is gaining increasing popularity, Kaoridokoro Honoka, situated in Tochigi City, is dedicated to nurturing your peace of mind by embracing the power of scent.
The five fragrances from "A Trip in Tochigi City" by Kaoridokoro Honoka won the Women's Special Prize at the 2021 Kura no Machi Business Plan Contest, recognizing that the products and concept behind them had been formulated with the desire to introduce more people to the charms of Tochigi City. These five fragrances are named "Koi ♢ Koi," "Kura," "Uzumagawa," "Tochigi Yado," and "Koedo no Iki," with each ingredient focusing on ensuring that these fragrances can be effectively enjoyed.
The fragrance-making experience at Kaoridokoro Honoka is designed to evoke the sensation of smelling the natural scents found within the landscapes of Japan. Through the use of ingredients extracted from a variety of plants, including Aomori hiba wood oil and anise hyssop cellular water, it aims to evoke moments of inner peace and tranquility. It also gives you the opportunity to combine these scents in a spray bottle, which can later serve as a nostalgic gateway to your time spent traveling around Japan.
Upon selecting the one of the five fragrances you wish to create, the staff at Kaoridokoro Honoka will provide you with instructions on how to expertly blend the essential oils and ingredients required to craft the scent you'll take home with you. Kaoridokoro Honoka utilizes the highest quality oils and ingredients in their fragrances, in line with the standards of professionals in the field of aromatherapy, guaranteeing that the fragrance you create will leave a lasting impression. However, for those with limited time, Kaoridokoro Honoka also offers the same fragrances for sale within their store. Whether you're crafting the fragrance yourself or opting to purchase them outright, Kaoridokoro Honoka stands ready to soothe your mind through the power of scent.
Embarking on the journey of self-care, both physically and mentally, is a perpetual evolution, and the people of Tochigi Prefecture aspire to share this timeless wisdom and knowledge with anyone who has the curiosity and desire to visit the idyllic towns and venues nestled within its borders. Whether it involves embracing ancient meditative practices passed down through generations, soothing your soul with a leisurely stroll through a lush bamboo grove, mastering the art of capturing beauty with your own hands, or honing your senses to foster states of calm and tranquility, Tochigi Prefecture beckons as a destination where you can begin your wellness journey or acquire new techniques to enhance your ever-evolving and ongoing pursuit of spiritual health and peace of mind.
Trip Type: Wellness/Culture
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