Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Shōfuku-ji – The First Zen Temple in Japan

If you practice zen or meditate regularly, you might be interested in Shōfuku-ji (聖福寺), the first Zen temple in Japan. The temple is also a spot in Hakata that will excite all cat lovers!

Shōfuku-ji was erected in 1195 after the first shōgun of the Kamakura shogunate, Minamoto no Yoritomo (源頼朝), gave the land to Yōsai (栄西禅師), the founder of the Japanese Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism. At the time, seven buildings were constructed on the 900-meter-square precinct. At its peak, it was the head temple of 38 sub-temples.

However, together with the decline of the Kamakura shogunate, the temple was desecrated. Fortunately, with the support from the 14th Kobayakawa clan lord, Kobayakawa Takakage (小早川隆景), the temple was restored in 1589. In both 1595 and 1600, Shōfuku-ji received further support and land from Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Kuroda Nagamasa, respectively.

Yōsai was originally a monk in Enryaku-ji in Mt. Hiei, but unsatisfied with the Tendai sect’s teaching, he traveled to China for Zen Buddhism. What he also brought back to Japan is the Chinese tea culture. So he is also known as the founder of the Japanese tea ceremony.

The Cats in Shōfuku-ji

When you stroll around Shōfuku-ji, you might encounter several cats. Although they are stray cats, they seem to live in the precinct.

A few of them are used to humans (especially the ones with a black-and-white color). So if they don’t seem bothered by your existence, you can try to give them some gentle strokes.

The Sōmon Gate (総門)

The entrance of Shōfuku-ji for the general public is the Sōmon Gate. While it has an ordinary appearance, it is said that the gate was a part of Najima Castle (名島城), the base of the Kobayakawa clan before the Battle of Sekigahara (関ヶ原の合戦).

The Sanmon Gate (山門)

Following the path continued from the Sōmon Gate, the second gate you will pass through is the Sanmon Gate. The building was reconstructed in 1911 after a fire hazard in 1866.

What you want to pay attention to is the gate’s plaque. The words “扶桑最初禅窟” on the plate were written by Emperor Gotoba (後鳥羽上皇) in the late 12th century! The plaque escaped the fate of being burnt to ashes after it miraculously dropped down during the fire hazard.

“扶桑最初禅窟” means the first zen practice ground in Japan. “扶桑” was how the Chinese referred to Japan centuries ago.

On the second floor of the gate, sixteen arhats and a thousand-hand Kannon Bodhisattva are enshrined.

Butsuden Hall (仏殿)

The Butsuden Hall is where the three main images of Shōfuku-ji are enshrined. The elegant-looking worship hall was restored recently in 2012 after it was destroyed in the Second World War. Although it appears to be a two-story building, there is only one floor.

Many visitors were overwhelmed by the three massive golden Buddha statues. The statues were made between 2006 and 2012 and represent the past (Amida Buddha), present (Gautama Buddha), and future (Maitreya Buddha).

Hōjō Hall (方丈)

Proceeding further into the temple, you will get to the Hōjō Hall, Zen Hall (禅堂), and the temple’s kitchen (庫裡), which aren’t open to the public. But, because the temple’s office is located inside the kitchen building, if you want Goshuin, please wait for the staff at the kitchen building’s entrance area.

What we wanted to highlight is the Hōjō Hall. It was a part of Nagoya Castle (名護屋城) in Saga Prefecture. The building was relocated to the temple in 1601 by Kuroda Nagamasa and his father.

The last maintenance work to the hall was completed in 1987.

Hakata-bei Wall (博多塀)

The special architectural style, Hakata-bei can also be seen at Shōfuku-ji Temple. It is fascinating to see how the roof tiles that belonged to some magnificent buildings are now a part of the wall structure!

Tip: The temple is a National Historic Site, but the worship halls aren’t open to the public in general. If you want to see the interior of the buildings, come on either the 5th or the 15th of each month. The two dates are when the regular morning rituals/services are held in the worship halls.

How to Get to Shōfuku-ji

  • From JR Hakata Station (博多駅), it is around a 15-minute walk.
  • From Fukuoka City Subway’s Gion Station (祇園), it is around a 5-minute walk.

Explore Hakata With a Guided Tour or Hire a Photographer

If you prefer a guide to introduce you to the charms of Hakata, how about joining one of the below tours? You can also hire a photographer for a private photoshoot session!

Tip: Refer to HERE if you want to rent a Kimono when you are in Hakata!

Discover Other Amazing Destinations in Fukuoka City

Click the photo to find out more about where you can get this amazing view!

Wondering where else around Shōfuku-ji is worth your time? Check out our article on Fukuoka City!

In the article, we have included all sorts of attractions that may suit your interests. There is also information available on Fukuoka’s famous Yatai street stalls (=゚ω゚)ノ.

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