May 4, 2020

Hokokuji - The Green Cathedral

Today is Midori no Hi or Greenery Day in Japan. A National Holiday to give thanks to nature and the bounty that it gives us. Nature and religion go hand in hand in Japan. Shintoism in its purest form is the worship of nature and the same concept has been absorbed by Buddhism in Japan as well. All shrines and temples here are surrounded by some form of natural beauty - be it a pond, bamboo groves, or trees. The best of autumn leaves, cherry blossoms, wisterias, or any other seasonal flowers of Japan are always found blooming in shrines and temple Gardens.
Kamakura – the temple town near Tokyo is a place I visit very often. I love walking up and down its narrow winding lanes and visiting the numerous Buddhist temples. Each temple right from the temple of the Great Buddha to the smallest one has something unique to offer. My favorite is the Hokokuji Temple.
 A Zen temple, Hokokuji is the family temple of the Ashikaga clan and very well known for its bamboo grove. Infact some people find the bamboo grove here more beautiful than the famous Arashimaya bamboo grove in Kyoto. 
You enter the temple through a gate and walk through a small and immaculate garden that has paths paved of small white pebbles winding through the green grass. A few Bonsai like trees are scattered here and there. The whole appearance is of a Zen-like state created in a small space.

The steps that lead up to the temple look ancient and don’t seem to be man-made. It’s as if nature crafted them out of stones and the roots of the trees and then covered them with a carpet of moss.

The main temple has the statue of Shakyamuni Buddha, sculpted by the famous Buddhist sculptor, Takuma Hogen. Frankly, it is not a very awe-inspiring building.
But then the true magic of Hokokuji lies behind the temple, in its bamboo grove.
The grove when you come near it does not seem to be anything special. Till you enter it. It has about 2000 bamboos and is very dense. As soon as you go inside, all sounds fade away, except the occasional rustle of the leaves. The rays of the sun filter through the tall bamboos as if from a very great height and fill the grove with an almost mystical and surreal light. You feel as if you are walking through a great cool, green cathedral. As you slowly walk through the grove, your chaotic mind is stilled and spirits refreshed.

One of the main reason temples, especially Zen temples are surrounded by woods is so that the monks or even visitors are able to calm their senses just by walking through the temple grounds.

Dotted here and there, between the bamboos and under other trees, covered completely with moss are small statues of Buddhist gods. This temple is nothing but greenery and nature in different forms and shades.

A traditional Japanese tea house is nestled deep within the bamboo grove. You can sit there with your bowl of green tea and simply gaze out at the beauty around you. 

The tea house is a popular place, full of people but you don't hear much conversation. Everyone is content to take in the serene surroundings and just be. 
The small garden, the bamboo grove even the way the tea is presented all speak about Japan’s love for nature and aesthetics. 

I find myself veering away from the more famous and crowded temples and going back to temples like Hokokuji again and again. For me, God exists not inside great buildings but in nature. Being in nature is how I commune with God.

Note-Those of you who follow me on Facebook know that I do a Shrine of the Month post there. Each month, I will be doing that post on the blog now. 


  1. Beautifully written. Felt peaceful just by reading it :)

  2. So lovely, this post and all that it describes.

  3. Thank you so much for reading. It is a lovely place !

  4. ks for sharing the article, and more importantly, your personal experience mindfully using our emotions as data about our inner state and knowing when it’s better to de-escalate by taking a time out are great tools. Appreciate you reading and sharing your story since I can certainly relate and I think others can to



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