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Saving Edo from War: The Political Insights of Yamaoka TesshūDemachi Yuzuru

The Zen temple Zenshōan in the Yanaka district of Tokyo has long been a place of reflection for the political elite, including several prime ministers. The second installment of this two-part series looks at the role its founder Yamaoka Tesshū played in ensuring the peaceful handover of Edo Castle to imperial troops in the spring of 1868, when the nation was locked in a civil war.

Zen and Politics: The Counsel of Yamamoto GenpōDemachi Yuzuru

Located in Tokyo’s Yanaka district, Zenshōan is a Zen temple that has often been a sanctuary of reflection and meditation for some of Japan’s most influential figures, including several prime ministers. The temple’s role as a place of contemplation for the powerful can be traced to the enlightened samurai Yamaoka Tesshū and the Zen priest Yamamoto Genpō. The first installment of this two-part series looks at Genpō’s role as an adviser to several important political leaders during the wartime and postwar periods.

Steve Jobs and the Rediscovery of Zen

Coming of age at a time when the counterculture was embracing Eastern mysticism, Steve Jobs ended up as a lifelong practitioner of Zen meditation. Through the lens of Jobs’s amazing life, career, and posthumous impact, we examine the evolution of Zen-style meditation from a spiritual pursuit into a practical health-maintenance tool.

Nippon Kōdō: Bringing Japan’s Incense Traditions to the WorldKikuchi Masanori

Incense arrived in Japan together with Buddhism in the sixth century. The first professional incense masters were working in the sixteenth century, and incense in Japan has followed a distinctive path from religious ceremonies to connoisseurship and simple enjoyment. Today the country’s biggest incense maker is using an array of new services to increase its international appeal and ensure a brighter, more global future for Japanese incense.

Japan’s Evolving Funeral Business

Demographic aging and other social transformation under way in Japan are occasioning changes in funeral practices. People are increasingly opting for smaller funerals and for greater personalization of services. Also on the increase is the number of uncared-for graves. Responses to Japan’s funerary issues include new options such as space burial, where for a fee a portion of a loved one’s ashes…

“Zazen” (Seated Meditation) Workshops

There are many workshops available in Japan teaching zazen, the traditional Zen form of meditation.

“Hatsumōde”: Crowds Gather for the New Year’s First PrayersNippon.com Staff

Two things that could be said to characterize holidays in Japan are crowds and queues. Be it the snaking, slow-moving lines for the most popular Disneyland attractions during the summer break, or the multitudes that throng every park during the spring hanami season, expect to see people, and lots of them. New Year’s Day is no exception. In contrast to the ghost-town tone of many cities in other p…

The Spiritual Pull of Shikoku’s “Henro” Pilgrimage

The henro pilgrimage route on the island of Shikoku is celebrating its 1,200-year anniversary in 2014. Today people from all over Japan and the rest of the world are walking the circuit of 88 temples that spans the island’s four prefectures. This article looks at the history and charms of the ancient route.

Mountains, Mummies, and Modern Art: Ascetic Practice in Yamagata PrefectureDavid McMahon

For over a thousand years, Yamagata Prefecture, on the Sea of Japan side of the northern Tōhoku region, has drawn pilgrims and mystics to its mountains. As the native Shintō faith intertwined with imported Buddhism, Yamagata became the site for scores of shrines and temples, some of which remain to the present day. The holiest of all the sites in the region are the three sacred mountains of Dew…

Communing with the Dead on Japan’s Terrible MountainJames Singleton

Visitors to Osorezan, a sleeping volcano in the northern prefecture of Aomori, notice the pungent odor of sulfur well before they arrive at the grounds of the temple Bodaiji. I discovered this years ago while walking through the virgin forest that shrouds the enormous crater where the temple is located. Those accustomed to hot springs in Japan might associate the odor with relaxing dips in geother…

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