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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.

Minakata Kumagusu: The Meiji Polymath Who Broke the MoldNakazawa Shin’ichi

Scientist, folklorist, environmentalist, philosopher . . . Minakata Kumagusu was a polymath whose brilliant, probing mind knew no boundaries. As Japan marks Minakata’s 150th birthday with symposiums and new publications, Nakazawa Shin’ichi, a polymath in his own right, offers his perspective on an intellectual giant who challenged the assumptions of Japanese society and Western science.

Meditation and Neuroscience: New Wave of Breakthroughs in Research on Meditative Practices

Zen, mindfulness, and meditation in general are believed to promote psychological and physical well-being. But why? An emerging generation of neuroscientists is fast unveiling the hidden workings of meditation.

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.

An Ancient Shintō Ritual with a New “Sense” of Cleanliness (Japan in Photos)

Customarily, visitors to Shintō shrines use a hishaku dipper to scoop water and ceremonially cleanse the hands and mouth before praying. But the four-century-old Maebashi Tōshōgū in Gunma Prefecture has simplified the process by trading its traditional temizuya, where worshippers conduct the cleansing ritual, for an updated version equipped with automatic sensors. This photo from April 20, 201…

Precipitous Prayers: Trail to National Treasure Nageiredō Reopens After Earthquake (Japan in Photos)

Ascetic monks pray at the Nageiredō in Tottori Prefecture on April 18, 2017. The steep trail leading to the precariously perched hall, part of the Sanbutsuji temple complex on Mount Mitoku, was recently reopened after incurring damage in a strong earthquake in October 2016. The hall is a national treasure and is thought to have been founded sometime in the twelfth century. (© Jiji.)  

Mystical Impressions: Views of Luck in Japan and AbroadEhab Ahmed Ebeid

Superstitions lurk in every culture. Whether people try to avoid opening an umbrella indoors, crossing paths with a black cat, spilling coffee, or clipping their nails after dark, their beliefs are positioned as mental guards against the malicious forces of the unseen. Western cultures attach a strong stigma to the number 13, although the roots of this aversion are hard to pin down. Some believ…

The Roots of Mindfulness: Hakuin Ekaku and the Art of Zen

Zen Buddhism has had a profound impact on Japanese society and culture. Today the influence of Zen “mindfulness” is felt throughout the world. In this article we look at the human side of the great Zen masters of the past and the ways in which Zen continues to be relevant to people in contemporary society.

Shintō’s Sacred Forests and Japanese EnvironmentalismToya Manabu

Toya Manabu explores the historical and spiritual connections between Shintō shrines, the sacred forests that surround them, and environmentalism in Japan.

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.

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