Yamanashi isn’t usually on the list of places first-time visitors to Japan flock to. However, if you want to learn about Buddhism in one of the Kanto region’s best-kept secrets, the small town of Minobusan is the perfect place to go. This mountainous hidden gem is an easy weekend trip from Tokyo.
A Long History of Spirituality
Minobusan has been a Buddhist enclave since the famed philosopher and Buddhist priest Nichiren found Kuon-ji temple in 1281. The temple is today the head temple of the Nichiren-Shu, the school of Buddhism he found and promoted. This temple held great importance to him, and his remains are still enshrined in a mausoleum on the temple grounds to this day.
The grounds are magnificent, with multiple buildings, a great belfry, and a five-story pagoda. Upon entering the temple grounds via the breathtaking grand San-Mon gate, there are 287 steep stone stairs that lead up to the temple. These are commonly known as the “steps of enlightenment” as they are said to represent the practices and steps one has to take to reach enlightenment.
The ‘steps of enlightenment’ at Kuon-Ji temple
Kuon-ji is comparable to any temple in the more famous Kyoto and is not as crowded. In springtime, visitors can see hundreds of pink cherry blossom trees from the temple grounds.
The main hall of Kuon-Ji temple
Ebisuya Guest House
If you would like to enjoy the best Minobusan has to offer, look no further than Ebisuya Guest House. This beautiful guest house is 90 years old. It has been lovingly restored and features a stylish combination of traditional aesthetics and modern comforts. Ebisuya is owned and operated by the charming Ms. Junko Higuchi, who also serves as Minobusan’s tourism ambassador.
Due to depopulation caused by a dwindling economy and younger residents moving to Tokyo in search of more opportunity, Ms. Higuchi explains that the town has suffered somewhat of a decline. The coronavirus pandemic, of course, has only exacerbated the problem. Ms. Higuchi works very hard to promote Minobusan as a tourist destination and revitalize the town. She has many plans for the future and would like to establish an onsen in the town, amongst other ambitions.
Ms. Higuchi works with her sons and other members of staff to run Ebisuya, as well as café Zencho situated next door. A short drive from Ebisuya, you can find Kakurinbo restaurant, also run by Ms. Higuchi. The menu is specially designed. It features fresh, high-quality, locally grown food that tastes distinctly homemade. You can also try the locally brewed Kakurinbo temple beer – highly recommended!
A delicious tomato soup at Kakurinbo restaurant
Accommodation is also available at Kakurinbo 宿坊 shukubo (traditional temple lodgings for pilgrims). Furthermore, Ms. Higuchi and her team will keep guests busy with a variety of activities. Guests can choose from participating in a traditional tea ceremony, bracelet making, sutra copying or simply enjoying the recently installed sauna in the Ebisuya garden. Ms. Higuchi’s passion for Minobusan and eye for detail in everything from food to décor make a visit something unforgettable. For more information, you can also have a look at the Ebisuya Facebook Page.
You can reach Minobusan by train via the Minobu line. From Tokyo station, you can take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen, and transfer at Mishima and finally Fuji station to reach the Minobu line. However, this route is relatively costly and time-consuming.
I recommend taking a highway bus or a Willer Express bus from a major station such as Tokyo or Shinjuku. You can easily book tickets online in English.
Looking for more hidden gems to explore? Find out more about Jimbocho Booktown or Gotokuji Temple.