Eihei Dogen (1200-1253) became a Tendai monk at the age of 13. For over a decade Dogen studied multiple schools of Buddhism under leading masters of his day; initially with Rinzai Masters Eisai and Myozen in Japan, and later with Ch’an Master Ju-Ching in China.
Upon his return to Japan in 1228, Dogen introduced Sōtō Zen and founded a Sōtō Zen community. In 1244 he founded the first Sōtō Zen monastery in Japan, located deep in the mountains northeast of Kyoto. Two years later he named the monastery Eiheiji (āy-hāy-jēē).
Taiso Keizan (1268-1325) further enhanced Sōtō Zen by significantly increased its accessibility and popularity with lay people. in 1321, Keizan Zenji established Sojiji (sō-jēē-ēē) Temple in present-day Kanagawa Prefecture.
Today, Eiheiji and Sojiji still serve as the head temples for the Sōtō Zen school of Buddhism. Zenshuji is the North American headquarters of Sōtō Zen, under the guidance of Sotoshu Shumucho (the world headquarters of Sōtō Zen in Japan) and is a direct branch of Eiheiji and Sojiji.
Established in 1922, Zenshuji Sōtō Mission was the first Sōtō Zen Buddhist temple in North America and was founded by Reverend Hosen Isobe to serve the growing Japanese-American community of Los Angeles.
During World War II, all Japanese on the West Coast of the United States were sent to detention camps and Zenshuji was temporarily closed. Returning from a detention camp in May 1945, Bishop Daito Suzuki worked to restore Zenshuji. During this time, the temple served as a temporary shelter for members coming home from the camps.
The popularity of Zen Buddhism boomed in America during the 1950s and 1960s. Many influential figures in American Zen have been affiliated with Zenshuji. Rev. Taizan Maezumi (1931-1995) was a priest at Zenshuji from 1956 to 1966. Rev. Maezumi later established Zen Center Los Angeles in 1967 and wrote numerous books on Zen. Rev. Dainin Katagiri (1928-1990) served as a priest at Zenshuji from 1963 to 1964 before moving to San Francisco where he assisted Rev. Shunryu Suzuki at Sokoji Temple and Zen Center San Francisco. Rev. Katagiri went on to become the first Abbot of the Minnesota Zen Center in 1972.