Its founder was Eihei Dōgen who brought Sōtō Zen from China to Japan during the 13th century. The ashes of Dōgen and a memorial to him are in the Joyoden (the Founder's hall) at Eihei-ji. William Bodiford of UCLA writes that, "The rural monastery Eiheiji in particular aggrandized Dōgen to bolster its own authority vis-à-vis its institutional rivals within the Sōtō denomination."
Eihei-ji is a training monastery with more than two hundred monks and nuns in residence. As of 2003, Eihei-ji had 800,000 visitors per year, less than half the number of tourists who came ten years before. Visitors with Zen experience may participate after making prior arrangements and all visitors are treated as religious trainees.
In keeping with Zen's Mahayana tradition, the iconography in various buildings is an array of potential confusion for newcomers: at the Sanmon are four kings standing guard named Shitenno; the Buddha hall's main altar has three statues of Buddhas past, present and future; the Hatto displays Kannon the bodhisattva of compassion, and four white lions (called the a-un no shishi); the Yokusitsu has Baddabara; the Sanshokaku has a statue of Hotei; and the Tosu displays Ucchusma.