Temples & Shrines: Zenkoji, Nagano
Zenkoji Temple 善光寺
- Located in Nagano city, Nagano Prefecture.
- Non-sectarian Buddhist temple.
- Dates from 7th century.
- Receives 8 million visitors a year.
- Said to house Japan's earliest Buddhist image.
- Huge entrance gates.
- Short walk or bus from the station.
Zenkoji is Nagano city's most important sight and one of the most popular temples in Japan, especially among women, who have always been welcomed here.
The original temple dates from the 7th century and Zenkoji houses the Ikko-Sanzon Amida Nyorai, supposedly the first Buddhist image brought to Japan (from Korea in the 6th century).
A replica of the image is displayed every six years in the Gokaicho Festival, the last such ceremony was in 2009. The original image (an Amida triad) is kept behind a curtain and is never seen by the general public.
Zenkoji Temple, Nagano
Zenkoji has been destroyed by fire and rebuilt over the centuries a number of times and the present main hall (hondo) of the temple was built in 1707. The temple is approached through two impressive, wooden gates. Niomon (Deva Gate) houses two fierce, guardian dieties (deva) and the Sanmon Gate, which can be climbed (for a small admission fee) and holds five, wooden, Buddhist statues.
Zenkoji's is a non-sectarian temple and welcomes visitors from all faiths and creeds, Buddhist or otherwise. A high-priest and priestess also share the duties of the temple's ecumenical services. In an ancient ceremony, the high priest or priestess prays for the salvation of visitors every morning.
Underneath the main hall is a narrow, curving, pitch-black tunnel that symbolizes the slow and arduous path to enlightenment. Crouch through the darkness with your hand to the wall to aid you and you should discover a metal handle, which is the key to salvation. To enter the tunnel is 500 yen. Be warned it is a hot, long and frightening journey!
Free Admission to the temple grounds.
Tel: 026 234 3591
Take a public bus (100 yen) from bus stop #1 outside Nagano Station.