Zenkoji Temple (善光寺) is the main attraction of the city of Nagano. When you walk out of Nagano’s train station, you enter a 1.5-kilometer street lined with stores that leads to this beautiful large wooden shrine. And once you arrive at Zenkoji Temple, you can look for the key to paradise! The key to paradise? Who wouldn’t want that? Let’s go to the Zenkoji Temple…
Hostel: In Nagano I stayed at Guesthouse Aun. This guesthouse cost me 16 euros for a bunkbed and is located 5 minutes from the Nagano train station. The room I found quite small for 4 people, but it did include a kitchen. And around the corner is a supermarket! From guesthouse Aun it is a 25 minute walk to the Zenkoji temple via the long main street Chuo-Dori.
The oldest Buddha statue of Japan?
According to legend, Zenkoji Temple is in possession of the oldest Buddha statue in Japan. In 642 AD, Yoshimitsu Honda worshipped a statue called Sengoku Denrai at this site. It is believed that this statue was brought from Korea to Japan in the sixth century.
However, few have ever seen this statue. It is said to be kept in a secret place somewhere in the temple. Every 6 to 7 years the Gokaicho ceremony takes place where a copy of the statue is shown. Right, a copy! The next ceremony will take place in 2022. Write that down on your agenda!
Must read: Just like the Zenkoji Temple, an old Buddha statue also played a leading role at the Sensoji Temple in Tokyo. Read more about this in the article Sensoji Temple Tokyo? 5 historical facts you should know!
Sightseeing: The Niomon and Sanmon Gates
A walk to Zenkoji Temple begins with Nagano’s main street, the Chuo-Dori. This street is about 2 kilometers long and takes you from the train station past various stores and restaurants. It is pleasantly busy and an ideal place to get a bite to eat in the evening.
And if you keep walking straight ahead you will see the Niomon Gate appear. At many temples in Japan you will find such a gate, which is guarded by two Nio, protectors of Buddhism. Both statues were destroyed by a fire in 1918 and later rebuilt.
After the Niomon gate you come to the Sanmon gate. When it comes to cultural heritage, this is a very important gate in Japan. It was built in 1750 and possesses 5 wooden Buddha statues. It is also possible to climb this gate (via the stairs please!) and have a view of the main temple building.
What makes the Zenkoji Temple so popular?
Zenkoji Temple is extremely popular. First, this shrine is made entirely of wood, making it one of the largest wooden buildings in Japan. And second, millions of people visit the complex every year because everyone is welcome. Male, female, transgender, transsexual, forest nymph or alien… It doesn’t matter. Okay, maybe a bit of an exaggeration. But Zenkoji Temple does not belong to any particular movement within Buddhism, making it accessible to all.
The imposing wooden structure of the prayer hall dates back to 1707. Back then, Nagano was not a big city at all. In fact, it started with the Zenkoji Temple and the city was built around it. This way of doing things is very unusual in Japan. Usually a city is created by building a castle and the rest comes later. But Nagano came into being because of the Zenkoji Temple.
Zenkoji Temple, key to paradise?
It is also possible to visit the prayer hall. For this you need to buy an admission ticket, because only then can you visit the key to paradise. And that is a special experience.
It goes as follows. In the temple there is an underground corridor, but it is not suitable for claustrophobic people. The corridor is very dark and somewhere is the key to paradise. If you do find this key it will bring you happiness after death. Should you not find the key and hit something else, you will get at most a black eye. Once out of the hallway, it will bring relief to the mind.
Tip: Around the Zenkoji Temple are a number of hills with viewpoints. These are also indicated on various signs around town. It’s a good way to take some great photos of the city of Nagano and the surrounding area.
Finally, a ticket for temple admission is also valid for the Historical Museum. This museum looks like a pagoda and is located behind the main building of the Zenkoji Temple.
Practical information abou the Zenkoji Temple in Nagano?
How to get to the Zenkoji Temple?
From the train station of Nagano it is a 30 minute walk to the entrance of the Zenkoji Temple. By bus from the train station only 10 minutes. Another option is to go to Nagado Nagano train station. From there it is a 5 to 10 minute walk to the sanctuary.
Access to the main building and the key to paradise costs 500 yen. The ticket includes the Zenkoji Historical Museum. It is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., as is the Sanomon Gate. The Zenkoji Temple is open from 6am to 4.30pm.
And what is your opinion of the Zenkoji Temple and the key to paradise? Feel free to leave a message below!