Shinshū Zenkōji Temple: A Must-Visit Destination in Nagano

Nagano, Japan is home to a rich cultural heritage, including the beautiful and historic Zenkōji Temple 善光寺. This ancient temple, which dates back to the 7th century, is one of the oldest and most important Buddhist temples in Japan, attracting millions of visitors from all over the world each year.

Zenkōji, open to everyone 💕

The temple is located in the heart of Nagano city and is dedicated to the teachings of Buddhism. It is also famous for being the first temple in Japan to openly welcome both Japanese and foreign travelers.

zenkoji entrance

Zenkōji Temple was founded approximately 1,400 years ago, before the separation of Buddhist sects, and this temple does not belong to any religious sect. Zenkōji Temple has long been widely worshipped because it is open to all, without any religious sectarian barriers. Its popularity is so great that it was said in the Edo period (1603-1867), “Once in a lifetime, you must make a pilgrimage to Zenkōji Temple.

Enjoyable Temple Approach 🚶

zenkoji temple approach

Zenkoji temple approach 善光寺参道

The entrance to the temple is about 2 km from Nagano Station and it takes about 25 minutes to walk. Visitors can enjoy exploring the many small shops, cafes and stalls that line the approach to the temple, which offer a wide variety of traditional Japanese goods and souvenirs. In addition, there are several museums and exhibitions on the temple grounds, including an exhibition of Buddhist art and artifacts.

zenkoji temple approach

Zenkoji temple approach 善光寺参道

Zenkōji, the Immortal Temple 😇

Throughout its long history, Zenkōji Temple has suffered numerous fires. Surprisingly, however, this temple was rebuilt after each of the eleven fires. Each time Zenkōji suffered a fire, the main building of the temple grew larger. This is even referred to as “Zenkōji’s prospering after fires”. The support of the general public was also a major factor in the repeated rebuilding of the temple. The current main hall was completed in 1707, and most of the reconstruction was done with funds raised from the general public.

zenkoji main temple

Zenkoji Honden 本殿, the main temple building

The Absolute Secret Buddha 📿

The main hall of Zenkōji Temple is a national treasure of Japan, and houses the principal image of the temple, a statue of the Amitabha Amitabha (bodhisattva). This statue is considered to be one of the oldest and most important cultural properties in Japan and is said to have been brought to Japan from India over 1,400 years ago.

According to the Zenkōji Engi (The Origin of Zenkoji Temple), Zenkōji Nyorai went into hiding at the sign of his own oracle about 100 years after his arrival in Japan, about 10 years after he was brought to this Shinshu Zenkōji.

Since then, he has not been seen even during the once-every-seven-years Gokaichō (unveiling), and is enshrined in the back of Zenkōji main hall. The image displayed at Gokaichō period is called Maedachi Honzon, and is a replica of the Gohonzon. The Zenkoji Honsonzon is an absolute secret and has never been seen by visitors or even Zenkoji priests. In other words, no one has ever seen it before.

It is said that the Maedachi Honzon was created in the early Kamakura period (1185-1333). Mae-dachi-honzon is a substitute for the Shinshu Zenkōji Gohonzon (the principal image), and is considered to be a faithful copy of the Gohonzon. This can be seen once every seven years during the Gohonzon opening ceremony.

Beautiful Temple Precinct ✨

Niomon gate 仁王門

Aside from its religious significance, Zenkōji Temple is also known for its beautiful architecture and peaceful surroundings. The temple grounds are surrounded by lush greenery and tranquil gardens, which provide the perfect backdrop for visitors seeking peace and serenity.

zenkoji jizo

Zenkōji welcomes you 🤗

Whether you are a religious pilgrim or simply a curious traveler, Zenkōji Temple is a must-visit destination in Nagano. With its rich history, stunning architecture, and peaceful surroundings, it offers a unique and unforgettable experience for all visitors.

Ema 絵馬 in Zenkoji

Zenkōji Temple is a true gem in the heart of Nagano, offering visitors a chance to step back in time and immerse themselves in the rich cultural heritage of Japan. Whether you are seeking spiritual enlightenment or just a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, this magnificent temple is sure to leave a lasting impression.

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