Walk in darkness on a path to this “secret Buddha” and (maybe) find enlightenment.
Beyond the bustling shops, through the statuesque main gate and past the veil of fragrant incense, Zenkou-ji Temple is a major attraction in Nagano Prefecture.
Within this national treasure, carefully hidden from sight, an invaluable artifact awaits. The rare hibutsu (secret Buddha) is believed to be the first Buddha statue to have entered Japan. From generations of high priests to the Emperor himself, no one has looked at the hibutsu for centuries and that strict tradition continues even today.
The closest you can get to the hibutsu is under it through the passageway leading below the inner chamber. Within the same passageway visitors are challenged to find the hidden key to their salvation. As one would expect, finding enlightenment is not an easy task and those willing to attempt this should be mentally prepared for what awaits.
The tunnel becomes entirely devoid of light and the oppressive darkness is suffocating. Instantly losing your sense of sight and relying solely on touch to find the key, you become disoriented and the passage seems endless. During high traffic hours and weekends the passageway becomes humid as visitors steadily stack against one another and slowly inch through their journey. If this thought is frightening, be sure to visit early in the day!
Outside the main hall, Zenkou-ji has many other sights within its picturesque grounds. One of which is a beautiful pagoda behind the main hall which is a site in itself with the lush hydrangea flowers surrounding it in summer. This pagoda also houses the Zekou-ji History Museum where you can see a collection of elaborately carved Buddha and Bodhisattva statues, as well as an additional 100 statues of Buddha’s disciples.
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