Photo By: jpellgen (@1179_jp)
Region
Chubu
Island
Honshu
Largest City
Nagano
Population
2,214,409

Zenkou-ji Temple

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.

zenkoji temple

Photo by: hocoroco Zenkoji Temple has many secrets.

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!

zenkoji pagoda

Photo by: soranyan Zenkou-ji pagoda in spring.

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.

If you’re traveling in Nagano Prefecture, a couple other attractions are Matsumoto Castle and the historical woodblock prints at the Japan Ukiyo-e Museum.

Discover the hidden gems of all 47 prefectures in Japan.

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Things To Know

Hours

Entrance to the Zenkou-ji History Museum, the Samon Gate and the underground passage is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

Fees

Visiting Zenkou-ji is free but entrance to the inner chamber as well as the underground passage and the history museum costs¥500. People can also access the inside of the Samon Gate for a beautiful view for an additional ¥500.

Special Event

Every six years, Zenkou-ji has a unique festival where a replica of the hibitsu statue can be viewed for a short period. This event attracts many people and will next be held in 2021.

How To Get There

Address

Motoyoshicho-491, Nagano, Nagano Prefecture 380-0851, Japan

By train

Nagano station is about 1 hour and 30 minutes from Tokyo Station via the Hokuriku-Shinkansen. From Nagano station, take the Nagano Dentetsu-Nagano line toward Suzaka three stops to Zenkojishita station. From there, exit the station and walk 12 minutes to the temple.

By foot

From Nagano station walk 30 minutes to Zenkou-ji. The streets are mostly flat and there is much to see along the main road leading to Zenkou-ji.

Where To Stay

Jizokan Matsuya Ryokan
  • Motoyoshi 484 Nagano-Shi, Nagano 380-0851
  • 9.1/10
  • 0.3 km
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Dot Hostel Nagano
  • Higashinomon Cho 379 Nagano-Shi, Nagano 380-0852
  • 8.5/10
  • 0.4 km
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Yamanokami Onsen
  • Hakoshimizu 3-23-50 Nagano-Shi, Nagano 380-0801
  • 5.5/10
  • 0.6 km
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1166 Backpackers
  • Nishimachi 1048 Nagano-Shi, Nagano 380-0842
  • 9.1/10
  • 0.7 km
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