Nagano City is home to one of Japan’s oldest and most important Buddhist temples, Zenko-ji. Located within an easy 20 minute walk from JR Nagano Station, the temple is one of the most popular attractions in all of Nagano Prefecture. No visit to Nagano is complete without visiting Zenko-ji and delving into the stories and mystery of its near-1400 year history.
The original temple was founded in 642AD, in dedication to the first known Buddhist statue to be brought to Japan from Korea. From that time onwards, Zenko-ji has held a central position in the history and development of Nagano City, and a significant place within Japanese Buddhism.
Zenko-ji is more than an attraction. It is a vibrant spiritual center which welcomes all visitors to enjoy the temple and experience the practices and rituals that underpin its teachings. In addition to the numerous amulets, prayer books, and icons that are available at the temple, the following practices can be experienced at Zenko-ji:
‘Shakyo’ Meditation (Brush Meditation)
The teachings of the Buddha have been passed down to us in the form of written ‘sutras’ or religious scripture. By tracing the sutras in a form of calligraphy called ‘shakyo’, Japanese believe the words flow through you; and through the silence and awareness this studied practice, the body and mind harmonize together in a form of meditation.
You can experience this practice at Zenko-ji, instructed by one of the resident Buddhist monks.
Price: 500 yen / 30 minutes
‘Zazen’ Meditation (Seated Meditation)
Meditation is one the primary Buddhist practices and one which brings great peace and joy to both practicing Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. ‘Zazen’ or ‘Seat Meditation’ focuses practitioners on their posture, breathing and mindfulness. In doing so the body and mind find unity and in the quiet stillness of the practice, we become present in the moment, free of distraction, and open to the true nature of existence.
Whether you are experienced in the practice of meditation or trying it for the first time, undertaking ‘zazen’ guided by a monk at one of Japan’s most important temples, will leave an indelible mark on you and your understanding of Buddhist culture.
Price: 1000 yen / 30 minutes (minimum of 3 people)
‘Goma’ Prayer (Fire Ceremony)
Buddhists belief that we must subjugate and ultimately rid ourselves of worldly desires in order to see the true nature of existence. In order to guide and support us in that goal, qualified monks perform ‘Goma’ Prayer or ‘Fire Ceremony’ in which wooden prayer sticks are burned in a consecrated flame in an act that is believed to be spiritually and psychologically cleansing for participants.
The eradication of negative energies, detrimental thoughts, and other impediments, aids us on our journey toward enlightenment and transmutes your visit to Zenko-ji into a personal and cathartic experience.
Price: 3000 yen / 30 minutes
If you wish to make a reservation for any of these activities, please contact the temple by phone on 026 243 4236 (between 8:30～14:30) or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zenko-ji Temple is easily accessible from JR Nagano Station. At the temple, all three activities are conducted at the Daikanjin or Tendai Sect compound. At the temple, you will see the compound on your left (while walking toward the main temple), shortly prior to the temple’s water/cleansing station on your right. The compound is accessible over a distinctive red-arched bridge therefore it is easy to spot. Once over the bridge and inside the compound you need to go to your left and someone will assist you.
While in Nagano City many visitors choose Hotel Kokusai 21 as their preferred accommodation. Conveniently located in central Nagano – a short walk from the temple precinct or JR Nagano Station – Kokusai 21 combines convenience with the comfort of an international hotel. English-speaking staff will ensure that your stay is effortless and easy, with a full range of facilities including 6 different restaurants serving both Japanese and foreign cuisine and free shuttle service to and from the station.
The hotel’s teppanyaki restaurant affords guests the delight of one of Japan’s signature cuisines, enjoyed against the backdrop of a panoramic view of the city. Hotel Kokusai 21 also offers a range of cultural experiences in-house including ‘sadou’ (tea ceremony) and ‘ikebana’ (flower arrangement), complementing a visit to Zenko-ji with a perfect balance of traditional Japanese practices.
Hotel Kokusai 21 is one of Nagano’s premier hotels and with many years of experience welcoming international guests and our recommendation when planning your visit to the city and its most famous destination, Zenko-ji Temple.