When you visit Zenkoji-temple, the third largest wooden temple in Japan and one of the most historical temples since the Buddhism arrival in the 7th century, you will pass through the main pilgrimage street, called Nakamise street, with various souvenir shops on both sides. Looking around the street at various types Japanese products can be quite fun, yet what they really are is not well-known for many tourists from abroad.
With the vast variety of souvenirs available we would like to make it a bit more easy on you by introducing you to some of the interesting items, with their cultural context, so you can understand them better, and hopefully help you make a choice for a good souvenir to bring back home.
1.Japanese Buddhism Incense
Buddhist incense would be one of the popular products among those who like aroma, meditation, or any relaxing fragrance. The Buddhist incense is named “Osenko” in Japanese, literally meaning “line flagrance” seeing as how the smoke comes out into air in a line. It is made of dried Machilus tree powder mixed with powder from fragrant wood and some perfume. Zenko-ji temple has many kinds, from classic aroma to more western style like lavender which you can enjoy at home when to relax. Other than the actual incense sticks, you probably need an incense holder specifically made for the Buddhism style sticks. To make the sticks burn to the bottom smoothly, you require a proper holder. If you lie it down on a tray, it wouldn’t burn well and stops halfway. So, we suggest you to get proper holder at Zenko-ji shopping street, to which you can put a stick to a hole so it stands on a plate.
Maneki Neko, meaning “Beckoning Cat”, is considered is a symbol of prosperous business as its hand is to call people and/or money. To put it precisely, the one which is beckoning with the right hand is to gather “money/business”, while the one beckoning with the left hand is to call for “people”. In Japan, business owners or store managers put this cat at the cashier on display to wish for successful business.
The largest Maneki Neko in Japan, is the one at Tokoname-City, in Aichi Prefecture, located nearby the Centrair Airport. When the new shopping mall was launched in December 2015, the company put the huge cat statue with the height of 6.5 meters for their wish!
Omamori, which can be translated in various ways as amulet, charm, or talisman, and is widely popular among Japanese as typical souvenir from temple/shrine. Each Omamori has its own meaning like safe driving, success in study, passing exam, good love, family happiness, and simply bringing good luck. You either keep it with you or give to your loved ones to protect them from bad things, or wish for good things to happen. The sack is firmly tightened with a string and you cannot see the inside. What’s inside? It is believed that some existence with superstitious power is kept inside, so if you open it up, it’s said the charm loses its effect.
Omamori can be good souvenir to give for your family and friends or whoever you want to take care of or wish for their happiness! Be careful though, if you keep a charm for longer than a year, it is said to bring bad luck, so make sure to come back to Japan once more and hand it in at a temple!
Oyaki is a Nagano’s local specialty which you will not find in the other parts of Japan. The price is quite reasonable, not more than 200 yen, so why not give it a try while you are in Nagano! Oyaki is made of wheat and buckwheat flour, mixed with water and kneaded into a round shaped filled with various ingredients that add wonderful flavors. The ingredients vary depending on the region in Nagano, but the stores at Zenko-ji area have mostly pickled vegetables (nozawana, which is not a sour pickle), pumpkin, red bean paste, mushroom, and radish. Most have a savory taste to them, however the red bean paste is quite sweet. They are cooked in a wood steaming box, and you can try the one just out of the box! Though the shop in the photo also gives a little bit of a hot plate frying to them, which adds great texture!
5.Shichimi spice mix
Lastly, Shichimi spice mix, which is a seven spice blend, is one of the most famous souvenirs in the Zenko-ji area. This attributes to the long history of the pepper store, named “Yawataya Isogoro,” which was founded more than 270 years ago when Japan was still in the Edo period. Each of the seven spices, containing typical red pepper, ginger, sesame, mixed with four other spices are of Japanese origin, and is carefully blended to create the best mixture of flavor and spices. Shichimi is widely used in the world to add some extra kick to various kinds of dishes, such as soup, salad, and curry. They also have a variety of spiced snacks and ground peppers with different levels of spiciness, with the highest being Bird Eye for those who can handle a bit of heat. The headquarter of the store is located right before Zenkoji pilgrimage path on the right hand side, at 83 Daimoncho Nagano-city, Nagano.
Hope this information will help you choose the best souvenirs at Zenko-ji temple!
If you would like to have a chance to actually visit Zenko-ji temple and stroll around the souvenir street, we have a fully guided one-day tour for Zenkoji-temple and the Snow Monkey Park!
For more details for tour schedule/prices, please visit OUR TOUR WEBSITE !!