Combine Your Visit to Zenko-ji with a Cultural Experience
Nagano’s near-1400 year old Zenko-ji Temple is in every way the heart of the city. Having grown-out from the temple precinct, Nagano is and remains a temple town that maintains a strong connection with traditional crafts and practices.
Located only minutes walk from the temple entrance on the city’s original thoroughfare – the ‘Omotesando’ (the Pilgrim’s Way) – the Monzen (or Patio Daimon) district retains its historic character with the preservation of a number of traditional buildings. Known as ‘kura’ in Japanese, these beautiful old warehouses – once the storehouses of silk and other valuable commodities – have been converted for use as craft workshops and space dedicated to traditional practices, food and more.
Being so close to the temple, combining your visit a morning or afternoon of cultural activities in Monzen is an ideal way to spend a day in Nagano. Established in 642, Zenko-ji is one of the oldest, largest and most important Buddhist temples in Japan. Built in dedication to the first known Buddhist statue to be brought to Japan, Zenko-ji predates the establishment of the many specific schools of Buddhism that now account for the numerous temples found throughout the country. For that reason, it is said to belong to no-one or more invitingly, Zenko-ji belongs to everyone. It is a non-denominational temple that welcomes Buddhists of any denomination along with visitors of any background or faith.
Many temples and shrines can be found surrounding the ‘Hondo‘ (Main Hall) – a registered National Treasure and repository of the ‘Hibustu‘ (Secret Buddha) statue. Now hidden from human eyes, the statue is surrounded by an air of mystery, unseen since 1720 and never to be seen again.
From the temple, wandering back along the Omotesando to the Monzen/Patio Daimon precinct takes only minutes. Once there you will discover an picturesque enclave of traditional buildings blended in with modern restaurants, small stores, and craft workshops – the perfect place to extend your visit in Nagano’s historic heart.