Rosary Blessing & Morning Service At Zenko-ji Temple
The rosary blessing (called juzu choudai in Japanese) and morning ceremony (o-asaji) are two events held in the early, early morning at Zenko-ji Temple that are worth visiting Nagano City for.
The Juzu Choudai is the term for when the head-priestess and head-priest of the two Zenko-ji sects come from their temple and head to the main temple to partake in the morning service. Visitors line up all the way from to the main temple and kneel to receive a blessing. The head-priest touches his or her prayer beads (juzu) to the heads of those kneeling and thus confer their blessing. This blessing is supposed to bring you a step closer to heaven.
There are 4 chances in a day to receive the beaded blessing. The head-priest goes up first and is followed by the head-priestess 15 minutes later. As she enters the temple, he goes back to his temple and on the way back spreads more blessings around. She does the same 15 minutes later.
After the first rosary blessing, o-asaji begins. At o-asaji, monks chant sutras and the head-priest/priestess says his/her prayers and bless several objects. The morning service has remained unchanged for many centuries. You will get out of the temple with the feeling that you experienced something highly spiritual.
The start of the ritual depends on the time of the sunrise. If you were to see o-asaji in winter, you could get out of bed a lot later than if you were to go in summer. It is best to stay in a hotel in Nagano as more often than not the ceremonies start earlier than the trains start running.