Explore One of Japan’s Oldest & Most Important Buddhist Temples inc. Overnight ‘Shukubo’ Stays

Explore One of Japan’s Oldest & Most Important Buddhist Temples inc. Overnight ‘Shukubo’ Stays

Visitors to Japan will quickly take note of the many temples and shrines scattered throughout the country. Seemingly countless, even the smallest towns and villages are likely to have several temples or shrines with even more statues dotted throughout the landscape. Whether you are exploring the urban sprawl of the large cities or the tranquil surroundings of rural Japan, temples, shrines and statues are everywhere.

Japan does indeed have many temples, each with its own story and reason for existing. They key to appreciating each in its own right is understanding who it belongs to, why it is there, and what it is dedicated to. 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 (sometime in the 6th century from Korea), 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.

Regarded as one of Japan’s most open and welcoming temples, Zenko-ji is an ideal destination for any visitor wanting to enhance their understanding of Japanese Buddhism or simply wander through and enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the historic precinct. 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.

Zenko-ji temple in Nagano city

Though non-denominational, the temple is cared for by two denominations: the Jodo and Tendai Sects. With their own respective temples – the ‘Daihongan‘ and ‘Daikanjin‘ – preceding the Hondo, the historic precinct is home to many smaller temples with the ‘Niomon‘ (Guardian Gate) and ‘Sanmon‘ (Mountain Gate) marking the approach to the main temple along the ‘Omotesando‘ (Pilgrims Way).


Between the gates, the ‘Nakamise-dori’ (Inner Shopping Street) is lined with shops, restaurants, and cafes while traditional ‘shukubo’ (temple lodgings) are located before the Niomon and in the streets surrounding the temple precinct. The temple grounds are accessible at all hours including through the night however the temples themselves are open only in daylight hours – from around 1 hour before sunrise to 4PM in winter or 430PM in summer. Entry to most areas is free with certain areas – including the inner sanctuary of the Hondo and the Sanmon – costing JPY500 to enter.

Want to visit Zenko-ji on a group or private tour with the option of accommodation at a traditional ‘shukubo’ (temple lodging)? Feel free to contact us and let’s get planning together!