TOURS
Zenkoji Experience Tour inc. Overnight 'Shukubo' (Temple Lodging) Stay

Zenkoji Experience Tour inc. Overnight 'Shukubo' (Temple Lodging) Stay

Period

All Year Round

Time

12:15-16:00

Meeting Place

Nagano Station

Price

Adult (13+)29,800 JPY
Child (6 - 12)24,800JPY

Zenkoji Experience Tour inc. Overnight 'Shukubo' (Temple Lodging) Stay

Designed to provide guests with an intimate yet entertaining understanding of Nagano’s near-1,400 year-old Zenko-ji temple, this half-day group tour combines an in-depth guided experience at the temple including a private ‘goma’ prayer fire ceremony and an exploration of the region’s food culture and renowned ‘sake’ with an overnight stay at a traditional ‘shukubo’ (temple lodging).

Highlights

  • Enjoy an overnight stay at a historic ‘shukubo’ (temple lodging) inside Nagano’s near-1,400 year-old Zenko-ji complex, including traditional vegetarian dinner and breakfast.
  • Learn the history of the temple along with its centrality to the story of Nagano and Japanese Buddhist beliefs with a private guided walking tour of Zenko-ji including a private ‘goma’ prayer fire ceremony.
  • Indulge in Nagano’s traditional vegetarian food culture including its famous ‘oyaki’ dumplings, ‘shichimi’ seven spice, and award-winning ‘sake.’
  • All guided by a locally-based, English-speaking guide.

Want to join this tour from Tokyo? It’s easy to do! Scroll to the bottom for our FAQs including train services that you can use to join the tour!

Description

The tour begins at Nagano Station at 12:15, where your guide will greet you and begin your pilgrimage walk along the ‘Omotesando’ – the historic main road of Nagano – toward your ultimate goal of Zenko-ji, first stopping at the small, but beautiful temple of Saiko-ji. Dedicated to Jurojin – one of Japan’s ‘shichifukujin’ or ‘7 Lucky Gods’ – Saiko-ji is the ideal place to begin your exploration of Nagano, a temple town known for its traditional food culture and the longevity it affords. Indeed, Jurojin is associated with long life and will point you toward your next stop and first tasty treat of the tour – ‘oyaki’.

‘Oyaki’ dumplings are made from fermented buckwheat dough and rice powder, filled with all manner of vegetables, fruit, or ‘anko’ bean paste. Simple, healthy and tasty, they are baked on an iron pan over a raised fire, an experience you’ll enjoy for yourself as they are baked for you before enjoying them as a simple lunch. From there you head to just outside the temple complex, stopping at Yawataya Isogoro. Dating back to the mid-18th century and Japan’s celebrated ‘Edo Period’, traders sold local spices outside the temple gate – where the shop stands today. Combining locally-produced capsicum, sesame, hemp seed, shiso, Japanese pepper, mandarin peel, and ginger, the ‘shichimi’ or ‘7 Spice’ is considered a signature specialty of Nagano and Zenko-ji, an image of which adorns the distinctive cans – which you will be provided as a gift before leaving the store.

Moving into the Zenko-ji complex, your guide will lead you to your ‘shukubo,’ where you will leave your luggage before partaking in a memorable tour of the temple. A place of myth and legend, Zenko-ji is one of Japan’s most ancient and significant Buddhist temples. Your guide will reveal its storied history and secrets, while also explaining the role of Buddhism in Japan in an enjoyable and engaging way as you head toward the main temple hall – a registered National Treasure and third largest temple in Japan. Your temple tour begins with a private ‘goma’ prayer fire ceremony. While usually being conducted by a resident monk on your behalf, our tour allows you to step into the sacred sanctum and perform the ritual yourself. The burning of prayers in the sacred flame imbues the experience with a deep spirituality and is often found to rid participants of their immediate, worldly concerns. Whether you are a practicing Buddhist or seeking a memorable and meaningful experience while in Japan, ‘goma’ prayer will leave a deep and lasting impression on you.

zenkoji-temple-goma

Walking a short distance from the temple, you’ll head to nearby Yoshinoya – Nagano City’s oldest and an award-winning ‘sake’ and ‘miso’ brewery. You’ll be guided through a tasting of some of the region’s best ‘sake’ with the chance to also sample Yoshinoya’s ‘miso’, ‘tsukemono’ (pickled vegetables) and other tasty seasonal treats. Anything you try is available for purchase should you wish to indulge, but don’t feel any pressure to do so. We just want you to enjoy your time in Nagano and walk away entertained, well-fed and fulfilled by its traditional food and sake.

Your Zenko-ji walking tour ends at your accommodation, where your guide will help you check-in, explain how to use the facilities, and then leave you to enjoy the tranquil and unique experience of your ‘shukubo’ (temple lodging) stay.

What is a ‘shukubo’?

A ‘shukubo’ is basically a ‘ryokan’, a traditional guesthouse providing lodging to visitors to nearby or within temple and shrine complexes. In the past, they provided accommodation to people on pilgrimages, a function they still serve today. However, you don’t need to be a devotee of any particular faith or be on pilgrimage yourself to enjoy staying at one. Offering traditional comforts, tranquility, and a vegetarian menu, these ‘shukubo’ are conveniently located in the heart of the temple complex. They offer rooms featuring traditional aspects of Japanese culture: on-floor ‘futon’ bedding, ‘tatami’ floor matting, and low furniture. Rooms are simple, but comfortable and serene with shared bathing facilities – however you can arrange a time to use the shower/bath privately.

In line with Buddhist practices, these ‘shukubo’ serve a traditional vegetarian dinner (~18:00) and breakfast menu (~07:30) with alcohol available (at an additional cost). Following your dinner you can explore the temple complex at night – offering uniquely beautiful photography opportunities. As your ‘shukubo’ is one of the 39 sacred temples within Zenko-ji’s grounds, it abides by temple practices and the entrance gates will close at 21:00. If you so choose, early the following morning the ‘shukubo’ staff can guide you to the daily ‘O-Asaji’ dawn service at the temple’s main hall to put a spiritual bookend on your temple lodging ‘shukubo’ experience!

ITINERARY

12:15Meetup with your guide inside Nagano Station - they will be waiting for you in front of the large Information Board directly across the Shinkansen / 'Bullet Train' ticket gates - and walk toward Zenko-ji Temple, stopping at the smaller Saiko-ji Temple along the way and onto lunch.
12:55Enjoy a simple lunch of 'oyaki' at Ogawa-no-sho followed by a stop at Yawataya Isogoro, Nagano's famous '7 Spice' store.
13:30Drop-off your luggage at the 'shukubo' and begin heading toward the site of your private 'goma' prayer fire ceremony.
13:45Experience a private 'goma' prayer fire ceremony, performing the ritual yourself, inside the Daikanjin temple complex within Zenko-ji. Afterward you will begin your detailed guided tour of Zenko-ji with (time-permitting), free time to also explore the temple grounds for yourself.
15:30Enjoy a guided 'sake' tasting experience at nearby Yoshinoya - one of Nagano's oldest and most renowned breweries - along with sample of their acclaimed 'miso', 'tsukemono' and other traditional food.
16:00Check-in at your 'shukubo', where your guide will say their goodbyes, leaving you to enjoy your night, including dinner between 18:00 and 20:00 and breakfast the following day between 07:30 and 09:00 (with the option to attending the 'O-Asaji' morning service)*.
*On the following day:Guests have the option of attending Zenko-ji's 'O-Asaji' morning service the following morning. Conducted in the temple's main hall - only moments walk away from your temple lodging - the morning service takes place at sunrise - from 05:30 to 07:00 depending on the month of the year. Please note, should you wish to attend, you can do so before breakfast is served between 07:30 to 09:00. Check-out is at 10:00. There is no guide on this day.

NOTES

Included

  • Accommodation at a ‘shukubo’ temple lodging: ‘Standard Japanese-style Room’ with on-floor ‘futon’ bedding, shared bathroom, along with dinner & breakfast.
  • Private, English-speaking guide for 4-hours in Nagano City, including guided tour of Zenko-ji and ‘goma’ prayer fire ceremony.
  • Simple lunch of two oyaki, 12-14g can of ‘Shichimi’ / ‘7 Spice’ (per guest) and a guided ‘sake’ tasting at Yoshinoya.

Excluded

  • Transport fees inc. Shinkansen / ‘Bullet Train’ to/from Nagano City
  • Additional food, snacks & drinks
  • Entry to other paid attractions at Zenko-ji (O-Asaji, Kaidan Meguri, Sanmon, etc.)

Other Information

  • This is a group walking tour and there may be other guests joining the tour. It involves a reasonable amount of walking and is suitable for anyone of reasonable fitness. Should you be booking in the summer months of July to September, please be aware that the weather is likely to be hot – between 30°C/86°F to 40°C/104°F – with high humidity. Given the nature of the tour, much of your time will be spent walking so please come prepared for those conditions. Your guide will, of course, respond to the conditions and endeavor to keep things as cool as possible by extending your time indoors and in the shade. For guests booking in the winter months of December to March, the weather is likely to be cold – between 0°C/32°F to 10°C/50°F and as low as -10°C/14°F at night – with likelihood of snow, so please plan accordingly.
  • This tour is not wheelchair accessible and may not be suitable for mobility-impaired travelers. Should you have any concerns about your ability to join the tour, please contact us to discuss prior to booking.
  • As a walking tour, you will need to carry your luggage until we pass your accommodation, where we can drop it off around 1 hour into the tour. However, you should not have to carry it for more than 10 minutes at a time and it can be placed aside while at Saiko-ji Temple, Ogawa-no-Sho and Yawataya Isogoro. Should this be of concern or you are unable to carry your luggage for that length of time, please let us know and we see if we can arrange for it to be transported directly to your accommodation. Unneeded luggage can also be stored within lockers located within Nagano Station.
  • This tour includes visits to Saiko-ji Temple, along with Zenko-ji Temple as standard. It also includes visits to Ogawa-no-Sho including a simple small lunch, a visit to Yawataya Isogoro spice store and Yoshinoya’s tasting room to sample their ‘sake’, ‘miso’ and ‘tsukemono’.
  • Included in the tour price, you will be offered two ‘oyaki’ at Ogawa-no-Sho, a 12-14g can of spice at Yawataya Isogoro, as well as ‘sake’ tasting and food samples at Yoshinoya. There is no obligation or expectation that you make additional purchases at any of these venues but should you wish to, you are welcome to do so.
  • Any purchases made at recommended venues / venues not listed by name in the tour description are not included in the tour price and must be paid for by the guest.
  • This tour includes accommodation at a traditional ‘shukubo’ (temple lodging) within the Zenko-ji temple complex. The tour price includes a ‘Standard Japanese-style Room’ featuring on-floor ‘futon’ bedding, ‘tatami’ matting and low furniture. Toilet and bathing facilities are shared however the lodging allows guests to book a time to use the bath/shower privately. Earliest check-in is at 15:00 and check-out is by 10:00. Dinner is served between 18:00 to 20:00 while breakfast is served between 07:30 to 09:00. In-keeping with the practice of most ‘shukubo’, the entrance will be locked at 20:00
  • The tour includes dinner and breakfast at your ‘shukubo’ temple lodging. It serves a traditional vegetarian menu for both meals in a shared dining space. Alcohol is available but not included in the tour price. Should you wish to drink alcohol, please pay the accommodation directly.

FAQs

I’d like to join this tour from Tokyo. Which Shinkansen / Bullet Train service should I use to arrive in Nagano on time?
The start time of this tour are arranged according to the Shinkansen timetable. You can book the following services on the Hokuriku Shinkansen line when joining this tour at Nagano Station:Departing Tokyo Station – Arriving Nagano StationTokyo: 09:32 Nagano: 11:04 Hakutaka Tokyo: 09:44 Nagano: 11:34 Asama Tokyo: 10:24 Nagano: 11:43 Kagayaki (reserved seats only) Tokyo: 10:32 Nagano: 12:06 Hakutaka
I use a wheelchair / am mobility-impaired. Can I join this tour?
This tour is not wheelchair accessible and may not be suitable for mobility-impaired travelers. It requires a reasonable amount of walking and as a traditional ‘shukubo’, the accommodation is not wheelchair accessible. We apologize for that. Should you have any concerns about your ability to join the tour, please contact us at to discuss.
I am vegetarian / vegan and / or have specific dietary needs / allergies. Can these be catered for?
This tour explores Nagano’s traditional food culture including small ‘oyaki’ lunch at Ogawa-no-Sho, dinner and breakfast at your 'shukubo' temple lodging, and other tasty treats along the way. All food included as a standard part of the tour is vegetarian and almost certainly, suitable for vegan diets. Should you have any specific dietary needs including allergies, please let us know in advance and we will contact the tour venues and accommodation to discuss.
I have never stayed at a ‘shukubo’ before. What should I expect / will I enjoy it?
We are confident that you will really enjoy your experience staying at your 'shukubo' temple lodging. In most regards, it is much like staying in any other ‘ryokan’ (traditional guesthouse) in Japan. The tour price includes a 'Standard Japanese-style Room' featuring on-floor ‘futon’ bedding, ‘tatami’ matting and low furniture. Rooms are typically uncluttered to imbue your stay with a serene and mediative atmosphere. Toilet and bathing facilities are shared however these 'shukubo' allow guests to book a time to use the bath/shower privately. Earliest check-in is at 15:00 and check-out is by 10:00. Dinner is served between 18:00 and 20:00 – again, in-keeping with the practice at most ‘shukubo’ – after which you are free to wander the temple at night – which often affords the chance to capture some beautiful photos – or head to a nearby bar, etc. The entrance gates are closed each night at 21:00 so just make sure to be back before then. Breakfast is served between 07:30 and 09:00.
I am not Buddhist / not religious. Is this tour suitable for me / am I allowed to stay at the ‘shukubo’?
Yes. There is no expectation or requirement to be Buddhist to stay at the ‘shukubo’. Everyone is welcome. In terms of the tour content, it is designed to be engaging for guests of all faiths and backgrounds and reveal the story of Zenko-ji in an entertaining and relatable way. It is not a ‘religious’ tour as such and is not intended to convert anyone to Buddhism. We believe that by joining the walking tour prior to your ‘shukubo’ stay, it will enhance your understanding and experience of being there. And just remember, we take you to a ‘sake’ brewery and there’s alcohol at the ‘shukubo’ too, so rest assured the tour strikes the right balance.
What is a ‘goma’ prayer fire ceremony?
‘Goma’ prayer is a simple but beautiful ceremony conducted by resident monks in which burn wooden prayer boards while reciting Buddhist sutras, in an act that is intended to free participants from their worldly concerns. In order to do so, participants are asked to first write this prayer, thought or desire on the board before it is handed to the monk to be burned in a sacred flame. Simple yet poignant, this tour includes a private ‘goma’ prayer ceremony, where you will be accompanied by your guide. It is suitable for all guests regardless of your faith and background and has no requirement to be a Buddhist to partake.
What is the ‘O-Asaji’? Is it included in the tour / am I able to attend?
The ‘O-Asaji’ is a morning service held at Zenko-ji every day of the year. It is one of the few temples in Japan to conduct such a ceremony throughout the year with anyone welcome to attend, regardless of their faith and background. Ceremonies conducted by the heads of both the Daihongan and Daikanjin – the two temples responsible for maintaining Zenko-ji – each take 30 minutes to complete, meaning the overall ceremony lasts approximately 1 hour including the ‘O-Juzu Choudai’ or ‘Rosary Blessing’ offer anyone in attendance who wishes to partake. As the head of each sect moves to and from the temple, attendants line up and kneel before them, awaiting their blessing with the soft touch of a rosary upon their heads. This simple act is said to ensure a peaceful death and entry into the Buddhist paradise; a blessing which visitors can obtain four times during any one ceremony as the heads of both sects move to and from the main hall. The ‘O-Asaji’ takes place around sunrise, with times varying from 05:30 to 07:30 depending on the month of the year. As it takes place in the morning, it is not included a part of the guided tour of the temple on the first day however guests are free to attend by themselves on the following day should they wish to.
Is this tour suitable for children?
Yes. This tour is designed to be family-friendly and all content is suitable for children. Your guide will present the story of the temple in a manner that is fun and engaging for younger guests. Yoshinoya has non-alcoholic options which anyone can sample and enjoy.
Can I extend my stay at my 'shukubo' temple lodging for more than 1 night?
Yes. Should you wish to do so, please contact as at prior to booking to discuss.
Does the tour include any activity on the second day i.e. after I check-out of the accommodation?
All guided activities take place on the first day. Your guide will say their goodbyes on that day once you have checked-in at Yakuo-in. On the following morning you are free to attend the ‘O-Asaji’ morning service (should you wish to) before enjoying your breakfast and checking-out by 10:00. Should you wish to return to Nagano Station at that time, it’s an easy 20 minute walk or 5 to 10 minute taxi ride.

(Travel Agency License No: Nagano 2-562)
Snow Monkey Resorts Tours
Nagano City Kurita 1015-7, NK Copo 202, Nagano, 380-0921 Japan
Tel: (81)26-219-6256
Member of All Nippon Travel Agents Association
Travel Service Supervisor: Tomoko Kasahara