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Nagano's Zenkoji Temple (P, Zenkōji) is one of the most important and popular temples in Japan. It was founded in the 7th century and stores the first Buddhist statue ever to be brought into Japan when Buddhism was first introduced in the 6th century. The original statue is hidden while a copy of it is shown to the public every six years for a few weeks. The next opportunity to see the statue is expected to be in 2028.

The significance of Zenkoji to the development of Nagano was instrumental: many major Japanese cities have evolved either from castle towns, harbor towns or temple towns. In the case of Nagano, it grew from a temple town which developed around its temple of great importance, Zenkoji.

Most recently rebuilt in 1707, Zenkoji's main hall is nicely ornamented and contains various Buddhist statues. A fee is required to enter the hall's inner chamber, where visitors can take a closer look at the temple's main altar. In the basement of the inner chamber is an underground passage, which visitors walk through in complete darkness in search of the "key to paradise". The key is attached to a wall along the corridor and is believed to grant salvation to anybody who touches it.

A short walk behind the main hall stands a relatively recently built pagoda which houses the Zenkoji History Museum. The museum showcases a collection of intricately carved statues of different Buddhas and Bodhisattva, allowing one to appreciate up-close the characteristics of each. There is also a display of 100 Rakan, the disciples of Buddha.

South of the main hall is the Sanmon Gate, the temple's main gate which dates back to 1750. This designated important cultural property can be entered and houses statues of the Monju Bodhisattva and the four heavenly kings (Shitenno). Its second story offers views of the temple approach.

Just outside the Sanmon Gate stand one large and six medium sized statues of Jizo Bodhisattva. The temple approach leading up to this point is lined with shops selling local specialties and souvenirs, as well as small restaurants. At the southern end of the approach is Niomon Gate, the outer gate of the temple which is guarded by a pair of Nio Guardians.

The many abodes lining the streets parallel to the main temple approach indicate just how well received Zenkoji has traditionally been. Today, accommodation at these temple lodgings (shukubo) is still popular, especially for those who would like to visit the temple at sunrise to participate in its daily morning service (Oasaji). At the service, a solemn ceremony is held, during which visitors receive blessings from a top priest or priestess.

Getting there and around

Zenkoji is a ten minute bus ride from JR Nagano Station. Alternatively, take a train from the underground Nagaden Nagano Station next to JR Nagano Station and alight at Zenkojishita Station (4 minutes, 170 yen, 2-3 trains per hour), from where it is a 5-10 minute walk to the temple. Good walkers can reach the temple approach in about half an hour from Nagano Station.

How to get to and around Nagano

Hours and Fees

Main Hall

Hours

Closed

Admission

Sanmon Gate

Hours

Closed

Admission

Hotels around Nagano

    • Takamine Onsen
      A mountain top onsen lodge at an altitude of 2000m facing Mt.Asama. Enjoy breathtaking views soaking in the outdoor bath. Bus runs from Tokyo & JR Sakudaira Sta.
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    • Shioriya
      Budget-friendly
      Shioriya offers accommodation in Nagano, 11 km from Zenkoji Temple. Popular points of interest around the property include Togakushi Shrine and Old Kawanakajima Battlefield. Nagano City Museum is 2 km away and Matsushiro Castle is 4 km from the guest house. All guest rooms in the guest house are fitted with a TV. Skiing is among the activities that guests can enjoy near Shioriya. The Sanada Treasures Museum is 4 km from the accommodation, while Mizuno Museum is 6.5 km from the property.
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    • 1166 Backpackers
      Budget-friendly
      Located in the city centre, 1166 Backpackers offers rental bicycles, free Wi-Fi and beds in shared dorm rooms, as well as private Japanese-style rooms. It features a free-use kitchen, a dining area and a launderette. Free morning coffee is available. Backpackers 1166 is around a 5-minute walk from Zenko-ji Temple and close to many shops, restaurants and cafes. A 24-hour convenience shop is a 5-minute walk away, while JR Nagano Station is a 7-minute drive or 18-minute walk. Togashi Ski Resort and Iitsuna Kogen Ski Resort are each a 40-minute drive. The hostel greets guests with a welcome drink, and offers concierge services and safety deposit of valuables. Facilities include lockers and a library. The shared kitchen is equipped with a microwave, a refrigerator and a small toaster oven. Guests sleep in a bunk bed in a shared dormitory room, equipped with a curtain and a private light. Private rooms have a tatami (woven-straw) floor and traditional futon bedding. All rooms provide personal safes and complimentary green tea. Toilets and bathrooms are shared. No meals are served.
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    • Oshi Ryokan
      Budget-friendly
      Situated just a 5-minute walk from historic Togakushi Shrine, Oshi Ryokan is traditional lodging accommodation in the peaceful mountain area, which used to cater for pilgrims. The main building is 250 years old with a thatched roof. Guests sleep in Japanese-style rooms located in annex buildings. Fitted with tatami (woven-straw) flooring and futon bedding, the rooms feature a flat-screen TV and a seating area with a low table. Bathroom is shared with other guests. While staying at Ryokan Oshi, guests can enjoy a range of activities like golfing and skiing. The property provides ski storage and ski equipment rentals. Luggage can be left at the front desk. JR Nagano Station is a 50-minute drive or bus ride away, and the Togakushi Hokousha Bus Stop is just a 1-minute walk from the property. Togakushi Ski Resort is a 15-minute away, while Nagano Country Club is within a 10-minute drive. Guests can savour homemade meals at the spacious dining room with a historic charm, located in the main building. Dinner features local speciality soba buckwheat noodles.
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    • Jizokan Matsuya Ryokan
      Mid-range
      Just 250 metres from Zenko-ji Temple, Matsuya Ryokan offers simple Japanese rooms with tatami-mat floors, a green-tea maker and an attached Western bathroom. The hotel features public baths. Guests at Jizokan Matsuya Ryokan stay in rooms with shoji paper screens and traditional futon bedding. All rooms are air-conditioned and include a TV and slippers. Zenko-ji-shita Subway Station is 600 metres away, and Shinano Art Museum is 650 metres from the ryokan. JR Nagano Train Station is 3 km away. A Japanese breakfast and a Japanese course dinner are served at the dining room or the guest room.
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    • Compass
      Luxury
      Offering city views, Compass is an accommodation located in Nagano, 12 km from Suzaka City Zoo and 33 km from Jigokudani Monkey Park. The 4-star apartment has mountain views and is 800 metres from Nagano Station. The property offers soundproof units and is situated 2.4 km from Zenkoji Temple. At the apartment complex, each unit is fitted with air conditioning, a seating area, a flat-screen TV with streaming services, a kitchen, a dining area and a private bathroom with slippers, a shower and a hair dryer. Free WiFi is accessible to all guests, while some rooms are fitted with a balcony. At the apartment complex, units include bed linen and towels. Guests at the apartment will be able to enjoy activities in and around Nagano, like hiking. Ryuoo Ski Park is 34 km from Compass, while Togakushi Shrine is 24 km from the property. The nearest airport is Matsumoto Airport, 73 km from the accommodation.
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    • Dormy Inn Nagano
      Mid-range
      Situated conveniently a minute's stroll away from JR Nagano Station, Dormy Inn Nagano features a 24-hour front desk and a public hot spring facility with an open-air bath and sauna. Free WiFi access is available throughout the entire property. Guest rooms are air-conditioned and equipped with a desk, refrigerator, an air-humidifier and an electric kettle. Rooms come with a flat-screen TV with satellite channels and personal lockers. Guests will find luggage storage service offered at the front desk. Trouser presses and ironing facilities can be provided free of charge upon request. Coin-operated laundry machines and drink vending machines are also available. A Japanese-style and Western breakfast buffet consisting of local specialities is on offer at the on-site restaurant. Matsumoto Airport is a 90-minute bus ride away from JR Nagano Station. Zenkoji Temple is 1.9 km from Dormy Inn Nagano, while Togakushi Shrine is 14 km from the property.
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    • Dot Hostel Nagano
      Budget-friendly
      Set in Nagano, within 500 metres of Zenkoji Temple and 2.6 km of Nagano Station, Dot Hostel Nagano provides a bar. Featuring a shared lounge, the 1-star hostel has air-conditioned rooms with free WiFi, each with a shared bathroom. The accommodation offers a shared kitchen and a concierge service for guests. The units feature bed linen. Suzaka City Zoo is 14 km from the hostel, while Jigokudani Monkey Park is 32 km away. The nearest airport is Matsumoto Airport, 74 km from Dot Hostel Nagano.
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    • Hotel Metropolitan Nagano
      Luxury
      Hotel Metropolitan Nagano features elegantly decorated rooms and a wide range of dining options, including a Japanese restaurant, a Chinese restaurant and a cafe. The hotel is conveniently located right next to the JR Nagano Train Station. All rooms feature carpeted floors, a seating area, and comes with a flat-screen TV, a desk and a wardrobe. There is a bath tub, a hairdryer and free toiletries in the en suite bathroom. Free WiFi is available throughout the property. Nagano Metropolitan Hotel provides luggage storage and dry cleaning services. A massage salon on the ground floor can provide guests with a vigorous massage. Zenko-ji temple, one of Japanfs National Treasures, is a 10-minute drive from the hotel. Shinano Art Museum and the Joyama Park are located within a 5-minute walk from the temple. The Iris cafe serves hearty breakfast buffet in the morning, while Shinano Japanese restaurant offers sushi and teppanyaki cuisines prepared right in front of the guests.
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    • Hotel NewNagano NeXT
      Mid-range
      Only a 5-minute walk from JR Nagano Train Station, Hotel NewNagano NeXT features accommodations with a flat-screen TV and free WiFi throughout the property. Free morning coffee is served at the lobby. The air-conditioned rooms feature a fridge, a microwave, and an electric kettle. Rooms come with an en suite bathroom. A coin-operated launderette is available. Tomi Sushi serves Sushi at the counter and also on conveyor belts. Chinese foods are available at Ichibankan. A breakfast buffet is available at the lobby. New Nagano Hotel is a 10-minute drive from Shinano Art Museum and Zenkoji Temple. Shopping areas such as the Tokyu Department Store are located in front of the hotel.
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    • Chisun Grand Nagano
      Mid-range
      A 5-minute walk from JR Nagano Train Station, Chisun Grand Nagano offers rooms with free WiFi access throughout the hotel. A selection of free amenities in the lobby is offered. The air-conditioned rooms feature a flat-screen TV with video-on-demand features, a fridge and an electric kettle. Slippers and nightwear are provided for all guests, while the en suite bathroom comes with a hairdryer. All rooms come with a humidifier. Dry cleaning services are provided at the front desk. Private parking is available for an additional fee. Designated smoking area is available for guest's convenience. Located on the 12th floor, Asama restaurant serves a Japanese-style breakfast featuring local white rice. Guests can try grilled fish and miso soup. Refreshments are available at the ground floor lounge. Zenko-ji Temple is a 10-minute drive away. Nagano Grand Chisun is a 25-minute drive from Iizuna Kogen Ski Resort and a 1-hour drive from Snow Monkey Park. A convenience store is located a 1-minute walk away.
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Experiences around Nagano

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