After spending some quality time with the Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani Park and exploring the Winter Wonderland of Yamanouchi, I decided to spend what was left of my weekend and quickly explore the city of Nagano.
Famous for hosting the 1984 Winter Olympics, my intention was to visit several museums and facilities highlighting the past sporting event, but these Olympic related places are only reachable on a 1 bus per hour basis commute. Wanting to reach Tokyo by 7pm within the day, instead I opted to explore MinamiNagano area.
Taking the aptly name Zenko-ji Exit from the JR Nagano Station will bring you to the main road- Chuo Dori. Although can be navigated by local tourist bus, like many other times walking and wandering around is the best way to enjoy the area.
Surrounded by mountains and with roads just recently cleared of yesterday’s snow fall, walking along Chuo Street is definitely a tourist experience itself. With few cars passing by, several notable architectures and the shopping area of Nagano Gondo, the area is so clean and well-preserved, I can only imagine how beautiful it must be back in 1984.
At the end of Chuo Dori street, you will see a wooden gate with two wooden structure guards (Nio-mon Gate) marking the entrance to Zenko-ji Temple. Said to be Japan’s primary center of Buddhist faith for almost 1400 Years and attracts 6 million visitors per year, the temple is a testament of the masterpiece associated with Buddhist architecture.
Continue to walk straight ahead of Nakamise shopping street and it will lead you to the temple main hall (Hondō). Before entering the sawara cypress wooded gate of San-mon, on the right side you will see huge, aligned six Jizo statue (Rokujizō).
Hell, hungry ghosts, animals, carnage, human, heavenly beings – each Jizō is said to represent the above six realms and protect souls as its passes each territory, before it achieves full enlightenment.
Opposite the Rokujizō statues are the temple houses (Daihongan), residences of the high priestess.
Behind San-mon gate is the main temple hall. Built in 1707 and designated as national treasure, it is the third largest wooden structure in Japan. On the right corner of the main temple is the bell of Zenko-ji which was rang to mark the start of the 1984 Olympic, together with wish for world peace.
The temple ground of Zenko-ji is quite spacious. Located at the back of the main hall are small pagoda and several stone lanterns when mixed with snow make up for one outstanding view.
I don’t think I will ever get bored visiting many of Japan’s temples and shrines. Each one of them has certain characteristics that will make you feel like you are seeing the gates, pagodas or the bell for the first time. Regardless of which season, they are a sight and a treasure to appreciate.