On 14th May I spent one night in Nagano with the tour group I was travelling with for work. I’d been to Nagano before and visited its famous temple Zenkoji (善光) in March 2011, but I was still excited to go back. We stayed right by Zenkoji in a shukubo (temple lodging) called Zenkoji Tokugyobou. It was simple, as expected, but nice, and the staff were really friendly.
This was my room:
I love sleeping on tatami, and although the building was creaky and old, I still had a pretty good night’s sleep here.
After a cup of tea and traditional sweet to welcome us, we set off to explore the town and temple. Nagano has a really nice feel about it, although I can’t say I’ve explored in much depth. As soon as we approached the temple I stumbled upon one of these little guys…
Jizo statues are my favourite kind of Buddhist statues. They are the patron deity for children and travellers, and they are all over Zenkoji.
Around the temple grounds there are lots of smaller places of worship, and many of them are dedicated to children. I always feel sad when I see these.
Approaching the temple, I spotted my favourite statues which I remembered clearly from my first visit:
These are the ‘Roku Jizo’ or ‘Six Jizo’. These statues represent the six realms through which Jizo Bosatsu is said to protect us until we attain enlightenment (hell, hungry ghosts, animals, asura, humans and heavenly beings).
As well as these six Jizo, there is a seventh statue: “nurebotoke” (wet jizo). This statue was made in 1722 and serves as protection of the temple from fire.
Zenkoji is one of the most important temples in Japan. Founded in the 7th century, Zenkoji is home to the first Buddhist statue ever to be brought into Japan. Unfortunately this statue is hidden, but a copy of it is shown to the public every six years.
Wandering around the temple grounds I found some more interesting statues…
And some turtles!
That evening we went to a local soba noodle restaurant and had some really delicious food. It’s so nice to be able to go to local restaurants and try the speciality!
The next morning we got up nice and early and went down to the temple to join in the morning prayers. I don’t have any photos of this because photography wasn’t allowed, but it was a pretty cool experience. First we lined up to wait for the monks to enter the temple grounds. As they came, we had to kneel on the floor and bow our heads. The head monk touched our heads as he went by. We then followed him into the temple, took off our shoes, and sat on the tatami whilst the monks chanted. The sound of monks chanting is so mesmerizing. I’m not sure exactly what they were doing, but before we left they had these books or piles of paper and they were sort of fanning through the pages. It’s hard to explain – if anyone can shed any light on what this was, I’d appreciate it!
After the meditation we went to Zenkoji’s underground passage. You have to walk through this passage in complete darkness and try to find the key on the wall. The key is the ‘key to paradise’, and is supposed to grant salvation to those who touch it. I find this part of the temple a little gimmicky, but I found the key so I’m not complaining. 😉
Back at the shukubo we ate a hearty Japanese breakfast before moving on to our next adventure… but more about that in my next post!
I took more photos than was probably necessary, but I just can’t help myself when it comes to Buddhist statues! If you want to see the whole set, please visit Flickr.