Zenkoji Temple, Nagano city


Zenkoji Temple, Nagano

In the beautiful city of Nagano, you can find Zenkoji.  It
is very well situated in a valley surrounded by the Japanese
Alps.  This temple is square in the center of the city as Nagano-city
has been built around it.

Nagano city

Nagano City

Zenkoji temple mapZenkoji is one of the
few remaining pilgrimage temples in Japan.  Not as famous as the
88 Kannon temples of Shikoku but renowned enough that each year, more
than 7 million people visit the temple complex, many foreign visitors
among them.

Zenkoji is unique in many ways but one of them is the fact that it does
not belong to any one sect.  Usually temples in Japan are built by
a Buddhist sect an they stay in the sect for senturies or sometimes
change ownership for various reasons.  Well Zenkoji does not
belong to one sect but it is being managed conjointly by both the
Tendai sect and the

Another unique aspect of Zenkoji is that the temple shelters the oldest
Buddhist image in Japan.  Its story dates back from the 600s so
the temple is more than 1400 years old.

Zenkoji’s History

zenkoji, Honda carrying the Buddhist image.Zenkoji was built in
the 7th century after Yoshimitsu Honda rescued the first ever image
brought to Japan from the waters of the Naniwa no Horie canal.

That Buddhist image, the first ever in Japan was brought in 522AD, from
the Kingdom of Kudara in Korea. It is called the Ikko Sanzon, or the
Amida Tathagata statue.

That statue was thrown in a river, as I said above, due to some
warring factions who didn’t agree if Japan should adopt Buddhism or
not.  You
can read more about the history of Buddhism in Japan on this page.

Yoshimitsu Honda, from the province of Shinano (modern day Nagano)
rescued the statue and enshrined it in his house, in the city of
Nagano.  This bacame the first Zenko-ji, who’s name come from and
different reading of his first name Yoshimitsu (善光)

In Japanese, most
characters have more than one reading.  For example, 車, car, can
be read kuruma or sha.  We will choose the reading according to
context and the characters surrounding it.

the secret Buddha of Zenkoji, hibutsuThe story of that
statue has since been quite eventful.  It soon became a
hibutsu, or secret Buddha, and it is perpetually kept hidden from the
public eye.

It is called the “Ikko Sanzon Amida Nyorai
and is classified as an Amida triad.

It is wrapped like a mummy and stored in a box behind the main altar.
The rules of the temple require the absolute secrecy of the statue,
prohibiting it from being shown to anyone, including the chief priest
of the temple.

Through the years, is has been seen by a few people, in 1720, in
order to quell rumors that the box was empty, the Tokugawa shogun
ordered a priest to confirm its existence.

That priest, remains the last confirmed person to have seen the statue.
Some replica of the statue, called Zenritsu Honzon, has been made which
may be shown publicly once every six or seven years, in a ceremony
called Gokaichō. The most recent display of this copy of the Hibutsu
took place in 2009.

Some other copies of the statue were made and brought to other temples
around Japan.  these temples are called Zenko-ji or even
Shinzenkoji (shin means new).

One such temple is in Kai Zenkoji, in Yamanashi prefecture. 
Takeda Shingen, a warlord ruling over the Nagano area in the 16th
century was often battling out Uesugi Kenshin.  Fearing to lose
the treasures in the temple by the fire of battles, he moved everything
from Nagano to Itagaki in Yamanashi.
The things moved to Yamanashi include the hibitsu, some statues and
treasures of Zenkoji.

Itagaki is where Honda Yoshimitsu, the founder of the Zenkoji temple,
was buried so there was still a connection with the founder of the
zenkoji, Uesugi Kensin and Takeda ShingenTakeda Shingen battling with Uesugi Kenshin.

Other such temples appeared through the years and the treasures have
been moved a few times; Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) moved the
hibitsu to the capital city of Kyoto, and then to Shinano, before it
was returned to Nagano.

Please enter the word that you see below.


The guided tour is available on reservation only.  I will meet you
at Nagano Station and take you around town.  We will visit the
temple and other interesting sites in the city.  By filling the
form above, you will allow me to get in touch with you and we will
prepare a tour corresponding to your interests with you.

My fees are 10,000 yen for the day plus expenses to enter the different
sites.  If the number of people is less than 3, I can provide
transportation from the station to the different sites with my private


With gratitude,signature Hugo

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