Zenko-ji Temple, said to have been built in the early 7th century, has a never-ending line of visitors and is the main tourist spot in Nagano. Go through the Nio-mon Gate, and you will see the San-mon Gate, which is about 20 meters high, at the end of the approach. The San-mon Gate is designated as an important cultural asset. Its roof was renovated and reconstructed of Japanese Sawara cypress tree wood, just like the old roof that the temple had at its foundation about 250 years ago. The process was completed through the Great Repair of Zenko-ji Temple project undertaken during the Heisei Era. The main temple has two roofs, both thatched with layers of cypress bark, and the characters for Zenko-ji Temple inscribed on on the very front of the San-mon Gate roof are said to contain five hidden doves in the lettering.
Further behind the San-mon Gate is the main temple designated as a national treasure. It was rebuilt in 1707 and is the third largest wooden structure in Japan.
In the altar is the standing statue of Amida-Nyorai. It is not shown to the public, but every seven years (six full years) the Maedachi Honzon, a replica of the statue, is offered to the public for viewing. At all other times you may only make indirect contact with the sealed statue.
Right underneath the altar is a dark tunnel where you can experience going through the ordination platform designed to be used during the ordination rites of the priests. Along the way try to find and touch the key said to be that of paradise. Many deities are enshrined in the temple, including Nure-Botoke, which is said to protect children.
The temple is easy to get to from Hakuba. The easiest way is to take the bus to Nagano Station and then either walk about 20-30mins or take a town bus to Zenkoji
Alternatively in winter you can visit Zenkoji along with the snow monkeys with Ski Japan Holidays. (please see Snow Monkeys)
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