Spot in Nagano Prefecture

Zenkoji temple [善光寺]

Main temple of Zenkoji
Main temple of Zenkoji

Main temple of Zenkoji
Main temple of Zenkoji

Zenkoji is a Buddhist temple of both Tendai school and Pure Land Buddhism.
"O" in the word is pronounced long, so it is read as "Zenkôji".

It is in the north part of Nagano city, and is located about 2 km north of JR Nagano station.

Zenkoji has been one of the famous temples in Japan since early times.
About 6 million tourists visit this temple every year.

This temple was founded in 644.

The objects of devotion are the statues of Buddha.
These were presented by the King of Baekje (Ancient Korea) in 552, when Buddhism was introduced to Japan.

The statues have been enshrined in a miniature shrine.
They are completely secret, so even the chief priest of this temple is not allowed to see them.

Main gate (Sanmon) of Zenkoji
Main gate (Sanmon) of Zenkoji

Jizou statues in Zenkoji
Jizou statues in Zenkoji

The area of the temple is about 320 meters from north to south and 280 meters from east to west, and there is the great main temple in the center of the precincts.

The main temple was rebuilt in 1707, after repeated destructions by fire since the foundation.

It is about 27 meters high, about 24 meters wide, and about 53 meters long.
It has been designated as a national treasure in 1953.

The inside of the main temple has roughly three sanctuaries and some Buddha statues are enshrined.
The worshippers can visit there sanctuaries following the route.

Temple bell in Zenkoji
Temple bell in Zenkoji

Exposition Ceremony in 2009
Exposition Ceremony in 2009

There are many other buildings in the large precincts.
Some of them have been designated as a nationally important cultural properties.

There is a temple bell created in 1667 near the main temple.
It is rung on the hour from 10:00 to 16:00 every day.

By the way, Nagano Winter Olympic Game in 1998 was opened by the signal of this bell.

Every seven years, Exposition Ceremony has been held.
It is called Gokaichô (御開帳) in Japanese.

The substitute statues which are the same shapes as the secret ones are placed in the main temple.
That is the "exposition" of the objects of devotion.

At that time, a wooden pole is set up in front of the main temple, and the pole and the statues are tied with five-colored strings.

If you touch the pole linked with the objects of devotion, it is said that you will be happy.

The last ceremony was held from April to June in 2022.

Niomon gate of Zenkoji
Niomon gate of Zenkoji
Photo by

Approach to Zenkoji
Approach to Zenkoji
Photo by

There is the temple town to the south of the precincts.

The area is about 500 meters from north to south, and an approach runs to the main gate of the temple.
There is Niomon gate (仁王門) on the approach.

In this area, about 40 small temples relating to Zenkoji are dotted.
Many of them are Shukubou (visitors' or pilgrims' lodgings in a temple) and you can use as an accommodation facility.

And there are many souvenir shops and restaurants.


How to get here

By Hokuriku Shinkansen, about 1 hour and 30 to 50 minutes to Nagano from Tokyo.
Or from Nagoya, by limited express of JR Chuo Line, about 3 hours to Nagano.

Then, by route bus, from Nagano station, about 15 minutes.

Other Tourist Attractions in Nagano Prefecture

Northern part

Mount Asama Karuizawa Kaikoen Bessho Onsen Sugadaira highland Obuse town Yudanaka-Shibu Onsen towns Jigokudani Monkey Park Shiga highland Nozawa Onsen Lake Nojiri Mount Togakushi

Central part

Tateshina highland Kirigamine highland Lake Suwa Matsumoto Castle Azumino town Utsukushigahara

Along Northern Alps

Kamikochi Norikura highland Lake Aoki Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route Hakuba village

Along Kiso Valley

Narai post station Mount Ontake Nezame-no-toko gorge Tsumago & Magome post stations

Along Ina Valley

Mount Kiso-Komagatake Takatô Castle Ruins Park Tenryukyo gorge

Return to Nagano Prefecture Return to Koshin-etsu Region