After some culture? Zenko-ji is a Buddhist temple and is one of the most important and popular temples in Japan and is one of the last remaining pilgrimage sites in Japan. The temple has been in around for some 1400 years and Nagano city which was established in 1897, was originally a town built around the temple. Built in the 7th century Zenko-ji temple stores what is believed to be the first Buddhist image, a wooden standing statue of the Amida Buddah ever to be brought to Japan when Buddhism was first introduced in the 6th century. Called the Ikko Sanzon, of the Amida Tathagata statue, it is the temple’s most revered object. In 654 it was decided that the image should become ‘hibutsu’, a hidden Buddha. The statue was then wrapped up and stored in a casket behind the temple’s main altar, only being brought out for specific ceremonies. In the 13th century a replica was produced and from then the temple required the absolute secrecy of the statue, prohibiting it from being shown to anyone including the chief priest of the temple. As a result of rumours spreading regarding the statue, in 1720 a priest opened the casket on orders from the shogun to confirm its existence. This is the last time the original status has been seen. It is only once every seven years, during Gokaicho, that this replica of the statue is presented for public display.
Zenko-ji is open to everyone regardless of their Buddhist denomination, and it is believed that a visit there once in a lifetime will ensure passage into the Land of Happiness. The temple has grown on the basis of this popular belief from ancient times, and is bustling with visitors and tourists even today.
The main approach to Zenko-ji is via Nakamise-dori, a traditional styled cobbled street of shops and restaurants south of the temple.
Open 7 days a week from sunrise to approximately 5:00pm
Feel the need to spend some money? There’s no shortage of standard malls to spend some time and money at, but if you’re looking for a different shopping experience you can’t go past Mandai. A store that caters to every member of the family, it sells both new and second-hand goods and as far as second-hand stores go, this one is a trip down the light fantastic. Mandai is an explosion of colour and sound, presents in a unique style, and conveniently is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week. The array of items to choose from is staggering with clothing, shoes and accessories, musical instruments, sports gear, anime, gaming hardware and software, toys for the kids and toys for the grown-ups (their air-soft guns, whilst illegal in Australia, are enough to make big kids drool with envy), comics, remote control cars, planes and helicopters, audio equipment, camera gear, iPods and smartphones, and so much more, all without the weird second-hand store smell. And with two stories of awesomeness you can push your excess baggage limits to the brink at a fraction of the cost.
Nagano is easily accessible from Hakuba via train. Zenko-ji temple is conveniently located near the train station and there are buses and regularly run past the temple from there. Mandai is a bit out of the way from the main CBD so to get there grab the train from Hakuba to Nagano station and then get a taxi. You won’t be disappointed.