The flower festival of the city of Nagano is held every year in early May. For the occasion, Chuo-Dori, the main street leading to Zenko-ji Temple, is covered with flower mosaics. Cultural performances, such as the lion dance, are also held during the festival. It is also a great chance to enjoy a good Matcha ice cream!
The Oykot train is a special scenic train which starts from Nagano station and follows the Iiyama line all the way to Tokamachi station. The Iiyama line follows the Chikuma-gawa river which features truly beautiful rustic scenery featuring rice paddies and small villages that are representative of the beautiful Japanese countryside.
The purpose of the Oykot train is to allow its passengers to enjoy this scenery while having a relaxing time onboard the train. To this end, the train interior is designed to mimic the old rural Japanese home and the trip also includes a serving of locally-made Japanese pickled vegetables. Guests can also bring their favorite food and beverages onboard. This philosophy of the Japanese countryside is reflected in the train’s name, Oykot, which is the reverse of Tokyo, the most populous metropolis of Japan. It is possible for the passengers to explore further the Japanese countryside by stopping at stations along the Iiyama line and taking another Oykot train, or a regular train, for the return trip to Nagano.
To reach Zenko-ji temple from Nagano station, one can walk on Chuo Dori (literally meaning central street) all the way north until in front of the temple. On that same street just north of the first gate of Zenko-ji temple are located many small stores. It is a great place to buy Omiyage (gifts) to family or friends.
This small zoo is located not far from Zenko-ji temple. It is operated by the city of Nagano and is free to access. Many species of birds, reptiles and mammals are on display. A small monorail and a go-kart track will please kids and the young at heart.
The Nagano Prefectural Shinano Art Museum, located nearby Zenko-ji temple, stages art exhibit from artists of Nagano prefecture. An annex of the museum, the Higashiyama Kaii Gallery, features artworks from Higashiyama Kaii depicting the beautiful scenery of Nagano prefecture (some examples here). Taking photos of the artwork is prohibited, but there was no issues with taking photos of the museum’s modern architecture.
Japan boasts many famous shrines and temples that most first time visitors will learn about while planning their trip. But japan may have hundreds or thousands of thousand of such historical sites if not more. Each neighborhood generally has its own, where locals will celebrate many traditional rituals throughout the year. The Hozonji Temple and Isesha Shrine located in Nagano, located side-by-side, are beautiful examples.
Away from the popular touristic attractions, one may find great beauty in the common Japanese lifestyle. This beauty will be seen by the one who ventures away from the beaten path. I will collect over time in this post photos that feature the beautiful Japanese countryside I had the chance to witness by walking in rural areas of Nagano city.
The Togakushi shrine is an important Shinto shrine in Nagano prefecture. The shrine is divided in three locations, of which the Oku-sha or upper shrine, has the highest elevation. Access to the upper shrine requires a gentle uphill walk of about one hour. The path to the shrine is lined with giant Sugi trees and the surrounding ancient forest might very well be the home of many spirits.
Zenko-ji temple is located in the heart of Nagano city, the host of the 1998 Olympic games. The main street leading to the temple is lined with shops offering souvenirs and local produce. It is an ideal place to shop for friends and family.
The Zenko-ji temple was built in the 7th century and is still to this day an important site of pilgrimage in Japan. The legend says that the temple hosts the first Buddha statue ever brought to Japan. It is forbidden to see this statue, even for the head priest. Every six years, a replica of the statue is shown during a massive pilgrimage. The last display occurred in 2015.
A peculiar attraction of Zenko-ji consists of walking through a tunnel under the temple in complete darkness. The goal is to touch a special ‘key’, which is some kind of metallic object, on the wall. Touching this “key” is supposed to give you enlightenment. At the end of the tunnel lies a mirror so you can look at the “new self” after being reborn.
A museum is also located in the pagoda near the Zenko-ji temple. The exhibit presents various artifacts about Zenko-ji temple and a video display recounts the visit of the Dalai Lama in 2010.
The main train station of Nagano was renovated recently on the occasion of the extension of the Shinkansen line to Kanazawa. The new station features the Midori shopping center with new stores offering local produce and the latest Japanese fashion. The new architecture is a great improvement over the previous while blending traditional and modern elements of Japanese architecture.