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.
The Togakushi middle shrine (Chu-Sha) enshrines the God of wisdom. Among the Togakushi shrines, it is located in the midway between the lower and upper shrines. All of the Togakushi shrines, which are about two kilometers apart, are connected via hiking trails and roads.
The middle shrine is located above a pleasant town where the culinary speciality of Nagano prefecture, buckwheat noodles (soba), may be enjoyed at the local restaurant. It is especially recommended as a light and refreshing meal after a long and hot summer day!
The Togakushi shrines are a group of three shrine areas located in the mountainous region north of Nagano. They got their name from being situated at the base of Mount Togakushi.
The one called the lower shrine (Hōkō-sha) is located at a lower altitude compared to the other two. It enshrines a female God protecting maternity, academic life and sewing!
Interestingly, a long time ago, the Togakushi shrines were also Buddhist temples as it was common in ancient Japan.