Top choice in Nagano Region

Founded in the 7th century, National Treasure Zenkō-ji is home to the revered statue Ikkō-Sanzon, said to be the first Buddhist image to arrive in Japan (AD 552). Not even 37 generations of emperors have seen the image, though millions of visitors flock here to view a copy every seven years during the Gokaichō Matsuri. Zenkō-ji's immense popularity stems partly from its liberal welcoming of pilgrims, regardless of gender, creed or religious belief.

Its chief officiants are both a priest and a priestess. The current building dates from 1707.

Any bus from stop 1 in front of Nagano Station's Zenkō-ji exit will get you to the temple (¥150, about 10 minutes); alight at the Daimon stop. It takes about 30 minutes to walk up Chūō-dōri from the station to the temple.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Nagano Region attractions

1. Japanese Lamp & Lighting Museum

7.41 MILES

Showcasing lighting through Japanese history, including oil lamps and lanterns, this neat museum will flip the switches of design aficionados.

2. Hokusai Museum

7.54 MILES

Japan's most famous ukiyo-e (woodblock print) artist, Hokusai, spent his final years in Obuse. There's an audiovisual presentation on his life in the…

3. Takai Kōzan Kinenkan

7.54 MILES

Takai Kōzan, woodblock artist Hokusai's friend and patron, was a businessman and an accomplished classical artist specialising in elegant Chinese-style…

4. Togakushi-Hōkōsha

7.89 MILES

Although it's nestled among cedars apparently close to the village, Hōkōsha, the pretty lower sub-shrine of Togakushi-jinja, is reached via 274 ancient,…

5. Togakushi-Chūsha

7.97 MILES

One of the three sub-shrines of Togakushi-jinja, intimate Chūsha, meaning 'middle shrine', is the most accessible, located prominently in the centre of…

6. Togakushi-jinja

7.98 MILES

Comprising three sub-shrines, Togakushi-Hōkōsha, Togakushi-Chūsha and Togakushi-Okusha, each a few kilometres apart, Togakushi-jinja honours the 1911m…

7. Togakushi Folk Museum & Ninja House

8.84 MILES

Above the Okusha bus stop you'll find this museum housing artefacts from a time when local yamabushi (mountain monks) practised what became known as ninpo…

8. Togakushi-Okusha

9.96 MILES

From Okusha bus stop it's 2km (40 minutes' walk) to Okusha (meaning 'Upper Shrine') – the innermost of the three sub-shrines making up Togakushi-jinja –…