Sightseeing in Nagano: Morning Procession (お朝事) at the Zenkouji Temple (善光寺) - Vikingess Voyages

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Sightseeing in Nagano: Morning Procession (お朝事) at the Zenkouji Temple (善光寺)

Above: The head priest returning to his quarters after the morning prayers

A little while ago I had the chance to visit the 1998 Winter Olympic city Nagano. Having a friend visiting from abroad I wanted to give her a memorable Japan experience that included a night at a traditional ryokan hotel. Our choice of accommodation fell on Jizo Matsuya Ryokan (full blogpost here), which turned out to be the perfect starting point for visiting Zenkoji Temple.

Above: The street sign of accommodation for the night, Matsuya Ryokan (松屋旅館), and the street leading up to the entrance to Zenkouji Temple

Zenkoji Temple (善光寺, Zenkōji) is one of Japan's most important temples and has a history that goes back to the 7th century. Zenkoji temple has also been of great importance for the city of Nagano, as it grew from a temple town that had developed around the Zenkoji Temple.

Above: Lining up to get the blessing of the head priest

Our ryokan was located on the temple street leading up to Zenkouji Temple, and the ryokan staff informed us that if we were interested we could go see the morning procession (お朝事 - Oasaji) taking place at the temple. It was a good thing that we only had to walk for 1-2 minutes to get to the main hall, as the priests would come for the morning prayers already at 7 am (And for those who don't like to get up early in the morning it is definitely better to aim for the winter season, as the morning prayers start at 5:30 in the summer).

Above: The head priest has passed and is approaching the main hall of the Zenkouji

A number of people had already lined up when we got there and followed their example. One of the temple guards gave us a short explanation about what to do, and we were instructed to bow down to the head priest. Fortunately, I was told that I could keep standing and just bow my head since I had suffered a foot injury. The whole process was over in an instant as the head priest and his followers passed us and touched our heads as a blessing.

Above: A priest heading up to the main hall of the temple
Above: View from the staircase of the main hall

We didn't participate in the morning prayers, but for those who are interested, it is possible to pay an extra fee to enter the inner part of the main hall to listen to the priests' reading of scriptures. After the morning procession, we went around the temple area for a morning stroll.
Above: what happens when you ask locals with the most high-tech cameras to take your picture; a photo with no attention to the background whatsoever...

In addition to the temple area, we also enjoyed visiting the small stores lined up along the main temple road. The same road as our ryokan hotel was located, the stores on this road offered anything from souvenirs to local specialties.

It is very common for Japanese travelers to buy small omiyage - souvenirs - to bring to their friends and colleagues and these are usually edible. If you're in doubt about what to bring home perhaps this is something to try out? But if you're hungry and rather want something to eat for yourself right away there are also numerous cafes in the area where you can taste a local snack or two. Take the crepe in the photo below; it might look like a regular crepe but it is made of buckwheat (soba).

Above: Some morning snack from one of the temple area stores.

After our visit to Zenkoji, it was time to head back home to Tokyo. The morning visit to the temple really helped make the trip special, and for people visiting I would definitely recommend getting accommodation close to the temple in order to get up early in the morning for the Oasaji morning procession.

 ◆Basic Info

Hotel Booking:
Hotels in Nagano

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Thank you for reading! Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below
- Anette

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About Anette
Anette came to Japan as an exchange student in 2010, met the love of her life and got stuck. From her base in Tokyo she writes about her experiences as a full-time worker in Tokyo and about her travels in Japan and abroad. She's a free-spirited adventurer who enjoys both the great outdoors and her urban lifestyle.

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About Me

Adventures ofAnette

A modern day shield-maiden who loves to explore the unbeaten paths of the world. From her base in Tokyo, Anette takes on both rural and urban challenges, and goes by the motto "No challenge too big, no adventure too small"!
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