Zenkō-ji (善光寺, Zenkō-ji) is a 7th century Buddhist temple in Nagano, Japan. The city, established in 1897, was once a town built around the temple. Zenkō-ji is perhaps most famous for its involvement in the battles between Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen in the 16th century, when it served as one of Kenshin’s bases of operations.
Zenkō-ji belongs to both the Tendai and Jodo Shu schools of Buddhism, and is co-managed by 25 priests from the former School and 14 from the latter. It enshrines images of the Amida Buddha, the primary one of which is a hibutsu, a hidden Buddha, which is not normally shown to the public. This hibutsu is rumored to be the first Buddha statue to ever be brought to Japan. There is also a passage under the temple where worshippers, in complete darkness, try to touch a key hanging on the wall in order to gain enlightenment. The key represents the Key to the Western Paradise of the Amida Buddha.
The hidden Buddha statue, or hibutsu, is shown once every six or seven years, and attracts many worshippers. The last time it was on display, in 2003, Zenkō-ji joined with Motozenkō-ji and the Zenkō-ji of Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture, in discussions. The hibutsu will be on display next in 2010.
Zenkō-ji was originally built during the reign of Emperor Kimmei, in the 6th century, but was moved several times before coming to its present location. The current site, in what was then Motozen village, was originally called Motozenkoji.
At the end of the Kamakura period (1185-1333), many temples copied Zenkō-ji’s famous Buddha statue, and many new temples were built around the country calling themselves ‘Zenkō-ji’ or ‘Shin-Zenkō-ji’ (New Zenkō-ji).
In the Sengoku period, when Zenkō-ji became involved in the struggles between Uesugi Kenshin and Takeda Shingen, the chief abbot was afraid it would be burnt to the ground. He built a new Zenkō-ji in what is now Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture, which still stands. In 1598, Toyotomi Hideyoshi moved the hibutsu to Kyoto, and then to Shinano. The hibutsu and the Zenkoji temple itself have since been moved once more back to Nagano.
How to get there?
Zenkoji is a 10 minute bus ride from the JR Nagano Station.
Source: wikipedia; Japan Guide