Nagano of Japan is landlocked prefecture. It's consist of mountains and basins. Nagano city which extends in front of Zenkoji Buddhist temple is located in a basin area.
Although there is no deference between the country life and the city's
in Nagano nowadays, the lives might be deferent each other before. Forty
years ago, in my view Nagano was quite big city compare to my father's
home village in the mountain. Traffic was heavy enough. I saw department
stores, a university campus and a local TV station buildings. The good
balance of town and country made me in childhood happy. Then with full
of satisfaction, I stopped by the Zenkoji temple at the end of stay in
Nagano. I ate a famous Soba noodle and got on the train which was called
"Myoko Express" for going back home. It's a long long time before
Shinkansen, super express, train starting the service from Tokyo.
Forty years have passed. Nagano got big change, especially after the Winter Olympic Games in 1998. Outskirts area was reconstructed. The name of Nagano was known by the tourist form other countries. However the change in forty years is so tiny compare to the change in fourteen hundred year history of the Zenkoji temple.
After long absence I looked over the city from the hill side behind the
temple. There are many low roof houses of old city below my eyes. I can
see a solemn roof of main temple among them. A stories pagoda sticking
up from lower roofs is museum, I heard. The antique town looks smaller
than I thought in my childhood.
Let's stop by the main temple. The precinct yard is not crowded. Foreign
tourists are taking picture. I pray in the temple. Beside me, here is a
bronze statue of "Binzuru-sama", who was a disciple of Buddha.
It's said patting the same part of the figure as you actually ill on your
body make you being cure. I pat it.
I return to the entrance path. A poster on the wall says "Year 2015,
Zenkoji Gokaicho, Special unveiling of the principal image's duplicate"
The original principal image of Zenkoji is basically closed. Yet once every
seven years, Omaedachi-zo, the dupe is unveiled. April thru May, 2015 is
the chance to pray. If you missed it, then you have to wait another seven
Zenkoji has it's own calendar, time or cycle in a day, a year and even
seven years. You, a visitor, must be surprised when you see the neighbors
suddenly get start preparation for some event. But for them it's not special,
everything is scheduled by the calendar of Zenkoji.
I walk through the main gate and down to the commercial area of the city.
There is an entrance of shopping arcade on my left side. A signboard above
says "Gondo Shopping Arcade" A Cafe, boutique, and "game
center", all looks so good old day style. A master of used books store
wearing beret is explaining something to his customer with enthusiasm.
Oh, there is an old fashioned movie theater which is not cinema complex.
The Gondo arcade is crowded by the people ... no, not so many. I like the
sleepy air of the shopping arcade in early afternoon. As Zenkoji going
on their own clock, the Gondo Shopping Arcade is going on the Gondo's.
As writing like this, local shop keepers may say they never want to have
the sleepy clock. Well, nowadays Japan's local economy is so exhausted.
Here isn't exception, I guess.
But from the tourist's point of view, Nagano is quite attractive destination.
There are many touristic places after Zenkoji. Some towns are fully restored
in antique local style for tourism. Camping at highland in summer, snow
boarding and skiing in winter. Remember is the winter Olympic game held
city, paradise of winter sports. There are dozens of hot springs. Local
food is very fresh and delicious. Forty years ago I stopped by a soba noodle
restaurant at random. But now you can look up good one with Internet. It's
just two hour trip from Tokyo by Shinkansen train. So why not spend a couple
of days in Nagano in next holidays.
" Touch and feel Buddha " Nagano, Japan 2015
| Post Script
I visit Zenkoji for Gokaicho event (Exhibiting hidden Buddhist image),
which is held every seven years during Apr. to May. To avoid a crowd I
skipped holiday week in the beginning of May and choose a weekday. But
even so it's crowded indeed. I've not seen such a crowded Zenkoji for long
time. In the middle of the precincts I see a tall wooden post "Eko-bashira"
which was not exist last time I visited nine month ago. Visitors put their
hands on its surface for pray. The giant post looks like being stuck on
the ground from the sky. At the top of the post, a rope is settled and
it's tied up with Maedachi-honzon (the presented Buddhist image) in the
temple's main hall. Touching the Eko-bashira means touching the image itself.
Like Obinzuru-sama I mentioned before or Eko- bashira, "Touch and
feel" is a key word in Zenkoji. Feel Buddha with our skin and turn
to help with all our body. It's direct, full of humanity and embodied.
When I pray the Maedachi-honzon in the main hall, I'm told there is last
memorial service on the day. Of course, I attend on it. After sutra chanting
the door of the shrine where the image is placed in is closed. Oh, the
statue was shown until 5 PM? In exact the image is the copy of real Buddhist
image. So the real one has been hidden since AD654, it means from the very
beginning of the temple's history. Never shown. Even the copy is shown
only once in seven years. Add to that, the working hour is until 5 O'clock?
That's really hidden of hidden. "If the real image doesn't exist from
the beginning?" Well, actually the rumor has been come and gone over
the ages, I heard. Nobody know. The mysterious matter's also the reason
why Zenkoji attracts more people.
So why Gokaicho is held every seven years, not every year? Well, here is
one theory. The power of the Buddhist image is too strong for permanent
I don't know whether it comes from the power or not but I feel like the
usual ticking sound of "Zenkoji clock" becomes stronger striking-time
sound during Gokaicho period.