Zenkoji Temple

Experience Buddhist Cuisine and Traditions at Zenkoji Temple

Live the life of a Buddhist monk, from early morning meditation to sampling the delectable vegetarian cuisine, while experiencing the peaceful surroundings of Zenkoji Temple in Nagano.

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Try eating, sleeping, and praying like a monk at Zenkoji, a Buddhist temple high above Nagano City.

Try eating, sleeping, and praying like a monk at Zenkoji, a Buddhist temple high above Nagano City.

Perched atop a hill overlooking Nagano City is the 7th-century Buddhist temple, Zenkoji, an imposing wooden edifice of gold-trimmed sloping roofs and spiritual iconography fronted by a large temple precinct. It is one of Japan’s most important Buddhist monuments, famous for a statue of Buddha said to be carried from a lake in Osaka on the back of the temple’s founder, Yoshimitsu Honda. The statue still resides deep within the building though all human eyes are forbidden to look at it. Honda was also incredibly progressive as Japanese temple founders go, maintaining that from Zenkoji’s inception, men and women would be given equal standing and worshipping rights—a far cry from the prevailing wisdom at the time.

With Buddhism being so influential in this part of Japan—and food being inextricable from all parts of Japan—it should come as little surprise that Zenkoji is also one of the most popular spots in the nation for visitors to eat shojin ryori (traditional Buddhist cuisine). Unlike many other styles of Japanese repast, shojin ryori is great for vegans and vegetarians. As Zen practitioners were prohibited from taking life, they were forced to develop a dietary lifestyle that focused solely on the fruit and vegetables of the land. Shojin ryori menus are dictated by season, but typically the food is served in lacquerware receptacles on a tray or stand and is comprised of zensai (small bites), aemono (a sauce-based dish), nimono (a simmered dish), yakimono (a grilled dish), and a fruit-based kanmi (dessert) that’s served with tea. And of course, you’ll get a bowl of rice to mop up at the end!

At Zenkoji, shojin ryori is served in the old pilgrim lodgings near the temple, where you can also try a range of monastic activities such as transcribing sutra scripts or making juzu (prayer beads). For accommodation in the area you can try shukubo (literally “sleeping with the monks”), whereby you can stay at an inn on the temple grounds. This is a popular option for guests who wish to participate in Zenkoji’s daily morning service during which visitors receive blessings from one of the temple’s priests or priestesses.

Zenkoji Temple

Zenkoji Temple

Zenkoji temple is a great place to soak up traditional Buddhist culture and to feast on top-quality shojin ryori (vegetarian Zen Buddhist cuisine). Plus, you can even spend a night in the monk’s quarters and attend the ritualistic morning service. And all this at less than two hours from Tokyo! Find more fun things to do with our model courses.

Phone number

Tel: +81 26-234-3591


9:00 – 16:30
Hours are determined by sunrise and sunset, and change by season.


Digital Map

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