Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Yokoso! Japan: Day 07

Matsumoto to Nagano

I decided to make the trip back to Tokyo via Nagano, host to the Winter Olympic games many years back. Once again my day began at the train station.

I was constantly amazed at how convenient everything around the train stations were. Here was a convenience stall on the train platform itself, a common sight.


After a 1 hour train ride, I arrived at Nagano City, capital of Nagano prefecture. The plan was to check out the city's main attraction, then head back to Tokyo directly via Shinkansen.

The city's main attraction was Zenkoji temple, and leading up to the temple was a pavement lined with souvenir shops. This particular temple was filled with mostly local tourists.

Zenkoji Temple

The Six Jizo, guardian deities of children.

Above: Another type of hand-washing area.

Above: Zenkoji temple, front entrance. Nagano city was built originally around this temple, and has developed concurrently with it for over 1400 years. Those swastika-looking designs are actually sauvastikas (clockwise swastika). Both are very religious symbols of life and good luck for Buddhists, which have unfortunately been tarnished by the Nazis in recent history.

Fearless pigeons. These birds have gotten used to human proximity in Japan.

Above: Wishes waiting to come true. Hope you made it, Shuichi-san!

Shinran-Seijinzo. Shinran was sent to Echigo and on his journey he stopped at Zenkoji to pray for 100 days.

Another one of the rituals commonly seen in Japanese temples, people burning incense and trying to get the smell into their hair.

Above: Deity gets homage.

Temple gardens

Unlike the other temples I'd seen so far, Zenkoji temple had some pretty magnificent trees and flower gardens. This is the view towards the rear-side of the temple.

The three-tiered pagoda in the back part of the temple compounds. It was dedicated to the officers and men of Japan and the world who were killed in action from the time of the civil war ending the Tokugawa Shogunate up to including World War II.

Above: Inside Kyozo, a wooden building to the left of the main hall in which the printing blocks for all the Buddhist sutras are stored. Loe would have loved to have been here.

Side view of Hondo, the main hall. Its inner sanctuary and worshippers' hall are constructed in a T-shape. This is the largest wooden building with a thatched roof in all Japan. It is exceeded in size only by the Todaji Temple in Nara (which I just missed seeing on Day 3 because we were late) and the Sanju-sangendo Hall in Kyoto (which I didn't have enough time to see).

Inside it the Amida Trinity is enshrined (Amida Buddha with Kannon and Daiseishi Bodhisattvas on either side). According to popular belief, this image was made of gold by the Buddha himself and was brought to Japan from China via Korea, as a gift from the King of Korea long ago.

Cheese! Local tourists.

Moo! Foreign tourist.



Right outside the second gate into the temple, is the Daikanjin, a temple of the Tendai Sect.

In it were many altars, shrines and treasures.

It has a garden which is one of the "Hundred Famous Gardens of Japan".

Right outside the Daikanjin, was the Hosho-Ike pond with lots of my little friends. :)

Nagano City

Nagano City to me looked just like another small Japanese town. Not much difference in terms of layout or architecture, except that buildings were a bit more modern here. Probably a result of hosting the Winter Olympic games.

Above: Bus stop and main street outside the Zenkoji Temple entrance.

Above: My ride back to Tokyo. Shinkansen Asama!

Tokyo Again

Once again, I was not let down by the JR Travel Agency. They got me a hotel near the Tokyo station at a reasonable 8000 Yen. This was so far the most expensive hotel in Japan that I'd stayed at, but it turned out also to be the best.

By the time I checked in and dumped my big bag, the sun was setting and it was time to once again set out for Tokyo by night.


The one place I could not miss while in Tokyo was the famous electronics shopping area, Akihabara. Somehow, it was a bit of a disappointment. Prices were high and there was not really anything that I could not buy elsewhere. I guess the rest of the world (or rather Asia) has pretty much closed the gap with Japan in terms of electonic gear.

Mobile phones. NTT DoCoMo, Vodafone and TU-KA PDC (2G); KDDI "au" cdmaOne (2G) & CDMA2000 1x (3G); NTT DoCoMo FOMA (3G) and Vodafone UMTS (3G) phones.

Akihabara has all of Tokyo mens' essential needs: food, electronics and anime.


Next stop, Shibuya. This was supposed to be the real "Orchard Road" of Tokyo, where the happening and the hip hang out. I even saw a convoy of 60's style American convertibles driving by.

The crowd was intense, probably partly because it was a Saturday night. I was craving for a chocolate cake so I tried one at "Excelsior Cafe". The place was so packed I couldn't even get a table to sit at, so I had to use one of the "standing" tables. The legs were achin' but the stomach was willin'.

Click here for more pictures from Nagano

Continue to Day 8 / Go back to Day 6 / Back to Yokoso! Japan Index