Day 4: Nagano

As usual, the day started with breakfast. My hotel stay included a breakfast buffet, so that’s what I went with.


After breakfast and checking out of the hotel, it was time to walk to Zenko-ji Temple. It’s about a 20-minute walk, so I took some pictures along the way.

Nagano, walking to temple Nagano, walking to temple Nagano, walking to temple Nagano, walking to temple Nagano, walking to temple Nagano, walking to temple


Nagano is probably best known internationally now as the host of the 1998 Winter Olympics, but within Japan it is famous for Zenko-ji, a 7th century Buddhist temple that Nagano City was built around. The present main hall dates back to 1707.

All of the pictures are in today’s full gallery, but here are a few to start with.

Zenko-ji Temple Zenko-ji Temple Zenko-ji Temple Zenko-ji Temple Zenko-ji Temple Zenko-ji Temple Zenko-ji Temple Zenko-ji Temple Zenko-ji Temple Zenko-ji Temple Zenko-ji Temple

Also, proof that I’m actually here in Japan and not just making up stories pieced together from the internet:

Zenko-ji Temple

Key to Paradise

Inside of the main hall, there are stairs down to a pitch-black passageway. When you go through the entry gate you get an instruction card (an English version is available) which tells you to hold all of your belongings in your left hand to leave your right hand free, then keep your right hand on the wall at about waist height to a) navigate since you can’t see anything, and b) try to feel for the Key to Paradise. The instructions also make it abundantly clear that you are not to create any light whatsoever, going so far as to warn about glowing watches, as any light or seeing in the passageway is forbidden.

So what’s the Key to Paradise all about? My Japan By Rail book says: “Anyone who touches the key is assured eternal salvation. Anyone who doesn’t can buy another ticket and try again. Don’t go in if you’re claustrophobic or afraid of the dark.”

The brochure at Zenko-ji says: “Innermost sanctuary has statues of Zenkoji’s founder and family and pitch-black tunnel running under altar. Pilgrims navigate tunnel blindly seeking wall-mounted ‘Key to Paradise.’ One touch ensures eternal salvation.”

Being blind in the passageway and feeling your way through (it takes a few turns) is definitely an odd experience. For those wondering, I did find the Key, so if it really does grant eternal salvation, that’s the best $5 I’ve ever spent.

I recommend reading more about the temple here.

Weather update

The forecast was for rain today in Nagano, but it ended up being sunny and rather warm. A stop at a vending machine just outside of the temple grounds was in order for a refreshing beverage.

Zenko-ji Temple

I walked around the temple grounds some more, then back toward Nagano Station.

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I passed what I’m guessing is a recruiting station for the Japanese Self-Defense Force.


You occasionally see signs that the Olympics were here.

Nagano Nagano

I was going to visit the Nagano Winter Olympics Museum, but then noticed in my book it’s only open Saturdays and Sundays. There actually isn’t a ton to do in Nagano other than see the temple, so I picked up my luggage from the hotel, changed my train reservation to an earlier train, and caught the Shinano train to Matsumoto.

The train ride passed through a lot of farmland, and it was also the first time I saw a lot of older neighborhoods with more traditional family homes in areas that haven’t been taken over by high-rise apartment buildings like I saw all over Tokyo.

Shinano to Matsumoto Shinano to Matsumoto


My hotel room in Matsumoto is much more along the lines of what I was expecting when I was booking single rooms. There’s just room for the bed, little desk, and small bathroom.


Matsumoto Station is nice, and connected to a Midori department store. The station is a couple stories high, so you can get a nice look out at the mountains.

Matsumoto Matsumoto

Dinner tonight was something involving pork:


And just for good measure, a couple of pictures of Matsumoto near the train station after dinner:

Matsumoto Matsumoto Matsumoto

Tomorrow, the plan is to check out Matsumoto Castle and a museum or two that sound interesting. Stay tuned!

Random notes

While walking around in both Nagano and Matsumoto, there were often vans driving by with loudspeakers mounted to them, people waving out the windows, and someone saying stuff through the speakers. I had no idea what they were saying, but did some research tonight and they’re most likely political campaigns. Sometimes they’ll stop and set up shop in one place for a while and blast whatever it is they’re saying out. Makes me appreciate some of the noise ordnances we have at home. It’s interesting that it’s considered rude to talk on the phone on the trains, but it’s apparently okay to shout through megaphones on the streets.

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