Zenkoji Temple in Nagano prefecture is considered one of Japan's most popular temples and the largest after Nara's Todai-ji. It is surrounded by a bustling religious district and is reached by following the lively Nakamise-dori avenue that is lined with temple lodgings, shops and abbey residences.
The present temple site was founded in 642, when Yoshimitsu Honda enshrined a statue of Buddha (the 'Ikko Sanzon Amida Nyorai'), back when the religion was first introduced to Japan – a replica version of the statue is only put on public display every 6 years (known as Gokaichō and next due in 2021), while the original remains hidden out of view (termed 'hibutsu').
Whilst the surrounding town began to develop around the temple's growth during the Kamakura era, the temple has also suffered damage at various points in its history, with the current structure actually the 11th reconstruction, dating back to 1707.
Zenko-ji is widely considered a unique temple for a variety of reasons. It belongs to both the Jodo and Tendai sects simultaneously, has always been open to women, and has a unique north-to-south layout with Mount Omine to the north.
Fifteen minute bus ride (#1) from JR Nagano Station, followed by a 5 minute walk.