| Jessica Piora & Yuichi Kobayashi
Kozenji and surroundings: A morning of quiet contemplation in Komagane
Located in the Southern Nagano area, the city of Komagane is famous for its beautiful natural landscapes, and several exciting attractions it has to offer to its visitors.
Among these is Kozenji, a beautiful temple immersed in nature, like those you would expect to see in Kyoto or Nara, where you can spend a quiet couple of hours in silence and contemplation.
How to reach Kozenji
To reach Kozenji from Komagane Station you need to take the Ropeway bus line and get off at Kiriishi Koen Shita.
If you are visiting from Nagoya the easiest option is to take the highway bus to Minowa (Nagano) from Sakae Station, get off at Chuodo Komagane Interchange, and take a 20-minute walk from there.
Founded in 860, Kozenji is a Tendai temple protected by the wisdom guardian Fudo Myo-o, who can free the world from its miseries.
A statue of Fudo Myo-o is hidden inside the temple, and it is never to be shown to the public. What is shown to the public is the statue of his dog incarnation, the legendary dog Hayataro.
Enter the Temple and observe the luminous moss.
You can enter the temple from this gate and walk a little quiet road that leads you to the temple.
Here you can already appreciate one of the unique features of the temple: the so-called luminous moss. All you have to do is observe the holes between the little rocks of the walls at the side of the path. If you are lucky, you will notice that the holes light up thanks to natural light!
The main temple complex
This little moss path will lead you to the beautiful temple complex. Surrounded by secular trees, the rock paths covered in lichens, this is a place where you can find some quiet and silence, far from the hustle of everyday life.
In fact, this is a place of spiritual training for people seeking to acquire the wisdom of the Lotus Sutra.
The original temple complex consisted of several buildings and smaller temples, which ended up becoming inactive or destroyed by fires, and now only this main area remains with twelve main buildings, pagodas, and pavilions.
Make an offering to Fudo Myo-o
The local ritual is to wash your hands and mouth to purify yourself before setting foot into places of prayer, and you can do so at this beautiful fountain.
Please note that the use of the fountain is currently suspended due to Covid.
If you follow the path you will get to the area that is devoted to offerings and prayers. Here you can light some incense sticks for Fudo Myo-o,
you can offer a candle,
or you can throw some coins into the offering box and pray (the characteristic bow twice, clap twice, pray, bow once more is originally a Shintō thing, but in reality, it is very common in Buddhist temples as well).
In this main prayer corner, you will also notice a statue dedicated to the legendary dog Hayataro.
Legend has it that back in the day the city used to be haunted by monsters. The monsters would send catastrophes and calamities to the people and could only be placated by the human sacrifice of a maiden every year.
One day a priest saw in his dream that the monsters were afraid of Hayataro, a big dog who lived in Kozenji.
The priest led Hayataro to the demons, and Hayataro defeated them and freed the city from its curse.
The mysterious Sai no Kawara
Inside the temple complex, you will be able to see Sai no Kawara.
It refers to the banks of the Sanzu River, which separates this world from the afterlife in the Buddhist worldview.
This is a gathering place for children who have left their parents and died. Children pick up pebbles and stack them one by one to build a tower.
However, that tearful act always ends up in vain because demons will come out and break the stones before the tower is completed.
Pay a visit to the temple garden
The garden is right next to the temple, and it takes 500 yen to visit. You pay the money to the counter, enter, take off your shoes and enter an old Japanese house.
From inside the house, you can enjoy observing the garden as you walk around.
What makes Japanese gardens so special is how many different sceneries they can concentrate in a limited amount of space.
As you walk the view will change to something completely different!
Take this time to appreciate the sounds of nature, the birds chirping, the water flowing, and even the sound of cicadas if it is summer.
Enjoy some local snacks!
In the parking area near the temple, you can enjoy a milk soft ice cream made with local milk, and some local red rice sweets called akaseki manju.
For the hungrier, the typical local dish is called sauce katsudon, it consists of s a pork cutlet covered in sauce, and it comes on a bed of rice and cabbage.
If you are feeling tired by now, after lunch you can enjoy a nice refreshing walk around Onuma Lake nearby. For those who enjoy fishing, this is an ideal location, you will notice many people fishing in this little lake.
Akatsuki Tower: An instagrammable secret location!
If still have some energy left and you are up for a walk (and it is quite the walk, let me tell you), you can try and reach this secret instagrammable location!
Follow the indications for Furujo Park and walk,
walk some more,
And here it is.
You can come here with a special person, enjoy a breathtaking view of the Komagane area, take some pictures of this curious spot, and even seal your bond with someone by putting a red padlock on the fence Three Steps Over Heaven style!
It takes about 40 minutes to reach, but it is definitely a unique place in Komagane!