This is a travel blog for desktop travelers and other ramblers who want to know the world just a little bit better.

Right now I am living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala where I'll be settled for a while. Thanks for reading!

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Path to Salvation Ends in Nagano

If you are like me you are probably wondering…“what the heck kind of travel blog is this anyway? The self-named ‘International Rambler’ has pretty much been sitting at his mother-in-law’s house for more than two weeks now”. Don’t fret. Our departure date is set. On Monday, June 21st we will gather our belongings and begin the nomadic lifestyle more suited for an international rambler.

Meanwhile, we have one more small trip to make. Mika’s aunt has invited us to come to Nagano for a visit, just over two hours away by bus. Nagano is mostly known worldwide as the host of the 1998 Winter Olympics. To the Japanese Nagano is home to Zenkōji, one of the country’s most important temples visited by millions of pilgrims every year. The Dalai Lama is actually coming on Sunday.

Zenkōji Temple holds the first ever Buddhist image in Japan. It arrived from Korea in 552. I think in order to return the favor Japan sent Pokémon to Korea in 1996. No one has actually seen this image for hundreds of years. For the pious and inquisitive, a replica of the image is shown in a grand ceremony every seven years.
We walk up a small pedestrian road lined with beautiful monks’ residences and traditional Japanese inns. We continue on past the first gate and rows of small shops selling religious knick knacks, ice cream and everything in between. I buy a hat. Pass the second gate, and we see the main hall. It was built in 1707 and has been designated a National Treasure.

Right inside the main hall sits Binzuru. He was a doctor and Buddha’s most intelligent follower. Tradition has it that you rub a part of his statue’s body and then rub the same part on your own body. This will help alleviate your ailments. If you are lucky enough not to have any problems, you can rub Binzuru’s head and then your own. This will make you more clever. Most people are doing this for a laugh. However, in one touching scene, I notice a small, devout woman in her mid-80’s reach up to rub Binzuru’s knees then slowly rub her own. Next, using a cane, she moves around the statue to repeat the process for her back. A serious plea for help from her daily aches and pains.

We pass Binzuru and go to a machine to buy a ticket (¥500) which gets us into the main prayer hall and a passage through an underground, pitch-black, windy hallway that leads to the “Key to Paradise.” We enter the tunnel keeping our hand along the right-side wall and following the chatter of other pilgrims until we reach a large metal item that feels like a door knocker. At my turn I give it a few shakes. According to the brochure, “[o]ne touch ensures eternal salvation”. For less than six US dollars my eternal salvation has been guaranteed. Definitely a much better bargain than what is offered by American televangilists.
At every sculpture there is a box to give coins before making a prayer. My religion forbids idol worship, but this guy was just so darn cute I gave him a ¥10 coin.

Smoke from this giant incense burner brings health and good fortune.
After leaving Zenkōji, we go to a terribly boring museum that shows the process of making Nihonshu, rice wine. It is my recommendation to skip the museum, go to the shop and just get the free samples of Japanese saké.

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