Nagano's unusual temple is the final destination each year for millions of religious pilgrims. Since the 7th century, this nonsectarian Buddhist temple has accepted believers of all faiths and admitted women when other temples forbade it. Each morning the head priest (Tendai sect) and head priestess (Jodo sect) hold a joint service to pray for the prosperity of the assembled pilgrims (usually on tour packages). Line up outside to be blessed by the priest,
who taps his rosary on each head. You then pass the incense burner, waving the smoke over yourself for good fortune and health. Inside, rub the worn wooden statue of the ancient doctor Binzuru (Pindola Bharadvaja in Sanskrit) for relief of aches and pains. A faithful disciple of Buddha, Binzuru is famous for stories of his miraculous powers and ability to fly. After the service, descend into the pitch-black tunnel in the basement to find the iron latch on the wall—seizing it is said to bring enlightenment.
The temple is a 3-km (2-mile) walk from the station, or you can arrange a taxi through your hotel the night before. The starting time for the morning service ranges from 5:30 to 7 am, depending on the season, a minute later or earlier each day. From 9:30 you can hop on the Gururin-go bus for the 10-minute trip (¥100) to the temple gate.