Zenkoji in Nagano is a unique temple that is open to anyone of any religion and there is no Danka-Seido(the supporter system of a Buddhist temple). It welcomes people of any age or gender, so it became very popular. It has been friendly called ‘Zenkoji-san’. Zenkoji itself is not a religious temple, but there are Tendai sect of ‘Daikanjin’ and Jyodo sect of ‘Daihongan’ in the temple.
Monks of both Tendai sect and Jyodo sect(25 Tendai sect of buildings and 14 Jyodo sect of buildings there) stay and work there. The chief priest of Jyodo sect ‘Daihongan’ is called ‘Zenkoji-Shonin’. Only a noblewoman is allowed to be the chief priest (thus it is called Amadera). ‘Ikkou Sanzon Amidara Nyorai’ (believed to be the oldest principal image in Japan) is enclosed.
A temple that helps women
Zenkoji is a unique, popular temple that is believed to help especially women.
In Nara and Heian periods, only men were allowed to enter temples.
Jyodo sect founder, Shinran, Soto sect founder Dogen, and a Buddhist priest Nichiren were against the tradition. These three historic figures led Kamakura Buddhism revolution, and eventually women started to pray at Zenkoji. In Zenkoji-Engi, it is written that a daughter of a noble family was saved from illness thanks for the prayers of Zenkoji. Thus, Zenjoji is believed to give help and save women. In Kamakura period, Masako Hoji, wife of Minamoto no Yoritomo, was a faithful prayer of the temple. In Edo era, the half of prayers were women, and even today, a lot of women visit there.
The principal image
Ikko Sanzon style of Amida Nyorai is called ‘Zenkoji Nyorai’. It is a Buddhist statue that has a boat-shaped halo and Amida Nyorai, Kannon Bosatsu, and Seishi Bosatsu.
It is kept hidden from view. The temple has a period of ‘Gokaicho’ once every 7 years when a replica of the statue is shown to the public. A lot of pilgrims visit Zenkoji during the period.