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3-Day Model Trip Day2 / Kusatsu - Karuizawa - Nagano - Zenko-ji


3-Day Model Trip Day2 / Joshinetsu / Kusatsu - Karuizawa - Nagano - Zenko-ji

Buses from Kusatsu to Karuizawa Station run year round, but check the schedule because they are infrequent in winter. On the way from Kusatsu to Karuizawa, the active volcano Asama-yama (2,560 meters) looms up in front of you. If you have time, get off the bus to take a look. Buses halt at all the major stops along the way, but make sure of what time you will catch another bus. The Oni-oshidashi lava field is worth seeing. It was formed by a major eruption of Asama-yama in 1783.

After passing Oni-oshidashi, you enter the town of Karuizawa, founded in about 1890 as the first true Japanese retreat from the summer heat. It grew rapidly, and today there are many sights to see. A large mall called the Karuizawa Prince Shopping Plaza is located by the south entrance of Karuizawa Station. At present it houses 120 shops.

Karuizawa is a fine place for walking and bicycling. Many bicycle rental shops near the station and informative signposts enable you to enjoy the sights and scenery with a tranquil mind. The following is a good course to take from Karuizawa Station.

First, after leaving the station and enjoying the beautiful views of Asamayama as you move along, follow the lane leading beside the Yagasaki River to the main street, known as the Karuizawa Ginza. About 800 meters long, the street is lined with shops and restaurants and crowded with tourists in the summer. One street over from the Karuizawa Ginza are located the A. C. Shaw Memorial Chapel, the oldest Christian Church in Karuizawa, and St. Paul's Catholic Church, founded by an English priest. Both can be reached on foot in about 10 minutes. The larch groves in this area are especially beautiful in autumn. After returning to Karuizawa Station, board the Nagano Shinkansen for the city of Nagano. The ride takes about 35 minutes.

Buses from the front of Nagano Station to Zenko-ji Temple are frequent. It takes only about 10 minutes to reach the temple gate. On the right side of the long processional path leading to the Main Hall of the temple are about 40 lodgings buildings called "shukubo," basically for worshippers who gather at Zenko-ji from all over the country. They will accommodate general tourists too. If you have time, it is a rare overnight stay.

Belonging to no particular sect, Zenko-ji has long been an object of profound faith among the ordinary people. Visitors walk along the processional path and pass two gates-the Niomon and the Sanmon-to reach the imposing Main Hall, which is always thronged with ardently praying worshippers. Making what is called a Turn round the Altar (O-Kaidan Meguri) is a fascinating experience. You pass through a completely dark passage under the Main Hall. Touching a large iron key in the passageway is thought to bring good luck.

Along the shopping street leading from Zenko-ji to Nagano Station are a number of old shops that are virtually museums in miniature. In addition to selling things like watches, cameras, writing appurtenances and paper goods, the proprietors display-free of charge-their own collections. In Joyama Park adjacent to Zenko-ji is a museum housing roughly 700 works by the celebrated artist Kaii Higashiyama.

For people staying the night in temple lodgings, a vegetarian temple dinner (without meat or fish) is waiting to purify both body and soul.