Vegetarian's Japan Guide

The Best Guide to Nakamise Street’s Top Zenkōji Specialties

Nakamise-dōri Street (仲見世通り) in front of Zenkōji Temple is the street between the temples at Niōmon Gate and Sanmon Gate. Amongst the many shops and restaurants lined up on the sides of the street, it shouldn’t be a surprise that many tourists would have a hard time deciding which shops to visit.

So read on for our recommended shops and tips. A few hidden gems are also included!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Zenko-ji-Nakamisedori-Street-Nagano-Japan.jpg
Photo from photo-ac.com

Although not all seven specialties have survived the test of time, there are still three that you should be able to try!

Back in the Edo period (1603 – 1867), there were seven local specialties sold at the shops around Zenkōji that pilgrims would often bring home as souvenirs after visiting the temple. The seven specialties were known as the Seven Specialties of Zenkōji (善光寺七名物).

One of the three is Sangokuichi no Amazake (三国一の甘酒). The non-alcoholic fermented rice drink is sold at several shops on the street as well as the cafe at Jyōyama Park (城山公園).

Below, we have included a couple of shops that, despite not selling one of the Seven Specialties of Zenkōji, still have specialties that you may find unique.

Some of these shops and restaurants are located beyond Nakamise-dōri Street but are still located between Nagano Station and Niōmon Gate. They are listed in sequence according to their distance from Zenkōji Temple, with the closest shop being listed first:

For more information on how to get to Zenkōji and Nakamise-dōri Street, please refer to our article on Zenkōji.

The 7 Spice Blend (七味唐辛子) from Yawataya (八幡屋磯五郎)

When you visit the noodle restaurants in Japan, have you noticed that there is almost always a small round can of spice at one side of the table for you to add more flavor to your noodle soup?

Yawataya, founded in 1736, is a shop that has the longest history on Nakamise-dōri Street. The shop itself is well-known to the Japanese, and the 7 spice blend, which is one of the Seven Specialties of Zenkōji remains their most popular souvenirs.

The 7 spice blend was so popular that during the Edo period, it was nicknamed Zenkōji Mairi no Tegata (善光寺参りの手形), which means ‘permit to enter the temple’ (≧▽≦).

Apart from a variety of different 7 spice blends that you can get from the main store close to Zenkōji’s Niōmon, you can also customize your own 7 spice blend!

The main Yawataya store also has a café called Yokochō Café (横町カフェ) attached. The photo in the Instagram post on the left below is from the back of the café. Imagine if that big can of 7 spice blend is completely filled with spice powder (´▽`*).

Many of the dishes on the menu of their café are infused with their spices. Please be aware that they currently do not have a savory vegetarian menu. However, the good thing is that they have a nice dessert menu with many spice-infused items (all products contain eggs).

Yawataya’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • The shop is open from 9 am to 6:30 pm daily.
  • The cafe is open from 10 am to 5 pm
    • The last order is taken at 4:30 pm
  • It is just a 5-minute walk from Zenkō-ji.
  • From Nagano Station, it is around a 20-minute walk.

Click HERE to get back to a list of restaurants and cafes around Zenkōji Temple.

Sake Buns (酒饅頭) at Tsuruya (酒饅頭本舗つるや)

The next Seven Specialties of Zenkōji (善光寺七名物) is the Sake Manjū/Buns (酒饅頭) sold at Tsuruya.

Back in the Edo period, the Kanai River (鐘鋳川) flowed in front of Zenkōji Temple. Along the river, many shops sold Manjū. However, as the Kanai River cannot be seen today as it flows underground, the Manjū shops do not exist anymore.

Just like its name, when making the skin of the Sake Manjū, sake is used to ferment the dough. The red bean paste is then added to the fermented dough before the bun is steamed.

Manjū was originally from China. Monks who traveled to China to study Buddhism brought the recipe back to Japan in the Muromachi period (1336 – 1573). Instead of putting in pork or other meat as the main ingredient, bean paste was used as Japanese monks did not consume meat back then.

This is why Tsuruya, which was opened in 1779, has been selling Sake Manjū instead of pork buns. The buns from the shop have a slightly pleasant scent of sake, making it the perfect snack to share with your families and friends when you visit Zenkōji!

Tsuruya’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • The shop is open from 9 am to 4:30 pm or until sold out daily except for Wednesdays.
  • It is around a 20-minute walk from Nagano Station.
  • From Zenkō-ji, it is around a 10-minute walk.

Click HERE to get back to a list of restaurants and cafes around Zenkōji Temple.

Monzen Hattoawase Monaka (門前鳩合わせ最中) at Kukuya syunsui (九九や旬粋)

Amongst the many confectionaries sold at Kukuya syunsui, Monzen Hattoawase Monaka is probably the most unique as a souvenir.

Monzen Hattoawase Monaka was inspired by the five doves hidden in Zenkōji’s plaque on the Sanmon Gate. Not only the monaka has a cute shape and is officially recognized by the temple, but you also get to put the bean paste into the waffle yourself!

The monaka comes with a waffle and bean paste. The bean paste consists of four different flavors, giving you the ability to control how much bean paste you want to add to your monaka (=゚ω゚)ノ. That is why instead of calling it a Hatto Monaka, it is a Hattoawase Monaka meaning joining together (as you join together the two waffles to complete the dove).

The bean paste that comes with the monaka isn’t as sweet as usual. So if you don’t have a sweet tooth should still be able to enjoy it.

Furthermore, the crepe sold here has skin made from a mixture of both buckwheat and wheat flour. Make sure to get one so that you can compare the difference in taste to the normal crepe (=゚ω゚)ノ.

Kukuya syunsui’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • The shop is open from 8 am to 6 pm.
  • It is around a 30-minute walk from Nagano Station.
  • From Zenkō-ji, it is around a 3-minute walk.

Click HERE to get back to a list of restaurants and cafes around Zenkōji Temple.

Miso at Suyakame (すや亀)

Other than the sweet desserts, the next shop that we want to recommend to you is a miso shop. Suyakame, founded in 1902, sells not only miso but also mouthwatering miso-flavored grilled rice balls!

The slightly burnt smell of the rice ball outside would make it really hard for anyone to resist. After enjoying those rice balls, you can also get a miso-flavored soft-serve cone that has an exquisite balance of the savor of miso and the sweetness of the ice cream (*´ω`).

Its main shop, located in the middle between Nagano Station and Zenkō-ji Temple, also has a café that serves light meals on top of the grilled rice balls. Please be aware that other menu items are not vegetarian-friendly.

Suyakame’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • The shop close to Zenkō-ji is open from 9 am to 6 pm normally but will close early at 5 pm in the winter.
  • From the 31st of December to the 2nd of January, it will be operating on extended business hours.
  • The Suyakame Cafe is open from 10 am to 5 pm, with lunch served from 11:30 am to 2 pm.
  • Suyakame Zenkōji Shop is just a 5-minute walk from Zenkō-ji.
  • The Main Suyakame Shop is a 15-minute walk from both Nagano Station and Zenkō-ji Temple.

Click HERE to get back to a list of restaurants and cafes around Zenkōji Temple.

Nishinomon Yoshinoya Sake Brewery (西之門 よしのや)

For Japanese sake and plum wine lovers, remember to stop by Nishinomon Yoshinoya. They have a variety of sake for you to sample to make sure that you are happy with the bottle you will bring home at the end of the day!

If you are not a fan of alcohol, there are other non-alcoholic beverages such as amazake and miso. Their amazake (fermented rice drink) comes with a couple of different flavors and is said to be one of the best amazake in the country (=゚ω゚)ノ.

As an expert in rice fermentation since the early 17th century, their miso and pickles in sake lees are also quite delicious. Of course, you can try them out before making a purchase (^_-)-☆.

The shop opens from 8:30 am, giving you the perfect excuse to start drinking from the morning (´▽`*).

NishinomonYoshinoya Sake Brewery’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • The shop is open from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm.
    • The sake brewery tour is held from 8:30 am to 5 pm.
  • Nishinomon Yoshinoya is just a 7-minute walk from Zenkō-ji.
  • From Nagano Station, it is a 25-minute walk.

Click HERE to get back to a list of restaurants and cafes around Zenkōji Temple.

Soba Noodles at Kado no Daimaru (かどの大丸)

Soba/buckwheat is the main staple food in the Shinshu region. So when you come to Nagano, you will notice that soba restaurants are located at every second corner.

But which restaurant should you dine at, given the limited amount of time you have?

We recommend Kado no Daimaru! The noodles sold here must be delicious enough to be in business since the 18th century!

The restaurant opens at 9 am, which is the perfect place to start your day in Japanese style. Their handmade noodles often receive praise and rave reviews from customers for being the best soba noodles they have ever tasted! The noodles are so delicious that you don’t even need the dipping sauce!

Just be aware that the dipping sauce and soup aren’t vegetarian. You can, however, bring your own dipping sauce.

Kado no Daimaru’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • Kado no Daimaru is open from 9 am to 6:30 pm.
  • It is a 5-minute walk from Zenkō-ji Temple and a 10-minute walk from Zenkōjishita Station.

Click HERE to get back to a list of restaurants and cafes around Zenkōji Temple.

Soba noodle at Fujikian (門前そば処 藤木庵)

For those who want to eat soba noodles made from 100% buckwheat flour, Fujikian is the restaurant you may want to head to. Also, if you wish to try out different kinds of soba dipping sauce, Fujikian will definitely meet that request.

The restaurant, founded in the late Edo period, makes fresh soba every day by grinding the buckwheat delivered by their local farmers. The type of soba used there is called Kirishita Soba (霧下蕎麦). Grown in the northern Nagano Prefecture on the plateau, the high-quality buckwheat harvested there is a result of the significant temperature difference between day and night as well as being surrounded by fog in spring and autumn.

Apart from the normal bonito dipping sauce, there are also grated yam sauce and walnut sauce for you to enjoy (unfortunately, all three aren’t vegetarian)!

Fujikian’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • Kado no Daimaru is open from 11 am to 3 pm daily except Tuesdays, unless it is a public holiday.
    • The last order is taken at 2:30 pm.
  • It is a 7-minute walk from Zenkō-ji Temple and a 10-minute walk from Zenkōjishita Station.
  • Fujikan is close to bus stop – Zenkōji Daimon (善光寺大門).

Click HERE to get back to a list of restaurants and cafes around Zenkōji Temple.

Incense at Kotaki (お香の店古薫)

If you enjoy the scent of incense, stop by Kotaki for its incense made from natural ingredients. Being the only shop with an incense formulator stationed in the entire prefecture, their incense has an elegant aroma to it.

Whether it is the traditional incense for burning or a sachet, you can find a nice gift for yourself or anyone that holds an important place in your life.

There is also Zukō (塗香), an incense powder that can be used as perfume. Since ancient times, Zukō has been used to ward off evil spirits. So how about putting some Zukō around your neck and wrists so you smell nice and, at the same time, become an evil-spirits repellent?

If you are interested in making your own incense, they can accommodate that request too! It will only take around 20 – 30 minutes of your time, and you will be walking away with the Zuko or sachet emitting your favorite smell!

Important: For incense-making experience, as there is currently no staff available who can speak English, they will be relying on translation applications.

Kotaki’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • Kotaki s open from 10 am to 5 pm daily except Wednesdays.
  • It is a 5-minute walk from Zenkō-ji Temple and a 10-minute walk from Zenkōjishita Station.

Click HERE to get back to a list of restaurants and cafes around Zenkōji Temple.

Oyaki (おやき) at Ogawanoshō (小川の庄 大門店)

Does anyone fancy making their own Oyaki Buns (おやき) at Nakamise-dōri Street?

Oyaki is a Japanese dumpling made of vegetables, rice, or any other filling wrapped in buckwheat and wheat flour dough before roasting. The great news is that it is vegan!

At Ogawanoshō, if you don’t want to just sit and be served, you can make your own Oyaki for just 500 yen! Everything will be prepared for you, and you will be given an apron. They welcome everyone to make their own Oyaki here, even if you don’t speak Japanese!

The session will take around 40 minutes. You will get to make two Oyaki, and it comes with a bowl of miso soup as well (unfortunately, the miso soup contains seafood extract).

Ogawanoshō’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • The shop is open from 9 am to 5 pm daily except Wednesdays.
  • The hearth used to roast Oyaki is available from 10 am to 4 pm
  • If you want to make your own Oyaki, come between 10:30 am and 2:30 pm.
  • It is an 8 to 10-minute walk from Zenkō-ji Temple and a 10-minute walk from Zenkōjishita Station.

Click HERE to get back to a list of restaurants and cafes around Zenkōji Temple.

Tenshin no Cake (てんしのけーき)

For all cake lovers, when you visit Jōyama Park for a relaxing stroll and cherry blossoms, remember to pay this family-owned cake shop next to the park a visit. It is a hidden gem popular amongst the locals but remains unknown to many tourists!

Ⓒ てんしのけーき

Opened in 2012, the shop aims to make cakes with minimum use of additives, preservatives, and artificial colorings. On top of that, instead of white sugar, sugar beets are used.

The cakes there utilize the original taste of the ingredients to ensure that they still taste as good as those made with many artificial ingredients and white sugar.

Whilst cakes are normally categorized as junk food, what you get from Tenshin no Cake deserves a different category. These cakes are suitable for toddlers and/or young children!

Their cakes are not only just healthier, but the chiffon cakes can be made from many different flavors! With miso being a famous local specialty, it is your chance to find out what miso-flavored chiffon cake tastes like!

Tip: If you are vegan, please check with the staff to see which biscuits on the shelf do not contain eggs and dairy. You can try out their soy milk whipped cream as well! Also, if you order in advance, they should be able to make a cake that is egg, dairy, and wheat-free. However, the cake will need to be a minimum size of 15 cm. To enquire, please email them at [email protected].

Ⓒ てんしのけーき

Tenshin no Cake’s Business Hours and Access Information

  • Tenshin no Cake is open from 8:30 am to 1:30 pm and 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm daily except Mondays and Tuesdays.
  • It is a 10-minute walk from Zenkō-ji Temple and a 20-minute walk from Zenkōjishita Station.

Click HERE to get back to a list of restaurants and cafes around Zenkōji Temple.

Explore the Chestnuts Town – Obuse

Obuseto
Find out how to get to this scenic spot by clicking the photo!

If you’re not in a hurry, we recommend you stop by Obuse for their delicious chestnut desserts and the dramatic ukiyo-e that the town is renowned for.

Find out more about what you can do and where to go, and of course, where to eat when you get to this gorgeous town from our Obuse article (=゚ω゚)ノ.

You can even visit someone’s backyard without notifying the owner!

Visit the Snow Monkeys in Jigokudani Monkey Park

We have all seen humans enjoying the hot springs. You yourself, especially during the winter seasons, might have already indulged in the onsen to warm up and let the rich minerals moisturize your skin.

But have you ever seen monkeys doing the same?

If you are interested in seeing some, follow our article on Jigokudani Monkey Park to find out the best time of the year to visit and how to get there!

Jigokudani-Snow-Monkey-Park-Nagano-Japan
Click the photo to find out how to see the monkeys in the hot spring!

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