Nagano

Most famous overseas for hosting the 1998 Winter Olympics, Nagano has long been famous domestically for its impressive Buddhist temple, Zenkoji, which has for centuries been an important pilgrimage destination despite the cold, snowy winters, and the steep mountains that now make the neighbouring area so ideal for skiing.

Set amidst apple orchards and surrounded by rugged hills, Nagano is a surprisingly modern city, though Zenkoji Temple, at the heart of the city, has changed little since it was founded in the seventh century. Zenkoji is renowned for its statue of the Buddha, reputedly the first such effigy brought to Japan. Although the statue itself is never displayed, a replica is shown to the public every seven years - the next viewing is scheduled for 2010.

Nagano's Zenkoji also offers 'the key to paradise' attached to a wall in an underground tunnel. Any visitor able to locate and touch the key in the pitch black tunnel is believed to be granted enlightenment.