If you're making your way from Hotaka station to Daio Wasabi Farm in the countryside of Azumino near Matsumoto, then on the way you'll be well advised to stop off at Tokoji. This is an attractive neighbourhood Buddhist temple, not particularly large, but with lots of interesting features to enjoy.
First you have to get in though: the impressively tall gate is manned by two statues of guardian demons, fierce and imposing, as well as carved wooden dragons poised to swoop down from under the roof. The gate is also a good spot to take photographs, with giant god-sized sandals, and cut-out figures for you to poke your faces through.
There's a lovely landscaped garden, with carefully tended topiary and a small pond spanned by a low stone bridge, and around here you'll find a couple of serene Buddhist statues. Then under the eaves of the main hall there's a striking, finely detailed carved diorama, showing a monk in a garden, in earnest conversation with another dragon.
Then if you walk around to the rear of the hall, there's something a bit different: open a little door that you find there and you see some steps, leading down into darkness. At the bottom you turn a corner into a tunnel that's completely dark, so you just have to shuffle forward and feel your way, until you emerge blinking into daylight at the other end.
The temple is about twenty minutes' walk from Hotaka station on the JR Oito line, roughly a thirty-minute ride from Matsumoto.
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I came to Japan from Manchester, England in summer 2003, and have travelled a lot since then, around Japan and in Asia. When I`m not working I write satire at www.iothern.blogspot.com and perform stand-up comedy in and around Tokyo. Check my youtube channel `CunningPunster` for a taste.