The Modern Eight Views of Omi 4: Evening Bell at Miidera 現代の近江八景4:三井晩鐘

Author’s note: This is the fourth installment in a series about the Eight Views of Omi. (Read part three here)

Please enjoy and follow along as we deconstruct the modern-day landscape of Shiga and examine its vibrant history and culture. Thank you for reading! – Maddie

著者メモ: 近江八景にかかるシリーズの第四稿です。(第三稿はここです

現代の滋賀県の景色を解体したり、豊かな歴史と文化を調べたりしているので、楽しんで読み進めてください!ご読了ありがとうございます。 – マディ


[Toda] dedicated the hanging bell to a nearby temple called Miidera.

It is said that the beautiful sound of the bell carries across Lake Biwa and rings out in every corner of the land of Omi.

 – ­from the folktale, “Extermination of the Giant Centipede”







Miidera, also known as Onjoji, is a Buddhist Temple belonging to the Tendai Sect. Its origins date back to the 7th century, and although it was destroyed numerous times by fire, it was restored each time and is considered to be one of the Four Great Temples of Japan.




Miidera rests in the mountains of Otsu City, where – in addition to conducting daily religious practices – it hosts events and seasonal light-ups to showcase its famous Japanese maples and cherry blossoms. As I mentioned in a previous article, Miidera has also been a filming location for a number of movies, including the 2012 live-action adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin.



Photo by Emily Hammond 写真はエミリー・ハモンドより

I chose to paint Miidera as my fourth of the Eight Views of Omi specifically because of the cherry blossoms. Spring came late to Otsu this year, and even once the flowers began to bloom, rainy days made it difficult to spend any time outside. However, every day when I biked past Miidera on the way to work, I checked the progress of the trees. Finally, on one cloudy but dry day in April, I seized the opportunity and painted.





The original prints of Miidera, specifically the one by Hiroshige, show the temple from afar: buildings nestled into the green mountains. In the foreground of Hiroshige’s print, the viewer can see farmers at work, stacks of grasses, trees, and a few walls and buildings. Although the piece is titled, “Evening Bell at Miidera”, the bell itself is not pictured. I think, rather, the print is meant to evoke the sound of the bell. The land around Miidera resonates with the orange, brown, and blue-green of the sunset. Perhaps the figures in the fields are returning home, the sound of the bell signaling an end to their hard day’s work.



Evening Bell at Miidera by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858) 歌川広重の三井晩鐘



It’s also an interesting look into changes in the landscape. The area in front of Miidera today is completely full of buildings. It also has a very important new feature: the Lake Biwa Canal. This canal runs from the lake right up to the mountains, where it enters a tunnel that takes it all the way to Keage, in Kyoto. The canal was built during the Meiji Period (1868-1912). Hiroshige’s prints, by comparison, were made around 1834. Thus, the canal does not appear in them. According to the city of Kyoto, the Biwako Canal was constructed in order to revitalize industry in Kyoto, which had suffered a severe decline after the capital was relocated to Tokyo in the second year of Meiji (1869?). Though it is no longer used for shipping goods, Otsu and Kyoto cities are in the midst of a project to begin providing boat tours along its length.



Lake Biwa Canal 琵琶湖疎水 (Photo by Emily Hammond 写真はエミリー・ハモンドより)

Another very prominent piece of modern infrastructure that you can see today is the train tracks of the Keihan Line. This local line runs from the Ishiyamadera Temple area all the way to Sakamoto, at the base of Mt. Hiei. It is a quaint two-car train, beloved by those living and working in the center of Otsu City, and is regularly wrapped in advertisements for Otsu’s attractions (Hieizan Enryakuji) and films (Chihayafuru). In one famous spot near Hamaotsu Station, the tracks travel along the middle of the road and stop at a stoplight with the cars. Apparently, this is incredibly rare, and if you look closely, there are often train enthusiasts with big cameras waiting near this spot.







As I painted, trains came and went. Unusually large groups got out at Miidera Station, no doubt drawn by the impressive display of cherry blossoms. Some of them strolled past me on their way to the lake, occasionally stopping to peer over my shoulder and give words of encouragement and approval.



Evening Bell at Miidera by Madeline Thompson (2017) マデリン・トンプソンの三井晩鐘

I worked there all morning, drawing from my past experiences and forcing myself to leave visual space, or “room to breathe” in the mountains, path, and pink-white of the cherry blossoms. In the afternoon, Emily joined me and we filmed and wandered inside the temple, admiring the flowers and exquisite architecture, and even snapping some selfies with Benben, the temple’s mascot.






Benben べんべん (Photo by Emily Hammond 写真はエミリー・ハモンドより)

Benben is worth explaining, I think. He is a bearded monk with the body of a turtle who wears a bell as a hat and boasts impressive skills on the conch shell. He also gives out business cards. Furthermore, when speaking, he ends everything with “-ben.” According to his official Facebook page, he has a “strong sense of justice”, but is very scatterbrained, and if you remove his hood, he becomes incredibly shy.




The world of Japanese mascots is something to explore in greater depth elsewhere, but it is worth noting that Benben has some interesting historical background. His hat is not just any old bell. It is, in fact, the bell that Tawara Toda brought back from the Palace of the Dragon King in the folktale “Extermination of the Giant Centipede.” However, the bell’s story did not end there. It was later stolen from Miidera by a monk named Benkei, who belonged to the rival temple Hieizan Enryakuji. Long story short, the bell returned and is on display at Miidera, but still bears the scars of this incident. Now, why Miidera’s mascot would be named after the monk that stole from them is a mystery to me, but I am a big fan of Benben nonetheless.






All in all, Miidera is a site of incredible historical depth, and I’m sure there are many more legends and local features that I have yet to uncover. This article marks the halfway point of my adventures with the Eight Views of Omi, and I’d like to break the usual flow of writing to express my gratitude to my coworkers for their flexibility and support, Emily for creative collaboration, and anyone reading this for enduring these rambling articles. I hope you have learned something too! As always, get in touch with us at Yo!Biwako on Facebook if you have any comments or questions about Shiga!



View of Otsu from Miidera 三井寺から見える大津市の景色 (Photo by Emily Hammond 写真はエミリー・ハモンドより)


Click here to read the next chapter.



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