This Temple is NOT IN KYOTO (Hieizan Enryakuji Temple) 比叡山延暦寺

Hey Everyone! I hope you are continuing to press on during this crazy year.


One of the biggest and most famous attractions in Otsu is the World Cultural Heritage Site, Hieizan Enryakuji Temple. Despite often erroneously claimed otherwise, THIS TEMPLE IS NOT IN KYOTO. I won’t put any specific blogs under fire for making this mistake, but I would like to clearly state that Hieizan Enryakuji Temple is, in fact, located in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, not Kyoto (aside from a very small portion of the mountain.)


History (歴史 / 成り立ち)

DSC_0073Hieizan Enryakuji Temple was founded in the year A.D. 788 by the Buddhist monk Saicho, a.k.a. Dengyo Daishi. Saicho, after studying Buddhism in China, returned to Japan and founded Enryakuji Temple on Mt. Hiei, which eventually grew into a huge temple complex of over 3,000 temple structures throughout the mountains. This temple is known both as the head of the Tendai sect of Buddhism, as well as the birthplace of Japanese Buddhism.

In 1571 A.D. Oda Nobunaga, in an effort to preemptively prevent the power of the warrior monks to exceed his own, attacked and burned down the entirety of the temple, with the exception of the small, out of the way building, Ruri-do (Lapis Lazuli Hall). The Eternal Flame of Buddhism survived Oda Nobunaga’s attack because some of its flames were also lit in separate locations, enabling the flame to be re-lit back at its origin of Enryakuji Temple. Because of this destruction, all of the temple, with the exception of Ruri-do, was rebuilt, and dates back to the early Edo Period.


View of Lake Biwa from hiking trail トレールから琵琶湖風景


Mt. Hiei itself stands at a height of 848 meters; a relatively doable distance even for beginner hikers.
The specific trail we took is relatively old however, so there were definitely a few places in the trail eroded away by time.
It is definitely necessary to watch your step as you go.


Layout (境内)


Modern day Enryakuji Temple consists of three main areas; To-do (east pagoda), Sai-tou (west pagoda) and Yokawa. The main attraction in the To-do is the Konpon Chu-do, or main hall of the entire temple complex. This hall houses the Eternal Flame of Buddhism, (不滅の法灯)which is said to have survived from the founding of the temple until the present day.



As of writing this blog, the Konpon Chudo is currently roughly 5 years into a 10 year construction, which is scheduled to be completed in the year 2026. Because of this, the Konpon Chudo cannot currently be seen from the outside as it is encased within a temporary structure, but the inside of the building remains open to visitors.


Roughly a 20 min. walk from the To-do is the Sai-to, which features the Shaka-do and Ninai-do Halls. The Ninai-do is structured in a way to simulate the warrior monk Benkei, who was said to have been so strong that he carried the halls on his shoulders. Yokawa is located at a bit more of a distance from the other two areas, but if you are not in the mood for the approx. 4 km hike, buses are also available.


釈迦堂 Shaka-do
Houses the Shaka Nyorai Buddha. The main hall of the 西塔.
Temple Hall that is said to have been carried on the shoulders of Enryakuji’s great warrior monk, Benkei. 
浄土院 Jodo-in
The mausoleum for Saicho. Tendai Buddhism teaches that Saicho still lives to this day in this building.

Hiking Trails & Public transportation (ハイキングコースと公共交通機関)

From Shiga:

The hiking trail we took starts at the stone staircase just to the left of the main torii gate of Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine. See here:
for a map of other hiking trails on both the Shiga and Kyoto sides of the mountain.


If you are not a hiker, fear not, for there are public transportation options on both the Kyoto side and Shiga side of the mountain. The Hieizan Sakamoto Cable Car is the longest cable car in Japan, and will take you from the bottom to the top of the mountain, or vice versa, in only 11 minutes.

-Hieizan Sakamoto Cable Car
-approx. 10 min. walk from Keihan Sakamoto Hieizan-guchi Station
-approx. 20 min. walk from JR Hieizan Sakamoto Station
-Kojaku bus from JR Hieizan Sakamoto Station to Hieizan Sakamoto Cable




From Kyoto:
-Hiking trail
From Kyoto’s Shugakuin Station on the Eizan line, walk about 15 min. along the canal to the beginning of the trail.
The Keihan Hieizan Drive bus departing from Kyoto Station, get off at the Enryakuji Bus Center.
-Cable Car & Ropeway
Eizan Cable Car, departing from Yase-Hieizanhuchi Station. Transfer to the ropeway to get to the top.


Check out the video of Émilie and I as we climb Mt. Hiei and explore the temple grounds!
Also, despite what you may see online, this temple is still not in Kyoto.



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