Enryakuji/Ishiyamadera: Walking in the enlightened footsteps of Mt. Hieizan monks

Konpon-Chudo Hall of Enryakuji temple is designated as a national treasure. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Konpon-Chudo Hall of Enryakuji temple is designated as a national treasure. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

JAPAN HERITAGE Enryakuji/Ishiyamadera: Walking in the enlightened footsteps of Mt. Hieizan monks

June 17, 2011 Asahi Shimbun

Mount Hieizan, visible from the heart of Kyoto, is not only the site of Enryakuji temple, but also home to a breeding ground for wild birds.

Hieizan, which straddles Kyoto and Shiga prefectures, offers a spectacular view of Japan’s biggest lake, Biwako. And for the energized who want to do more than look, there are numerous hiking paths.

With its eclectic offerings, Hieizan can please just about any tourist, be they interested in nature, culture or religion.

Scenic paths join all the attractions and shuttle buses are also available between the various structures.

Enryakuji, designated a government historic site, is the head temple of the Tendai Buddhist sect. With the entire mountain considered an extension of the temple grounds, visitors are literally walking in the footsteps of monks who sought enlightenment hundreds of years ago.

The temple precincts can be divided into three areas–Todo, Saito and Yokawa–each housing important Enryakuji structures. The temple itself joined the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1994.

Its history dates back to 788 when the monk Saicho established a temple and set up a Buddhist statue he carved himself.

Emperor Saga named the temple Enryakuji in 823, after Saicho’s death.

Enryakuji, along with Rinnoji temple in Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture and Kaneiji temple in Tokyo, are considered the big three of the Tendai sect.

Another temple of interest in the area is Ishiyamadera, located in Otsu near Biwako.

The temple’s origin dates back to mid-eighth century, when Emperor Shomu ordered its construction to house a statue of Kannon, the deity of mercy. It is also known for its connection to Heian Period (794-1185) women writers, including Murasaki Shikibu, who worshipped there.

The temple compound is also noted for the numerous wollastonite boulders protruding through the soil, a rarity that inspired the government to designate the site a natural monument.

* * *

To get to Enryakuji, take a 17-minute ride on the JR Kosei Line from Kyoto Station to Hieizan Sakamoto Station. A short shuttle bus service is available to the cable car stop Sakamoto Station.

Take the Sakamoto Cable Car to Cable Enryakuji Station, which takes about 11 minutes. Enryakuji’s Todo is about a 10-minute walk from the station.

A Hieizan-bound bus service is also available from Otsu Station. Similar bus services are also available from Kyoto Station.

To reach Ishiyamadera temple, take the Keihan Electric Railway’s Ishiyama Sakamoto Line to Ishiyamadera Station. It’s a 10-minute walk from there.

From Otsu Station, take a 5-minute ride on the JR Tokaido Line to Ishiyama Station. A 10-minute bus service is available right to the foot of the temple.

Check out (hieizan.or.jp), (www.city.otsu.shiga.jp) and (otsu.or.jp/index.htm).

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