While many are unaware of this, Shiga Prefecture, next to Kyoto, has a wealth of national treasures and cultural properties. Starting from Mt. Hiei to the temples in the Sakamoto area, Ōtsu is the city for a day touring the spots that are historically and culturally rich. To make your visit more memorable, add Enman-in (圓満院) to your itinerary. Not only does the temple have gorgeous traditional buildings and a nationally recognized garden, but you can also participate in various cultural activities here. Spending a night in the temple is also possible!
Table of Contents
- Enman-in’s Profile
- Shinden Hall (宸殿)
- Mii no Meitei Garden (三井の名庭)
- Mii no Meisui Spring (三井の名水)
- Ōtsu Painting Museum (大津絵美術館)
- Cultural Activities at Enman-in
- Experiencing Shukubō (宿坊) and Vegan Shōji Ryōri at Enman-in
Enman-in is a Tendai sect temple erected in 987 by Prince Goen (悟円法親王), the 3rd son of Emperor Murakami (村上天皇). The temple used to be under Mii-dera Temple (三井寺).
The temple was named Byōdō-in (平等院) initially but gave its name to the Byōdō-in in Uji we know nowadays when the temple was completed.
Enman-in is one of the 17 Monzeki Temples (門跡寺院) in Japan. A Monzeki is a temple where the head monk had been an imperial family member or a noble court. While Enman-in is now north of Mii-dera, it was only relocated in the early Edo period.
Shinden Hall (宸殿)
As the temple has a deep connection with the imperial family, the Shinden Hall was relocated to the temple’s precinct from the Kyoto Imperial Palace in 1647 to be a part of the living quarter of the Queen of the Emperor Go-Mizunoo (後水尾天皇).
The Shinden in Enman-in has six rooms. The paintings on each room’s sliding doors differ. So when you visit Enman-in, remember to check out Shinden’s splendidly painted paper sliding doors. You will also see Emperor Go-Mizunoo’s throne in the Gyokuza no Ma (玉座の間).
Note the original sliding doors are stored in Kyoto National Museum (京都国立博物館). The ones in Enman-in’s Shinden are replicas.
Mii no Meitei Garden (三井の名庭)
South of Shinden, Mii no Meitei is a garden designed as a National Historic Site and a National Places of Scenery Beauty. It was designed by Sōami (相阿弥), a representative garden designer in the Muromachi period. The only garden left in Shiga Prefecture that is open to the public is Mii no Meitei. This is why the garden is also called Sōami Garden. Many gardens in Kyoto back then were designed by him, including the Ginkaku-ji temple.
Note that Mii no Meitei was renovated when the Shinden was moved to Enman-in, so only parts of Sōami’s original design can be seen now.
In addition to the garden features that are there 365 days a year, in early spring, you can adore the flowers of the cherry tree. In summer, you might hear the voice of Moria tree frogs. And from November to early December, the autumn foliage decorates Mii no Meitei garden vividly!
Mii no Meitei’s Garden Features
Like many Japanese gardens, Mii no Meitei has a Hōra-ishi stone (蓬莱石) representing Mt. Horai, where the immortal immortal lives. Two small islands in the shape of a turtle and a crane are in the pond.
Why a turtle and a crane? Because both animals symbolized longevity. It is also called Tsurukame Hōrai Garden because it has three symbols of longevity.
Crane Island: While it is hard to picture a crane out of the large stones, apparently the stone bridge represents the crane’s lone neck, which is why it is named Kakushu-seki (鶴首石). The two standing stones on the small island are the crane’s wings.
Turtle Island: The turtle island is easier to picture. The island consists of several roundish stones. Trees are planted to create the turtle’s rounded back shell.
Behind Turtle Island, the large rock covered by moss close to the shore is the Hōrai-ishi stone. The smaller stones in the water represent the boats used to get to Mt. Hōrai at night. They are thus called Yodomari-ishi (夜泊石).
Small black stones are used to create a long straight path. Their black color makes the path looks like a water stream, enabling the garden’s water feature to continue into the dry garden close to Ōtsu Painting Museum (大津絵美術館).
Mii no Meisui Spring (三井の名水)
In the dry garden surrounded by Enman-in’s buildings, there is a traditional-style spring water fountain. Apparently this water was used for Emperor Tenji (天智天皇), Emperor Tenmu (天武天皇), and Empress Jitō’s (持統天皇) first bath. The water is said to be able to bring good luck that leads to longevity. So don’t forget to fill your water bottle with it! You won’t be charged!
Ōtsu Painting Museum (大津絵美術館)
Ōtsu-e or Ōtsu Painting was a folk art that was started by anonymous artists in the Edo period. Many of the paintings have satirical or moral meanings. The paintings were sold to tourists who passed through the post towns on the official road, Tōkaidō (東海道) in Ōtsu. It was essentially pop art at the time. The topics of the painting can range from animals to Deities. With the increased number of topics in the paintings and the traffic through the Tōkaidō, the popularity of Ōtsu-e peaked towards the end of the Edo period.
To preserve this part of the history, Enman-in renovated a part of the monk’s living quarters (庫裏) into a museum. If you are interested in pop culture a couple of centuries ago, you are welcome to stop by!
Cultural Activities at Enman-in
Apart from the usual Zen meditation and calligraphy, there are a few more activities that Enman-in offers to its visitors. Before participating in any activity sessions, how about changing into the traditional Kimono? This is one of the services available at the temple so the visitors can get the most out of their time at Enman-in.
After you are in the traditional outfit, you can enjoy the tea ceremony, Tōsenkyō (投扇興), and/or Zen meditation. If you are unsure what to choose, how about Tōsenkyō? You won’t find many places in Japan offering this activity. The traditional game is similar to dart-throwing. Instead of darts, you will be throwing a fan towards the target set up on the tatami mat.
Zen Meditation at Enman-in
The best thing about experiencing Zen meditation is the monk explains what Zen meditation is and how you do it properly. After a better understanding of the meaning behind the meditation, you will get a lot more out of the moment of reflecting on yourself in a quiet space filled with the scent of incense at Enman-in.
How to Participate in the Cultural Activities at Enman-in
Reservations are essential to participate in any of the activities. You can contact the temple by filling out a web form HERE.
Refer to the official website HERE for more information about the costs and session time available to book.
Experiencing Shukubō (宿坊) and Vegan Shōji Ryōri at Enman-in
Sanmitsuden (三密殿) is where you will spend a night if you have booked Enman-in’s Shukubō experience. The building and the guestrooms are rather modern, making the stay more comfortable. As the rooms come in different sizes, the temple can accommodate you even if you have more than 10 people in your group! In addition, Enman-in can set up air beds for you if sleeping on the traditional futon beds is uncomfortable.
In the morning, guests can participate in the temple’s morning chanting starting at 7:30. So don’t miss out on this valuable opportunity!
Tip: The temple’s fire Homa (護摩) ritual is held on the 2nd Sunday and the 28th of the month. Book your stay the night before to observe!
Like other temples, Enman-in offers Shōji Ryōri (精進料理). But note it is not included in the Shukubō cost and needs to be reserved if you want the more premium courses.
Important: Remember to let Enman-in know what you cannot eat when you reserve a Shōji Ryōri course.
Enman-in’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information
- Enman-in is open from 9 am to 5 pm.
- Ōtsu Painting Museum is open from 9 am to 4:30 pm.
- The admission cost to Ōtsu Painting Museum, Shinden, and Mii no Meitei Garden is
- 500 yen for adults
- 300 yen for senior high school students
- Free otherwise
- Enman-in is a 5-minute walk from Keihan’s Miidera Station (三井寺駅).
- From JR’s Ōtsukyu Station (大津京駅), it is a 15-minute walk.
Discover Other Attractions in Ōtsu City
Ōtsu, the capital of Shiga Prefecture, is a city filled with rich cultural and historical elements. Although it only lasted for five years, we are sure after you admire the scenery of Japan’s biggest lake – Lake Biwa, it won’t be hard to understand why Emperor Tenji (天智天皇) wanted to stay close to it!
For more information, please refer to our article on Ōtsu City (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.