Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Kunin Yashiki and the Life of Local Government Officials

In Sakamoto, apart from the temples and shrines, there is a spot that introduces the life of a local government official in the Edo period to its visitors. The Kunin Yashiki (公人屋敷) close to Kaihan’s Sakamoto-Hieizanguchi Station (坂本比叡山口駅) used to be the residence of the Okamoto family (旧岡本邸). It is now a small complex that almost resembles the home of many Kunins who lived and served in Sakamoto.

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What Is a Kunin

Kunin is the title given to the monks of Enryakuji Temple, who also have the duties of a local government official.

In the Edo period (1603 – 1867), the land of Mt. Hiei and Sakamoto belonged to Enryakuji and wasn’t governed by the Tokugawa Shogunate or any other feudal lords. So, to keep everything in order, the position of Kunin was established. Their duties include maintaining consistent essential supplies to Enryakuji and looking after the temple tributes.

Kunin Yashiki is where those monks lived back then. They were given a last name and were allowed to be married. Since they were responsible for patrolling the area for any hostile forces, they were allowed to carry a sword on their waist to protect themselves in extreme situations. While having a last name is common nowadays, only the samurai families and noblemen had a last name in the past.

Okamoto Family’s Kunin Yashiki

Together with Japan’s westernization, the structure of most Kunin Yashiki in Sakamoto has been modified. Fortunately, not much has changed to the Okamoto residence. So, in 2001, a couple more traditional residential structures were relocated to the former Okamoto Mansion. The residence was opened to the public in 2003 after conservation and improvement works were completed.

In the Edo period, the Okamoto family served Enryakuji. But since Shintoism was separated from Buddhism in the late 19th century, the head of the family has worked as the priest of Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine.

Kunin Yashiki’s Main Building: Shuoku (主屋)

The main building was determined to be either reconstructed or renovated in 1864. One of the highlights of the building is the painting on a couple of the sliding doors. It was the work of a well-known artist in the mid-Edo period, Yokoi Kinkoku (横井 金谷).

Note the ones at the Kunin Yashiki are replicas. The real ones are stored in Ōtsu City Museum of History (大津市歴史博物館), close to Mii-dera Temple.

Besides the structures, each part of the main building exhibits different things. When we got there, there was a room filled with items related to samurai. There were armor, helmets, and what the warriors used to wear underneath the thick, heavy, yet splendid battle attire.

Other interesting historical items include ancient coins, maps, paintings of the Sakamoto township in the Edo period, living utensils, and a portable shrine.

You will pass the residence’s kitchen on the way to the storage and stable. While there aren’t many exhibits placed here, you can peek into the basement, which the family used to store pickles, miso paste, soy sauce, and other fresh produce. As the space is underground, the temperature is more stable throughout the year.

Kunin Yashiki’s Storage and Horse Stable

The oldest building is the rice storage facility. Rather than being the Okamoto family’s rice storage area, it was where the rice offered to Enryakuji was stored. This fact was determined from the patterns on the roof tiles. The crest belongs to the Enryakuji.

The back entrance of the main building, where the kitchen is, used to be larger than what we see today. So, it was wide enough to fit the cows or horses used to carry the large amounts of rice to the storage area.

If you wonder if the Okamoto family had their storage, the answer is yes. While dismantled already, they used to have two storages. You can see the building’s cornerstones south of the horse stable (the 4th photo in the IG post).

The horse stable connected with the storage wasn’t for the Okamoto family’s horses (the 3rd photo in the IG post). It was a facility for the horses of the upper samurai class and aristocrats when they visited Sakamoto. They would leave their horses at this stable and change into formal attire before heading to the temples in the area, such as the Shigain Monzeki.

Kunin Yashiki’s Opening Hours, Admission Fee, and Access Information

  • Kunin Yashiki is open from 9 am to 5 pm daily except Mondays.
    • The last admission is at 4:30 pm.
    • If Monday is a public holiday, it will open.
    • It is also closed the day after a public holiday and from the 26th to the 31st of December.
  • The admission fee is
    • 100 yen for adults
    • 50 yen for elementary school students
  • From Keihan’s Sakamoto-hieizanguchi Station (坂本比叡山口駅), it is just a 2-minute walk.
  • From JR Hieizan-Sakamoto Station (比叡山坂本駅), it is around a 10-minute walk.

Tip: The set ticket for Kunin Yashiki and the Former Chikurin-in Temple costs 400 yen, a 30 yen saving! You can purchase it from Kunin Yashiki, the Former Chikurin-in Temple, and Ōtsushi Sakamoto Information Center.

Discover Sakamoto, The Town that Thrived at the Foot of Mt. Hiei

Former-Chikurin-in-Light-up-Event-Sakamoto-Shiga-Japan
Click the photo to find out where you can get this awesome photo yourself!

Wondering where else to go in Sakamoto? There are much more attractions in the old town that is worth your time. Shrines and temples in Sakamoto have unique and interesting histories and architectures awaiting you to check them out!

For more information, please refer to our article on Sakamoto (=゚ω゚)ノ.

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