Vegetarian's Japan Guide

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

The Sakamoto Area (坂本) in Ōtsu City in Shiga Prefecture is located at the foot of Mt. Hiei. In the good old days, this is where the monks of Mt. Hiei’s Enryakuji lived after they were put out to pasture following their “retirement”. Shaped by all the Satobō (里坊), which are the temples/residences of the retired monks, Sakamoto thrived as a temple town with its unique townscape that sits to the right of the ocean-like Lake Biwa.

The town of Sakamoto is characterized by masonry walls made by craftsmen called Anō-shu (穴太衆). They are renowned experts in building stone walls for temples and castles. With one of the trailheads of Mt. Hiei located in the town, it is also a popular place for seasonal hikers to base themselves on.

Refer to HERE for Sakamoto Area Map. The temples/attractions that are highlighted in yellow can be accessed by tourists. Use the facility’s Japanese name to read.

Explore Former Sakamoto With a Guided Tour

If you prefer to be guided when you visit Sakamoto, how about joining the tour below?

How to Get to and Get Around Sakamoto

  • The closest train station to Sakamoto’s attractions is JR Hieizan-Sakamoto Station (比叡山坂本駅) or Keihan’s Keihan Sakamoto-hieizanguchi Station (坂本比叡山口駅).
  • While most attractions in Sakamoto aren’t too far away from each other, you can also take a bus operated by Kojak Bus.
    • Note the number of services can be limited.

Tip: If you want to visit Mt. Hiei and Sakamoto on the same day, consider getting the Sakamoto Sightseeing Bus and Cable Car One-Day Ticket (坂本周遊バス・ケーブル一日乗車券). It includes a return ticket for Sakamoto Cable Car and unlimited bus rides on bus routes 41, 31, 39, and a part of route 126. The ticket is on sale from late March to January the following year. The cost is 1,700 yen for adults and 900 yen for children.

Ōtsushi Sakamoto Information Center (坂本観光案内所)

Before you explore Sakamoto, dropping by the tourist information center is always a great idea. Not only to get sightseeing maps, tips, and advice but also to check out if there are any coupons or sightseeing discount deals that you can take advantage of!

At Ōtsushi Sakamoto Information Center, you can rent an electric-assisted bicycle for 1,000 yen a day (or 250 yen for an hour).

  • The center is open from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm.
  • It is just in front of Keihan’s Sakamoto-hieizanguchi Station (坂本比叡山口駅).

Tip: Give the center a call at +81-77-578-6565 to reserve your bicycle to avoid disappointment on arrival.

Kunin Yashiki (公人屋敷)

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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 used to be the residence of the Okamoto family. It is now a small complex that almost resembles the home of many Kunins who lived and served in Sakamoto.

For more information, refer to our article on Kunin Yashiki!

Honke Tsuruki Soba (本家 鶴㐂そば)

When lunchtime approaches, it is time to finish exploring the temple or shrine you are in and find a restaurant. As a town in the countryside, Sakamoto has no vegan-friendly restaurants. The closest place to enjoy a vegan meal is the Enryakuji Kaikan in Mt. Hiei. But if you don’t mind bringing a bottle of vegan dipping sauce, a good place to stop for lunch or dinner is Honke Tsuruki Soba!

For more information, refer to our article on Honke Tsuruki Soba!

Shigain Monzeki Temple (滋賀院門跡)

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Ⓒ びわこビジターズビューロー

If you are wondering which Satobō, the head of Enryakuji retired to, it is the Shigain Monzeki Temple.

It was established when the buildings were moved from Kyoto’s Hōshō-ji Temple (法勝寺) at the beginning of the Edo period. Until the late Edo period, the Shigain Monzeki Temple was where the retired heads of the Tendai sect spent their final days of life.

For more information about the highlight of this spot, refer to our Shigain Monzeki Temple article!

Former Chikurin-in Temple (旧竹林院)

Amongst all the Satobō, the Former Chikurin-in (旧竹林院) is probably the most famous temple nowadays. Not only is the Chikirin-in one of the highest-ranked temples in Enryakuji but the stunning garden was also designated as a National Place of Scenery Beauty in 1998.

The picture-perfect garden is renowned as a photography spot, where you can get an amazing reflection of the garden from the low table set up in the Japanese-style rooms.

For more information, please refer to our article on the Former Chikurin-in!

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Ⓒ photo-ac.com

Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine (日吉大社)

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If you plan to visit Mt. Hiei in Shiga Prefecture, you should stop by Hiyoshi Taisha first. The shrine is particularly stunning for its color in autumn. Fans of Rurouni Kenshin will want to visit the shrine as some scenes in the movie were shot here!

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

Hiyoshi Tōshōgū Shrine (日吉東照宮)

Just like any other Toshogū shrines in Japan, Hiyoshi Toshogū is a shrine where Tokugawa Ieyasu is enshrined. A Tōshōgū was built here in 1634 as the monk Tenkai (天海), who enshrined him as Tōshō Daigongen (東照大権現), is based at Sakamoto.

It might surprise some, but Hiyoshi Tōshōgū was actually built a year before Nikkō Tōshōgū. As it was the prototype for the one in Nikkō, it has earned the nickname of Kansai’s Nikkō!

For more information about the highlight of this spot, refer to our Hiyoshi Tōshōgū Shrine article!

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Ⓒ photo-ac.com

Saikyō-ji Temple (西教寺)

Ⓒ びわこビジターズビューロー

Saikyō-ji, at the foot of southeastern Mt. Hiei, is the headquarter of the Tendai Shinsei sect (天台真盛宗), which has more than 450 branches across Japan. The temple also gets more attention when fall foliage brightens up the scenery.

For more information about this gorgeous and historically rich temple, refer to our article on Saikyō-ji!

Taking the Cable Car to Explore Mt. Hiei (比叡山)

As the front gate of Mt. Hiei, you can easily head up to Mt. Hiei by taking the Hieizan Sakamoto Cable Car station, conveniently located not too far from Keihan’s Sakamoto-Hieizanguchi Station.

Mt. Hiei or Hieizan (比叡山) is one of the Three Holiest Places in Japan. The worship halls and pagodas of the World Heritage Enryakuji Temple are scattered throughout the mountain. The temple that is the headquarter of Japan’s Tendai sect has nurtured well-respected monks in Japanese history.

To find out more about this sacred destination, please refer to our article on Mt. Hiei!

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Click the photo to find out more about Mt. Hiei!

Discover Other Attractions in Ōtsu City

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Click the photo to find out more about this stunning spot!

Ōtsu, the capital of Shiga Prefecture, is 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.

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