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.
Here is a list of places you can consider visiting when traveling to Sakamoto next time.
Explore Former Sakamoto With a Guided Tour
If you prefer to be guided when you visit Sakamoto, how about joining the below tour?
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)
Kunin is the title given to the monks of Enryakuji, 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 Tokugawa Shogunate or any other feudal lords. So to keep everything in order, including maintaining consistent essential supplies and looking after the temple tributes, Kunin’s position was established.
Kunin Yashiki is where those monks lived back then. They were given the 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.
This Kunin Yashiki, open to the public, was the residence of a Kunin named Sakamoto. It was determined that the current main building was either reconstructed or renovated in 1864.
The oldest building is the rice storage facility. Rather than being the Sakamoto family’s rice storage area, it was actually where the rice offered to Enryakuji was stored. The back entrance of the main building 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.
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.
Honke Tsuruki Soba (本家 鶴㐂そば)
If you don’t mind the non-vegetarian broth in the noodle soup or dipping sauce, a good place to stop for lunch or dinner is Honke Tsuruki Soba!
The handmade soba noodle restaurant has served the pilgrims and monks of Enryakuji for more than 300 years. The traditional building was built more than 130 years ago, so it is now an Important National Cultural Property. Although the price tag for the items on the menu is higher than in average soba restaurants, the experience is definitely worth it.
Their noodles and tempura dishes are delicious, for sure. After eating, take a short stroll in their gorgeous Japanese garden!
Tip: You can also bring your vegan dipping sauce so you can still enjoy the nice noodles.
Honke Tsuruki Soba’s History
The restaurateur’s ancestor – Tsuruya Kibachi (鶴屋喜八), was in charge of meals served in Enraykuji. His duty was to prepare food for monks undergoing intense training and pilgrims who traveled a long way to Mt. Hiei.
Back then, when the food supply was limited, buckwheat (soba) was chosen as the main food because it was high in nutrition and easy to digest. It was very important in supplementing the rice-centric diet of rural areas, which was essential to the fasting monks as part of their rituals.
In 1716, he opened Honke Tsuruki Soba to also make delicious noodles for visitors. Soba porridge was turned into soba noodles in the Edo period. In 1912, when Emperor Taishō was a prince, he honored the restaurant by letting them host his visit during his stay in Mt. Hiei.
The Soba Noodles at Honke Tsuruki Soba
The soba noodles here are generally made from 80% soba flour and 20% wheat flour. According to the temperature and humidity of the day and the condition of the soba flour, the chef will adjust the amount of water and wheat in the flour like a true artisan.
The dipping sauce and broth are both made in the restaurant as well.
Honke Tsuruki Soba’s Business Hours and Access Information
- The restaurant is open from 11 am to 3 pm or until sold out.
- The last order is taken at 2:30 pm.
- The restaurant is not open on the 3rd Monday of the month, the 1st of January, and the last Tuesday in August.
- It is a 12 to 15-minute walk from Kaihan’s Sakamoto-hieizanguchi Station (坂本比叡駅).
Shigain Monzeki Temple (滋賀院門跡)
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, 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 to 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!
Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine (日吉大社)
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!
Saikyō-ji Temple (西教寺)
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 historical-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!
Discover Other Attractions in Ōtsu City
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.