Vegetarian's Japan Guide

Shigain Monzeki: Where Enryakuji’s Head Monks Retired to

If you are wondering which Satobō in Sakamoto the head of Enryakuji retired to, it is the Shigain Monzeki Temple (滋賀院門跡). 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.

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Shigain is actually the title of the temple given by the retired Emperor Gomizunoo (後水尾上皇). Monzeki is added to the end of the title because it had been the residence of the retired chief priests of Enryaku-ji, who were originally from the Imperial Family but couldn’t succeed to the throne.

Among all the buildings with masonry walls, the exterior wall of Shigain Monzeki stands out. The exceptionally tall white walls on a rock wall base are a sign to show visitors the high social status of the monks that lived here.

Unfortunately, all the splendid buildings and gates we see today are not from the Edo period. They were all reconstructed after a fire hazard burnt everything down in the Meiji period (1868 – 1912).

Scattered throughout a vast 20,000 square meter precinct are a Shoin (study/lecture hall), a monastery kitchen, and storage areas. The Kanō school (狩野派) artwork on the partitions done in the early Edo period in the Shoin is particularly worthwhile to stop by and examine.

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The Garden of Shigain Monzeki (滋賀院門跡庭園)

The garden of Shigain Monzeki Temple is also a popular place where tourists linger. The garden was designed by the first lord of Ōmikomoro Clan (近江小室藩) – Kobori Enshū (小堀遠州).

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The Chisen Kanshō-style Garden (池泉鑑賞式庭園) is one of the gardens in Sakamoto that was designated as a National Place of Scenery Beauty.

The type of Japanese garden is designed to admire the garden’s pond and other water-related features. Notably, the 5-meter-long stone bridge across the pond is made from just one giant rock!

Remember to look for a crane or turtle when you get there. They aren’t that obvious. So, it can be good fun to identify them. Check with the staff at reception on your way out to see if you got the correct answers (^_-)-☆.

The temple hints that they might be bigger than you would expect and are not formed by a single object (´▽`*).

Cross the bridge and pause in front of the small waterfall as it produces such relaxing and refreshing sounds.

The Chokushimon Gate (勅使門)

At the left of the main entrance of Shigain Monzeki, there is another more spectacular gate that isn’t in use anymore.

Chokushi is the title given to the messengers of the Japanese emperor. In the past, only the emperor’s messengers were allowed to use this gate when they brought messages and orders to the temple.

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Jigen-dō (慈眼堂)

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At the back of Shigain Monzeki, there is another small temple called Jigen-dō Hall. This is the mausoleum of Tenkai Sōjō (天海僧正), and it was built under the order of the third lord of the Tokugawa shogunate, Tokugawa Iemitsu (徳川家光), in 1643. It is also where the heads of the Tendai sect from the Edo period rest in peace.

You will also find the memorial towers of some famous warriors, such as Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川家康), as well as those of a couple of past Japanese emperors.

Tenkai is the monk who served the first three feudal lords of the Tokugawa Shogunate. He largely contributed to the revival of Enryakuji after Oda Nobunaga’s attack. Acting as an adviser to the Tokugawa Shogunate, he also played a major role in the foundation of Nikkō Tōshō-gū (日光東照宮).

According to one theory, Tenkai is actually Akechi Mitsuhide (明智光秀), the samurai who ended Oda Nobunaga’s ambition.

Akechi, who was defeated in the Battle of Yamazaki (山崎の戦い) by Hashiba Hideyoshi (later Toyotomi Hideyoshi), is commonly believed to have been killed by a couple of defeated warriors as they fled the enemy. Some also suspect that Tenkai, who enshrined Tokugawa Ieyasu as Tōshō Daigongen (東照大権現), was in fact, Akechi!

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Shigain Monzeki Temple’s Opening Hours, Admission Fee, and Access Information

  • The temple is open from 9 am to 4:30 pm.
  • The admission fee is 500 yen, including access to Jigen-dō.
  • From Keihan’s Sakamoto-hieizanguchi Station (坂本比叡山口駅), it is just a 5-minute walk.
  • From JR Hieizan-Sakamoto Station (比叡山坂本駅), it is around a 20-minute walk.

Explore Shigain Monzeki /Sakamoto With a Guided Tour

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

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

Wondering where else to go in Sakamoto? The Former Chikurin-in isn’t the only temple in town that is worth your time. There are a couple more shrines and temples that 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.

Click the photo to find out where you can get this awesome photo yourself!