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, the Shigain Monzeki Temple was where the retired heads of the Tendai sect spent their final days of life.

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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?

About Shigain Monzeki

Shigain Monzeki was built about 800 years ago. Shigain is the title of the temple given by the retired Emperor Gomizunoo (後水尾上皇). The term Monzeki (門跡) refers to the temple where the head priests are of imperial lineage.

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 in 1880 after a fire hazard burnt everything down.

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.

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.

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).

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 small waterfall produces such relaxing and refreshing sounds.

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 (´▽`*).

You can find the answer at the temple’s reception. The staff has kindly marked the turtle island and the carne formed by the water on the photos displayed there.

The Cultural Properties at Shigain Monzeki

The garden that we just introduced is at the Shinden Hall’s west. It was built under the order of Tokugawa Iemitsu (徳川 家光), the third Shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate.

The Shinden Hall (宸殿) is in the same building as the Nikai Shoin (二階書院). The entire building is divided into several rooms. Each room has a couple of cultural properties exhibited.

For example, the armor suit in the photo is determined to belong to Tenkai Daisōjō (天海大僧正), the monk who built the Hiyoshi Toshogū (日吉東照宮) in 1634 and glorified Tokugawa Ieyasu as Tōshō Daigongen (東照大権現). Although Tenkai was a monk, he was an excellent adviser to Tokugawa Ieyasu, and thus has armor. His armor, including the helmet, was made from paper and cloth to make it lighter.

While the photo doesn’t capture the entire sliding door painting, what is painted on the doors is a cherry blossom tree. It is said that the painting completed in the Momoyama period is the oldest cherry blossom painting on the sliding doors.

The splendid palanquins in the Instagram post (the 5th, 7th, 9th, and 10th photo) were vehicles of the highly ranked priests and emperor’s messenger. They were only used at special religious ceremonies.

The second photo in the Instagram post is a painting of the scene when Gautama Buddha passed away. Usually, when a painting has images of Buddha, the Buddha is centered in the middle. However, the Gautama Buddha in this painting is drawn towards the right-hand side to illustrate the idea that all living things are equal.

Jigen-dō (慈眼堂)

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!

You can refer to our article on Fukuchiyama City for more information about Akechi Mitsuhide.

Our Visit to Shigain Monzeki

Because we came from Hiyoshi Taisha, we got to Jigen-dō first. The complex where the mausoleum is located was quiet. Decorated by various autumn colors, the precinct was solemn but made us want to take a break here to take in the stunning scenery.

From Jigen-dō, we enter Shigain Monzeki via the side gate. The front yard was nicely maintained, and there was a huge quince tree in front of the temple’s front gate in the photo below.

A couple of the quinces on the tree were huge, almost the same size as a handball. No wonder a warning sign was placed underneath the tree for visitors to watch their heads (refer to the 3rd photo in the IG post)!

Ⓒ びわこビジターズビューロー

While Shigain Monzeki’s entrance didn’t seem too welcoming as the door was closed, we knew it was open as there were a few pairs of shoes on the shoe rack.

The reception staff was friendly and even let us know we were welcome to take the quinces and persimmons picked from the yard (refer to the 4th photo in the IG post). They told us that the quinces are mainly used to make fruit jam, so we took a couple of persimmons instead. They were sweet and delicious!

In the Japanese-style room next to the reception, there is a lantern (refer to the 5th photo in the IG post). It bears the same appearance as the three lanterns in Enryakuji’s Konpon Chūdō Hall (根本中堂). So while you can’t see the lanterns in Konpon Chūdō clearly, you can see the same thing at Shigain Monzeki!

The light in the lantern is called the Eternal Dharma Light. It represents the central teaching of the Tendai sect, to be the light for those in your life. The light at Konpon Chūdō has continued shrining since Enryakuji‘s founder, Saichō (最澄) lit it around 1,300 years ago!

At the Shinden/Shoin, you can also give the sutra-copying a try (refer to the 5th photo in the IG post). All you need to do is write on the characters already printed on the paper.

The stairs in the last photo lead to the worship hall. The main image here is the Healing Buddha. On his sides, the Tendai Daishi and Saichō, are enshrined. While invisible, there is another worship hall behind the Buddha statues. It has the memorial tablets of Emperor Gomizunoo (後水尾上皇), Emperor Goyōsei (後陽成天皇), Emperor Meiji, the all shōgun of the Tokugawa shogunate, and the head of Japan’s Tendai sect from the early Edo period.

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.

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

Wondering where else to go in Sakamoto? Shigain Monzeki 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!

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