Vegetarian's Japan Guide

The Best Guide to Hiyoshi Tōshōgū Shrine in Sakamoto

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

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Explore Hiyoshi Tōshōgū Shrine/Sakamoto With a Guided Tour

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

The History of Hiyoshi Tōshōgū

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!

When the shrine was first erected, it was under the administration of Enryakuji Temple. However, after the decree separating Buddhism from Shintoism was issued in the Meiji period, it has since been an auxiliary shrine of Hiyoshi Taisha.

Tōshō Daigongen sits in the middle of the main hall. To his right sits Hiyoshi Daijin (日吉大神), who is the god of Hiyoshi Taisha. To his left, you have Madaroshin (摩多羅神), who is a Buddhist god from the Tendai school.

The shrine is located at one of the highest points in Sakamoto, so people still visit to enjoy the view of Lake Biwa even if it is not open. But note hiking to the shrine is tiring. If you don’t like to climb stairs, head to Hiyoshi Tōshōgū from Sakamoto Cable‘s Cable Sakamoto Station (坂本駅). The small road splitting from the approach is where the promenade ends.

Even so, we were out of breath when we got there. But, once we saw the scenery from Hiyoshi Tōshōgū, we were happy that we made the effort!

The top of the stairs isn’t the only place to overlook Lake Biwa. You can also see Japan’s largest lake from one side of the shrine’s precinct (refer to the 3rd photo in the IG post).

The Gongen Bridge (権現橋)

Because the Tōshō Daigongen is enshrined at Hiyoshi Tōshōgū, the bridge crossing the river between the Cable Sakamoto Station (ケーブル坂本駅) in the Instagram post and the hill where the shrine is located is called the Gongen Bridge. From the bridge, the slope slowly becomes steeper, with the last part of the hike being the most tiring to the shrine.

From mid-November to early December, the road leading to the cable car station is the most stunning. The trees almost form a maple tunnel (the 2nd and the 3rd photo in the IG post)!

Hiyoshi Tōshōgū and the North Star

Another interesting fact about Hiyoshi Tōshōgū is its location. When you arrive at Sakamoto, remember to grab a local map and check out the shape formed by the main halls of Hiyoshi Taisha. It looks pretty similar to the shape of the Big Dipper, so no doubt they did a lot of stargazing!

As each hall in Hiyoshi Taisha was arranged to look like the Big Dipper from the night sky, you might wonder why there is this connection to the stars? The reason is that Myōken Bodhisattva (妙見菩薩) is the Buddhist deification of the North Star, so he is worshiped mainly in the Tendai schools of Japanese Buddhism.

Hiyoshi Tōshōgū is at the location of the North Star!

The Gongen-Style Worship Halls

When you pass through the main gate – Karamon (唐門), you will notice that the worship halls are as palatial as Nikkō Tōshōgū (日光東照宮). Both of them were built in the Gongen-style (権現造り), which Tenkai designed. The main hall and worship hall share one roof and are connected via an intermediate passageway.

The Karamon, the main hall (Honden, 本殿), the worship hall (Haiden, 拝殿), and the Ishi no Ma (石の間), which is the intermediate passageway are all Important National Cultural Properties.

When you get to Haiden, check out the carved decoration above the main doors. You should see two tigers because Tokugawa Ieyasu was born in the Year of the Tiger.

Ishi no Ma (石の間)

So what is the function of Ishi no Ma? It isn’t just a simple passageway. Rather, it is like an indoor space between the Honden and the Haiden.

Ishi no Ma is situated lower than the Honden and Haiden. So if you are entering the Ishi no Ma from Honden or Haiden, you need to head down a set of staircases. You can refer to the 3rd and the 4th photo in the Instagram post for Ishi no Ma.

The reason for the existence of Ishi no Ma is for the priest to perform rituals and prayers to the gods in Honden. So when the priest faces his back to the gods, it isn’t as rude because he is already standing lower to the ground.

If you get to explore the Haiden, the area of the Haiden is marked by the wooden floorboards. Beyond the wooden floorboards, there are a couple of stairs leading to an area covered with tatami mats. The area of tatami mats is Ishi no Ma, which is just in front of the Honden’s golden doors.

The Splendid Worship Hall Wasn’t What Tokugawa Ieyasu Wanted?

Although there are many Tōshōgū shrines around Japan nowadays, this wasn’t what Tokugawa Ieyasu was after before he passed away. According to his will, he only wanted a small temple built so his descendants could hold simple memorial services for him afterwards.

Following his will, when he passed away in 1616, the funeral was held in Zōjō-ji Temple (増上寺) in Tokyo, and he was buried at Mt. Kunō (久能山) in Shizuoka. His remains were then moved to Nikkō the following year.

Ieyasu’s grandson, however, had a different opinion. He thought his magnificent grandfather deserved a luxurious worship hall. He consulted Tenkai, who was the monk who acted as the family’s adviser back then. This is how Tokugawa Ieyasu was deified. But instead of deifying him into a “Myōjin”, Tenkai suggested the title of Daikongen (大権現).

Historically, Toyotomi Hideyoshi was the one deified into a Myōjin, but the Toyotomi administration ended up collapsing.

Hiyoshi Tōshōgū’s Opening Hours, Admission Fee, and Access Information

  • The opening hours of Hiyoshi Tōshōgū are from 9 am to 4 pm on weekends and public holidays.
  • The admission fee is 200 yen.
    • 150 yen for children
  • From Keihan’s Sakamoto-hieizanguchi Station (坂本比叡山口駅), it is a 15-minute walk.
  • From Yoshishi Taisha, it is a 10-minute walk.

☛ Access the shrine from Sakamoto Cable Station to avoid the long set of stairs.
☛ Check with the shrine to see if your admission ticket to Hiyoshi Taisha will still get you a discount on the admission fee at Hiyoshi Tōshōgū.

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

Click the photo to find out where to get this awesome photo!

Wondering where else to go in Sakamoto? Hiyoshi Tōshōgū Shrine isn’t the only shrine 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.

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