Vegetarian's Japan Guide

The Best Guide to Mt. Hiei – Kyoto’s Most Sacred Destination

Mt. Hiei or Hieizan (比叡山), a mountain lying on the border between Kyoto and Shiga Prefectures, is considered one of the Three Holiest Places in Japan together with Kōyasan (高野山) and Mt. Osore (恐山). The worship halls and pagodas of the World Heritage Enryakuji Temple are scattered throughout the mountain. The temple, which is the headquarter of Japan’s Tendai sect, has nurtured well-respected monks throughout history. Mt. Hiei was also the training ground for many founders of other sects in Japan. This is why the mountain is also known as the mother of Japanese Buddhism.

Whilst Mt Hiei is a religious tourism destination, it is also the main stage of many famous historical events in the turbulent period between the 12th century and the Sengoku period ending in 1615. To fully appreciate the remnants of the warring period in this area, the rest of this article will attempt to enrich your trip to Mt. Hiei with some prior knowledge of its history.

Although Enryakuji was registered as Kyoto’s World Heritage, its administrative area is actually Ōtsu City (大津市) in Shiga Prefecture.

A List of Contents

Explore Mt. Hiei and Sakamoto With a Guided Tour

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

How to Get to Mt. Hiei

There are a few ways to get to Mt. Hiei by public transportation.

By Train/Bus + Cable Car + Ropeway – From Kyoto


If you are coming from Kyoto, first take a Keihan train to Demachiyanagi Station (出町柳駅). From there, take the Eizan Electric Railway’s Eizan Line and get off at the terminal station – Yase-Hieizan-guchi Station (八瀬比叡山口駅).

Tip: Consider taking the sightseeing train, Hiei, to Yase-Hieizan-guchi Station! Refer to HERE for more details!

Then change for Eizan Cable Car ( 叡山ケーブル) at Cable Yase Station (ケーブル八瀬駅).

If you would like to take a bus to get to Cable Yase Station, you can board bus services bound for Kyoto Yase (京都八瀬) or Ōhara (大原) from Kyoto Subway’s Kokusai Kaikan Station (国際会館駅) and get off at Yasa Eki-mae (八瀬駅前).


Once you reach Cable Hiei Station (ケーブル比叡駅), head to the Eizan Ropeway service next door to board the ropeway from Rope Hiei Station (ロープ比叡駅).

Ⓒ 京阪電車

From Hieisancho Station, you can either get to Enryakuji Temple on foot or by taking a shuttle bus.

HERE is an illustration of the journey from Yase-Hieizan-guchi Station to Enryakuji Temple. Below the map, you will also find the timetable for the cable car and ropeway.

  • The first column represents the hours and the second column indicates the minutes.
  • If it is still hard to read, translate the webpage with Google Chrome’s translation function at the right of the address bar.
How Much Does it Cost to Board the Eizan Cable Car
Adults550 Yen1,100 Yen
Children270 Yen540 Yen
The Cost of Boarding Eizan Cable Car
How Much Does it Cost to Board Eizan Ropeway
Adults350 Yen700 Yen
Children180 Yen360 Yen
The Cost of Boarding Eizan Cable Car

☛ Eizan Cable Car and Ropeway don’t operate during winter from January to mid-March.
☛ Extra charges will be incurred if you carry big luggage with the sum of length, width, and height exceeding 250 cm (550 yen for the cable car and 350 yen for the ropeway). Please purchase the hand-carrying luggage ticket (手回り品きっぷ) from the ticket machine. Also, they may not allow you to carry the luggage if the cable car/ropeway is full.

☛ During Golden Week (from the end of April to the beginning of May) and weekends and public holidays in autumn foliage season in November, arrive at the cable car station as early as possible. You can expect a long queue at the stations from late morning. You can also get to Mt. Hiei in the afternoon if you don’t plan to spend a whole day at Mt. Hiei.
☛ Pre-purchase your Eizan Cable Car and Ropeway Round-Trip Ticket HERE.

By Train + Cable Car – From Shiga

Take a JR train and get off at JR Hieizan-Sakamoto Station (比叡山坂本駅). You can also take a Keihan train and get off at Keihan Sakamoto-Hieizan-guchi Station (坂本比叡山口駅).

From there, change for Kōjaku Bus (江若バス) to get to Cable Sakamoto Station (坂本駅). By taking the cable car, you will arrive at Cable Enryakuji Station (ケーブル延暦寺駅) in 11 minutes.

For Sakamoto Cable Car’s timetable, please refer to the official website HERE.

Tip: Sit on the east side of the cable car for a wide view of Lake Biwa! You can also get a panorama view of the lake from the 2nd floor at Cable Enryakuji Station.

Ⓒ 京阪電車

Sakamoto Cable (坂本ケーブル) was first opened in 1927. This is why both of its cable stations have the architectural style of the late Meiji period (1868 – 1912). With a total length of 2,025 meters, it is the longest cable car line in Japan.

The current cost of Sakamoto Cable is:
  • Adults:
    • One-way: 870 yen
    • Round trip: 1,660 yen
  • Children
    • One-way: 440 yen
    • Round trip: 830 yen

Discounts will apply if you are in a group of 5 people or more.

Tip: If you are holding a Kansai Thru Pass, it will be free to board Eizan Railway and Hieizan Sakamoto Cable.

By Bus from Kyoto

If you are coming from Kyoto, you can also take Kyoto Bus’s Route 51 or Keihan Bus’s Route 57 to get to Enryakuji from the city center/Kyoto Station.

Please be aware that there is only one service on weekdays and two services on weekends and public holidays heading to and coming back from Mt. Hiei. Refer to the timetable HERE and click the red button with white “時刻表はこちらから” wordins to plan.

  • Kyoto Station = Kyoto Eki-mae (京都駅前)
  • Todō = 東塔
  • The summit of Mt. Hiei = Hieizan Sanchō (比叡山頂)

Important: The one-day or two-day bus/subway pass won’t cover the section from Jizodani (地蔵谷) to the summit of Mt. Hiei (比叡山頂). Extra charges will apply.


The Three Areas of Mt. Hiei

As per Buddhist doctrine, killing on the grounds of Enryakuji was forbidden. The vast precinct of Mt. Hiei is divided into three areas (refer to below). And just to be clear, there is no temple in the mountain called Enryakuji. It is the collective name for all temples in Mt. Hiei. The name Enryakuji is derived from the Enryaku era of Japan when the temples were erected.

How Long Does it Take to Explore Mt. Hiei?

It is recommended to allocate a whole day to Mt. Hiei. This is especially the case if you rely on public transport or plan to get to different parts of the mountain on foot. Below is a general guide to how long you might spend in each area.

  • Tōdō (東塔): 2.5 – 3 hours (assuming you will check out the treasure hall – Kokuhō-den (国宝殿))
  • Saitō (西塔): Around an hour
  • Yokawa (横川): Around an hour

Please refer to HERE for a map of Mt. Hiei/Enryakuji Temple. If you love hiking, there are a few hiking trails marked in different colors on the map.

Tip: Download the Hieizan Enryakuji Temple guide app that will guide you around the sacred mountain when you get there. To do so, please refer to HERE!

Moving Between Each Area in Mt. Hiei

  • Between Saitō to Yokawa:
    • Around 90 minutes on foot
    • Around 10 minutes by bus
  • Between Tōdō to Saitō:
    • Around 20 – 30 minutes on foot
    • Around 5 minutes by bus
  • Between Tōdō to Yokawa:
    • Around 15 minutes by bus

Shuttle Bus Services at Enryakuji

Shuttle buses depart every 30 minutes from 9:30 am to 5 pm throughout the non-winter seasons. It is especially advisable to utilize the service if you want to get to Yokawa from Saitō because 5 km is a long way to trek.

While in Japanese, refer to HERE and click the first PDF file for the service’s timetable.

Important: The shuttle bus is not operating from the beginning of December to late March. If you plan to drive to Mt. Hiei during this period of the year, please equip your car with snow gear.

Getting the 1-Day Bus Pass to Save

If you plan to explore all three areas of Mt. Hiei, getting the 1-Day Bus Pass will save you money. From Tōdō to Yokawa, a one-way trip will cost you 700 yen. So a return trip will cost more than the price of the bus pass at 1,000 yen.

You can get the bus pass on board or from one of the places below.

If you read Japanese, refer to the official website HERE for more details.

The Best Time to Visit Mt. Hiei

The most popular tourist season is in the fall, from late October to mid-November.

Summer is also a popular time when people come to the mountain for some cool air.

What to Wear When Visiting Mt. Hiei

Enryakuji is located at an elevation of 848 meters. There are many slopes and staircases throughout its precinct that you will be trekking through. So, travel as lightly as possible. Don’t forget the temperature difference between the mountains and the city’s center. So do bring extra clothes/jackets, especially during the chilly seasons.

Also, you will want to wear comfortable shoes and avoid wearing skirts or dresses.

The same applies if you are driving up the mountain. Try to lighten your car before you head up, as the heavier your car is, the slower it will be when climbing up Mt. Hiei.

A Brief History of Enryakuji

Enryakuji was founded by the revered monk Saichō (最澄) in 788. In the Kamakura period (1192 – 1333), along with Mt. Togakushi and Kōyasan, Mt. Hiei was known as Sanzenbō Sanzan (三千坊三山), which was used to describe the enormous number of practitioners and worshipers that were once gathered at Mt. Hiei. The three areas in Mt. Hiei are home to approximately 150 temples scattered over a combined 500-hectare precinct.

Saichō was the second son of the Sakamoto Clan, a powerful family based at the foot of Mt. Hiei back in the Heian period (794 – 1165). Instead of living a wealthy life, he left home at the age of 12 to study Buddhism. In the year 785, when he was 19, he entered Mt. Hiei and started his training in the mountain.

Three years later, he carved a statue of Yakushi Nyora and established a small and simple temple named Ichijō-Kaikanin (一乗止観院). This formed the starting point of Enryakuji.

Becoming the Guardian Temple of Kyoto

Since ancient times, the Japanese regarded the cardinal direction, “Northeast”, as where the human realms meet the realm of demons. Thus, the older capitals of the country had a temple or a shrine built in that direction.

As for Kyoto, northeast of the city center is where Mt. Hiei is. Hence, the mountain was also responsible for protecting Kyoto from any evil spirits.

Enryakuji – Gaining Its Power

In the mid-Heian period, countless monks undertook intense training at Mt. Hiei. Eventually, with substantial financial support from powerful families, Enryakuji expanded to an organization that functions similarly to an independent nation with its armed force served by monks.

The temple became so powerful that even the imperial court couldn’t control it at the time. This was when the 6th Shōgun of the Muromachi shogunate – Ashikaga Yoshinori (足利義教), subjugated Enryakuji in the early 15th century. However, Ashikaga was later assassinated at the bidding of Akamatsu Noriyasu (赤松教康). Once again, Mt. Hiei regained its power, amassing tens of thousands of monks in the temple’s army during the Sengoku period (1467 – 1615).

During the Sengoku period, Mt. Hiei was no longer a place to practice Buddhism. Under its influence, many became monks there only to drink alcohol and womanize. Oda Nobunaga’s army later attacked the temple in 1571 as it had sided with the Asakura (朝倉氏) and Asai Clans (浅井氏), who opposed Oda.

Towards the end of the Sengoku period, Enryakuji was slowly restored by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu. The reconstruction of Konpon Chūdō (根本中堂), which is the main training ground of Mt. Hiei, was completed with the support of the 3rd Shōgun of Tokugawa Shogunate – Tokugawa Iemitsu (徳川家光).

Click HERE to return to a list of temples in Mt. Hiei.

Garden Museum Hiei (ガーデンミュージアム比叡)

The first attraction that you will encounter after you step out of the ropeway station at the top of Mt. Hiei isn’t a temple but a French-style garden museum (´▽`*).

The garden was designed by a French designer with the motif of works drawn by French Impressionist painters. The artworks at Garden Museum Hiei are reproductions of the work of famous painters such as Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh. Unlike a conventional museum where paintings would be displayed in exhibition halls, they are instead placed outdoors.

As you stroll around the garden, you will find paintings placed on ceramic plates here and there. This indicates that the garden view behind it replicates the scene in these paintings!

The flower season at Garden Museum Hiei is from mid-April all the way to mid-November.

Ⓒ 京阪電車

For the garden’s map, please refer to HERE.

From the rose garden, you can get a wide view of the beautiful Lake Biwa. On the other side of the garden, the landscape of Kyoto City unfolds below you.

☛ Keep your admission ticket even after you exit the museum. You can use the same ticket to enter the garden again on the same day!
☛ You can rent a pram for 300 yen per day. Wheelchair rental is free.

Garden Museum Hiei’s Opening Hours and Admission Fee

  • The museum is open from
    • 10 am to 5:30 pm from mid-April to October
    • 10 am to 5 pm from November to the beginning of December
    • The last admission is 30 minutes before the garden close for the day.
  • The admission fee is
    • 1,200 yen for junior high school students and above
    • 600 yen for elementary school students
    • Free otherwise
  • From late November, you will receive a 50% discount on the admission fee specified above.

Click HERE to return to a list of temples in Mt. Hiei.

Monju-rō (文殊楼)

As indicated by its name, Monju-rō is a building built to worship Manjushri Bodhisattva, known for his wisdom.

Ⓒ 京阪電車

Ennin built it after he brought back the Manjushri Bodhisattva statue from Mt. Wutai (五台山) in China. Until now, the same statue is still enshrined on the second floor of the tower gate.

After it was destroyed by Oda Nobunaga, Monju-rō was restored together with other temples in Mt. Hiei in 1642. But it was unfortunately burnt down again in 1668. Fortunately, it was reconstructed straight afterwards.

Monju-rō is the mountain gate of Enryakuji. In the past, this was the place where the training of 90-day meditation took place, which is known as Jyōza-zanmai (常坐三昧).

Daikoku-dō Hall (大黒堂)

The smaller worship hall next to Monju-rō is called Daikoku-dō, where the Daikokuten (the god of wealth) is enshrined.

If you have seen Daikokuten in other temples in Japan, you might find that the Daikokuten (大黒天) at Mt. Hiei looks different. The god of wealth here has three faces and six arms!

Why? Because the statue here is the trinity of the Daikokuten, the Bishamonten (毘沙門天), who is the guardian god of Buddhism, and the Benzaiten (弁財天), the goddess of talent and wealth.


The legend has it that when Saichō was training in Mt. Hiei, Daikokuten appeared in front of him suddenly. Wanting to help Saichō, who devoted himself to Buddhism to make the world better, Daikokuten called upon Bishamonten and Benzaiten to support him.

Nowadays, people come to Daikoku-dō for prayers related to the field of expertise for which each of the gods/goddesses are worshiped. And because Toyotomi Hideyoshi had a deep faith in the Daikokuten here, the Japanese also believe that by paying respect here, you would achieve personal success and bring prosperity to your business if you have one.

Click HERE to return to a list of temples in Mt. Hiei.

Konpon Chūdō Hall (根本中堂)

Konpon Chūdō is the main worship hall and the center of Enryakuji Temple and the Tōdō area.


It is the first temple built on Mt. Hiei, known as Ichijō-Kaikanin. As Enryakuji received more support, the small hut was developed into the splendid worship hall we see today.

The building is a National Treasure, and its corridor was designated an Important National Cultural Property.

Since Konpon Chūdō was built, it has been the victim of several disasters, including being besieged by Oda Nobunaga. The current building was restored in 1642 by Tokugawa Iemitsu.

The Three Lanterns at Konpon Chūdō

In front of Yakushi Nyorai (the Buddha of Healing), three lanterns have been lit since Saichō founded Enryakuji.

Why are there three? Because each one of them represents one of the three messages that he wished to pass down.

  • The light that the Dharma brings to the world shall keep shrining all the way to the land where the Buddhas live.
  • The Dharma needs to be protected and passed down by as many people as possible.
  • To make our world better, continuous efforts are required.
Ⓒ びわこビジターズビューロー

The monks are keeping a close eye on the rapeseed oil level left in the lanterns. Because once the oil runs out, the lanterns that continue to shine for the last 1,200 years or so are also put off.

This is where the Japanese idiom – Yudan Taiteki (油断大敵) came from, which means “negligence is the enemy of accomplishment”.

  • Yudan = run out of oil
  • Taiteki = big enemy

As a side note, the lights were put off when Oda Nobunaga attacked Enryakuji in 1571. But fortunately, before the attack, Rishakuji Temple (立石寺) in Yamagata Prefecture lit the lights in the temple with the fire from the three lanterns in Konpon Chūdō. As a result, the lights that Saichō lighted were able to shine continuously for the past 1,200 years or so.

The Yakushi Nyorai at Konpon Chūdō

The Buddha statue here is placed to afford you the same line of sight as the Buddha. This is probably why when you meet the Yakushi Nyorai inside the worship hall, you will feel a bit closer to the Yakushi Nyorai here.

Placing the Buddha this way has its special meaning. It is to remind visitors to the temple that everyone will become a Buddha in the future. So there is no difference between Buddha up there and us pilgrims. We are just temporarily lost our way in this world filled with temptation.

Important: Konpon Chūdō is currently undergoing major renovation until 2026. Whilst you can still go inside the worship hall, you won’t be able to see its appearance until the construction work is finished.

Tip: As Konpon Chūdō is located down a hill, before you head there, it would be better to stop by Daikoku- dō (大黒堂) and Monju-rō (文殊楼). You can then go down the stairs from Monju-rō to Konpon Chūdō. Furthermore, the formal way to visit Enryakuji is to enter from the gate of Monju-rō.

Click HERE to return to a list of temples in Mt. Hiei.

Daikō-dō Hall (大講堂)

Ⓒ びわこビジターズビューロー

In Daikō-dō, in addition to the main image – Vairocana (大日如来), you will find wooden statues or paintings of revered monks who trained on Mt. Hiei.

The hall is where monks learn Buddha’s teaching by reading the sutras and discussing the contents with each other about what Buddha meant when he said certain things.

As Daikō-dō was where many revered monks gained their Buddhist knowledge. So pilgrims also have come here to pray for wisdom.

After the worship hall was destroyed in a fire in 1956, Sanbutsu-dō (讃仏堂), situated at the foot of Mt. Hiei in Sakamoto, was dismantled, transported to where Daikō-dō used to be, and reconstructed.

The maple leaves here are the most beautiful in November, while the rhododendron flowers bloom in May.

If you would like to knock on the large peace bell in front of the hall, it will cost you 50 yen (^_-)-☆. By sounding the bell, you effectively make an oath to endeavor towards peace. Also, when knocking on the bell, remember to make a wish. Just in case it comes true!

Click HERE to return to a list of temples in Mt. Hiei.

Kokuhō-den (国宝殿)

If you are interested in seeing various Buddha statues, paintings, and sutras, paying to check out the Kokuhō-den will be worthwhile.

Many of the exhibits inside the museum were designated as National Treasures or Important National Cultural Properties.

  • Kokuhō-den is open from 9 am to 4 pm.
  • The admission fee is
    • 500 yen for adults
    • 300 yen for high school students
    • 100 yen for elementary school students

Kaidan-in (戒壇院)

Kaidan-in is where the trainee monks of Mt. Hiei inherit the Buddhist precepts. Once a year, a ceremonious ritual is held where the trainee monks vow to follow the precepts and formally become one of monks of Enryakuji.

Back in the Heian period, holding a ceremony to pass down the precepts required approval from the imperial court. Because the teaching of the Tendai sect was foreign to the populace at the time, the voice against having these ceremonies (to pass down Tendai’s precepts) was loud. So Saichō was never able to establish Kaidan-in in life.

Owing to the arduous efforts of his disciples, the approval was granted seven days after Saichō’s death. Kaidan-in was then completed in 828. Since then, Enryakuji has acted as a place where this ritual of handing down Buddhist precepts can be conducted.

After Oda Nobunaga’s attack, the building was rebuilt in 1678, which is the current Kaidan-in that we see today. It was designated as an Important National Cultural Property in 1901.

On one side of Kaidan-in, there is a souvenir shop selling drinks and desserts. If you are visiting Enryakuji in the colder seasons, give their ginger-flavored Amazake (a fermented rice drink) a try!

Click HERE to return to a list of temples in Mt. Hiei.

Amida-dō Hall (阿弥陀堂)

Amida-dō is the worship hall situated at the highest spot in the Tōdō area.

It is believed that Amida Buddha will take anyone to his Pure Land as long as you believe in its existence, want to go there, and have accumulated a lot of good deeds. As such, no matter which religion or sect you belong to, a memorial service can be held here for you.

The worship hall is one of the newest buildings in Enryakuji. It was built in 1937 to commemorate the 1150th anniversary of the founding of Mt. Hiei.

When heading to its garden, remember to pay attention to the stone water fountain. There is a Suikinkutsu (水琴窟), a garden feature consisting of a buried earthen jar that will produce sounds when water drips into it. The sound of water flowing out of the water fountain will surely make you feel refreshed (=゚ω゚)ノ.

Click HERE to return to a list of temples in Mt. Hiei.

Hokke Sōjin Tōtō (法華総持院東塔)

Hokke Sōjin Tōtō is the training ground founded for Tendai Esotericism by Ennin (Jigaku Daishi) in 862. The building imitates the worship hall in Chang’an Qinglong Temple (長安青龍寺) in China.

Inside the 30-meter-tall pagoda, the five Buddhas of the Womb Realm are enshrined as the main images.

After Oda Nobunaga burned it down, the building wasn’t restored until 1980. This is why its appearance might seem relatively new when you visit it.

Ⓒ 京阪電車

Jodō-in (浄土院)

Jodō-in located between the Tōdō and Saitō Area, is said to be one of the most sacred places in Enryakuji.

After Saichō passed away in 822, his disciple Ennin built the worship hall for him in 854. Saichō’s body was then moved to Jodō-in upon the completion of the temple.

The monk who lives here maintaining the Jodō-in is called Jishin (侍真). He has to devote himself to Saichō and make Jodō-in as presentable as possible. He also must possess the determination to never leave Enryakuji.

Taking on this position also means taking up the training, which lasts for 12 years. Day and night, he will follow the strict rules of Enryakuji to keep his mind pure and free of evil thoughts.

On top of that, stationing at Jodō-in doesn’t free Jishin from the normal duties that monks of Enryakuji are responsible for. So it is a testament to the individual’s perseverance to repeat the same daily routine for an entire 12 years.

Click HERE to return to a list of temples in Mt. Hiei.

Ninai-dō Hall (にない堂)

In front of Shaka-dō (the next attraction), two buildings are symmetrical to each other and are connected by a corridor. Both have been designated as Important National Cultural Properties.

The hall at the left is called Jyōgyō-dō (常行堂) and displays Amida Buddha as its main image. It was built by Ennin in 851 for a kind of training called Jyōgyō Zanmai (常行三昧).

The one on the right is Hokke-dō (法華堂) which enshrines Samantabhadra (普賢菩薩). It is the place where the monks undergo the Hokke Zanmai (法華三昧) training.

Legend has it that Benkei (弁慶), proud of his unreal strength, carried the two worship halls with the corridor atop his shoulders. This legend is why the worship hall is now named Ninai, which means “to carry”.

Click HERE to return to a list of temples in Mt. Hiei.

Shaka-dō Hall (釈迦堂)

The center of the Saitō area, Shaka-dō, is also known as the Temporin-do (転法輪堂). It was founded by the second head of the Tendai sect – Jikukō Daishi (寂光大師), and has Gautama Buddha (釈迦如来) enshrined in the worship hall.

The building is an Important National Property and is the oldest in Mt. Hiei.

Shaka-dō was once destroyed by Oda Nobunaga. Later on, during the reign of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, instead of building a new building, he moved a worship hall from Mii-dera Temple (三井寺) in Ōtsu to replace the hall that was burnt to the ground.

Click HERE to return to a list of temples in Mt. Hiei.

Ruri-dō Hall (瑠璃堂)

If you are after a worship hall that survived the attack by Oda Nobunaga in 1571, head to the Ruri-dō west to the Shaka-dō.

From Shaka-dō, there is a set of stone staircases at the back and to the left. Follow the promenade for around 10 minutes and cross the Okuhiei Driveway (奥比叡ドライブウエイ). Just be careful and watch the ongoing traffic as there aren’t any pedestrian crossings.

Ⓒ びわこビジターズビューロー

Ruri-dō is estimated to be built at the end of the Muromachi period (1336 – 1573). Inside the worship hall, the medicine Buddha – Yakushi Nyorai, is enshrined.

From the legend, there was a time when this Yakushi Nyorai statue was emitting light during the time of Emperor Yōsei (陽成天皇) in the late 9th century. Wondering where the light was coming from, the emperor sent out a team to investigate. After they realized the Yakushi Nyorai statue was casting a warm glow over Kyoto, the emperor gave the temple a name – Hōko-in (放光院), which means “glowing hall”.

Click HERE to return to a list of temples in Mt. Hiei.

The Stone Statue of Maitreya Bodhisattva (Miraku Sekibutsu, 弥勒石仏)

There is a slope north of Shaka-dō that leads to a 2-meter tall Maitreya Bodhisattva Statue. The statue is said to be carved in the early Kamakura period (1192 – 1333). It was determined that this statue is the oldest stone statue in the entire Enryakuji.

You will notice that the right of the statue is damaged. The damage was believed to be caused when Oda Nobunaga invaded Mt. Hiei.

Ryū-ga-ike Benten (龍ヶ池弁天)

Before you reach the center of the Yokawa area, Yokawa Chū-dō Hall, you will walk past a pond called Ryū-ga-ike Benten.

The legend goes that a mythical serpent was living in the pond when Ganzan Daishi was training at Mt. Hiei. Ganzan Daishi surrendered the serpent and welcomed the Benzaiten from the sky. The serpent was then transformed into a dragon god to serve Benzaiten and protect those who visit Yokawa.

Click HERE to return to a list of temples in Mt. Hiei.

Yokawa Chū-dō Hall (横川中堂)

The center of Yokawa area is Yokawa Chū-dō. It is most beautiful in fall, with the Autumn Festival (紅葉まつり) being held here from late October to late November each year.

The original Yokawa Chū-dō founded by Ennin in 848, was first destroyed by Oda Nobunaga. It was then struck by thunder in 1942 before the third reconstruction was completed in 1971. This time, it was built with concrete.

The design of Yokawa Chū-dō Hall (横川中堂) was modeled after the Japanese envoy to Tang. So when you stand below the building, use some of your imagination. You might see the worship hall as a traditional Japanese boat!

Yokawa Chū-dō is also called Shuryōgon-in (首楞厳院) or Konpon Kannon-dō (根本観音堂). Originally it has both Kannon Bodhisattva (観音菩薩) and Bishamonten (毘沙門天) enshrined as the main images. But after the hall was struck by lightning in 1942, only the statue of Kannon Bodhisattva survived.

Click HERE to return to a list of temples in Mt. Hiei.

Konpon Nyohōtō (根本如法塔)

In the cedar forest west of Yokawa Chū-dō, the pagoda Konpon Nyohōtō is essentially the starting point of the temples in the Yokawa area.

When Ennin was 40 years old, he suffered from a serious illness. Thinking that he wouldn’t live for long, he had a small hut built and moved here to focus on copying the entire Lotus Sutra, which has a length of about 70,000 words.

What he did wasn’t simply copying. He stopped to worship the Buddha thrice each time he wrote another word. The most respectful way of worshipping is known as a Buddhist bow or a prostration. To do a Buddhist bow, one will kneel with the forehead and both forearms on the ground. Both palms facing upwards are then raised to the forehead with fingers flat out.

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As you can imagine, copying the long sutra this way will take a long time. He spent around three years before the entire sutra was completed. Miraculously, his illness was completely cured by the time he finished copying. This then enabled him to cross the sea to China for further studies in Buddhism.

The year after returning from China, he established the Yokawa Chū-dō. The pagoda was then built to store the Lotus Sutra that he copied. But both the pagoda and the Lotus Sutra were turned to ash after Oda Nobunaga’s attack.

The Konpon Nyohōtō that we see now was restored in 1925. Many people pass it by without noticing its existence as it is located away from the main approach.

Click HERE to return to a list of temples in Mt. Hiei.

Ganzan Daishi-dō (元三大師堂)

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West of Yokawa Chū-dō, you will find the monk who invented the Omikuji (Japanese fortune slips) in the Ganzan Daishi-dō (元三大師堂). There is even a tombstone-shaped monument explaining this (´▽`*).

Ganzan Daishi-dō is also called Shikikō-dō (四季講堂). It used to be a small hut where the 18th head of the Tendai sect, Jie Daishi (慈恵大師), lived. In 967, with the order from Emperor Murakami (村上天皇), discussion about the Logus Sutra (法華経) took place here throughout the four seasons. This is why the hall was named Shikikō-dō.

Originally, the main Buddha of Ganzan Daishi-dō was Maitreya Bodhisattva (弥勒菩薩). But now, a painting of Ganzan Daishi is treated as the main image.

Ganzan Daishi is actually a nickname for Jie Daishi after he passed away. Because he left the world on the 3rd of January, people started to call him Ganzan, with “Gan” meaning January and “san” for the third.

Accordingly to Ganzan Daishi, the Omikuji in Buddhist temples isn’t a prophecy. It is advice from the Buddha given to you based on your current situation.

Receiving a “吉” (meaning “bliss”) indicates the Buddha’s approval for the path you are taking on the matter you asked about. On the other hand, if you drew a “凶”, meaning inauspicious, you will want to change your current approach to avoid possible failure.

Usually, there is a poem giving you more guidance on the fortune slips. So when you ask the staff to explain what the poem means, he/she must understand your situation first for a more accurate deciphering.

How You Get a Fortune Slip at Ganzan Daishi-dō Is Different from Elsewhere in Japan.

  • First, join your hands and let the Kannon Bodhisattva know what you need advice on.
  • Then, when you hold the fortune slip drawing container, say “On Basara Daruma Kiri (おん ばさら だるま きり) ” three times.
  • The rest of the process is the same as what you will normally do at other shrines/temples.

Click HERE to return to a list of temples in Mt. Hiei.

Eshin-dō Hall (恵心堂)

South of Yokawa Chū-dō, past the bell tower of the Yokawa area, Eshin-dō is said to be the origin of Japan’s Pure Land sect.

It is where Gansai Daishi’s disciple, Eshinsōzu Genshin (恵心僧都 源信), completed a book called Ōjōyōshū (往生要集) in the late 10th century. It is a guide that tells people how to be welcomed to Amida Buddha’s Pure Land. In addition to the book, there are also a couple more guides and paintings that together laid the foundation of Pure Land Buddhism in Japan.

The current hall is said to be relocated and reconstructed from the Bettō Daishi-dō (別当大師堂) at the foot of Mt. Hiei in the Sakamoto area.

Click HERE to return to a list of temples in Mt. Hiei.

Where to Go for Lunch and Staying at Mt. Hiei

Nowadays, most of the restaurants in Mt. Hiei are no longer vegetarian. The best place to head to for lunch is Enryakuji Kaikan (延暦寺会館) in the Tōtō area.

Refer to their website HERE for the current menu. As they don’t have an English website, you can translate the webpage with Google Chrome’s transaction function at the right of the address bar.

You can also stay overnight at Enryakuji Kaikan. Some of their rooms come with a wide view of Lake Biwa!

Important: If you don’t want to shower in the public bathhouse, you must book their only western-style room. Also, most rooms don’t come with a toilet facility.

Please refer to their website HERE for some photos of their guestrooms.

How to Make an Accommodation Reservation at Enryakuji Kaikan

Enryakuji Kaikan’s accommodation reservation can be made through their website HERE. If you are asked for a postcode, you can put in 000-0000, meaning overseas.

Yumemigaoka Observation Deck (夢見が丘展望台)

If you are driving to Mt. Hiei or are staying at L’Hotel de Hiei (ロテルド比叡), stop by Yumemigaoka Observation Deck on Hieisan Driveway for a view overlooking Lake Biwa!

The observation deck is well known as a great spot for Ōtsu City’s night view. But you can also get a stunning sunrise view from here if you are an early bird!


At the back of the observation deck, there is a cafe and also a few somewhat exciting rides, such as a cycle monorail.

Important: Please note the facilities mentioned above are closed from late November to late March.

If you are in Japan in early August, Yumemigaoka Observation Deck is a great place to be for the Lake Biwa Fireworks Festival (びわ湖大花火大会).

Usually held around the 8th of August, around 10,000 fireworks are launched into the night sky.

But you better arrive early as this is Shiga Prefecture’s biggest and most popular fireworks event, with around 350,000 people gathering around Lake Biwa!


Click HERE to return to a list of temples in Mt. Hiei.

Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine (日吉大社)

If you visit Mt. Hiei from Shiga Prefecture, you can first stop by Hiyoshi Taisha. The shrine is particularly stunning for its autumn color. Also, if you are a fan of Rurouni Kenshin, you will want to visit the shrine because one of the scenes in the movie was set here!

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

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

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

Your trip to Mt. Hiei won’t be complete unless you stop by Sakamoto, a town that thrived because of Enryakuji.

There are a couple of shrines and temples that have a deep connection with Mt. Hiei in the small town. One is particularly popular because of this reflection photo on the left!

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

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