Vegetarian's Japan Guide

The Ultimate Guide to Mt. Hiei Enryakuji Temple’s Saitō Area

Saitō (西塔) is a quiet place deep in Mt. Hiei in beautiful cedar forests in the west founded by Enchō (円澄), also known as Jikukō Daishi (寂光大師). While the number of attractions here isn’t as many as in the Tōdō area, we loved our visit to Saitō. It wasn’t as busy as Tōdō. The atmosphere here is as spiritual as the Yokawa area. But the difference is it wasn’t so quiet that it felt like walking in a deserted area.

A List of Attractions in the Saitō Area

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”. You can refer to the 2nd photo in the Instagram post for Benkei’s image!

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.

On the side of the temple, there are storyboards illustrating Gautama Buddha’s life story (the 2nd and the 3rd photo in the IG post). Although the story is written in Japanese, you can get a brief idea by looking at the images.

In front of the Shaka-dō, there are a couple of golden pillars with dragon heads (the second last photo in the IG post). When special rituals are held, banners are hung here.

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

Ruri-dō Hall (瑠璃堂)

Ⓒ びわこビジターズビューロー

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.

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.

Explore Other Parts of Mt. Hiei (比叡山)

The Saitō area won’t be the only part of Mt. Hiei you will visit. Before reaching this part of Enryakuji, you will definitely arrive at the Tōdō (東塔) area first. It is an area consisting Enryakuji’s highlights. Yokawa is another part of Mt. Hiei that is worth your time. Although the attractions are all temples, each area has its characteristics and atmosphere.

To find out more about this sacred destination, please refer to our article on Mt. Hiei!

Click the photo to find out more about Mt. Hiei!

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