Vegetarian's Japan Guide

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

The Tōdō (東塔) area is the center of Enryakuji, where the most critical worship halls are located. Moreover, the mountaintop station of Sakamoto Cable Car and Eizan Ropeway is also close to the Tōdō area. Thus, if you have time constraints, focus on the attractions in the east part of Mt. Hiei.

A List of Attractions in Mt. Hiei’s Tōdō Area

Refer to HERE for information about how to travel between the three areas in Mt. Hiei. For information about how to get to Mt. Hiei, refer to HERE.

Monju-rō (文殊楼)

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

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).

Note there are three sets of staircases you can take to Monju-rō.

  • The easiest one is close to the Daikoku-dō Hall (refer to the 3rd photo in the IG post).
  • But taking the staircase closer to Enryakuji Kaikan to Monju-rō is the proper way for a pilgrimage (refer to the 2nd photo in the IG post).
  • The staircase shown in the 4th photo in the Instagram post leads to Enryakuji’s main worship hall, Konpon Chūdō (根本中堂).

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 believed 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.

Manpai-dō and Ichigū Kaikan (萬拝堂と一隅会館)

The buildings opposite Daikoku-dō are Manpai-dō and Ichigū Kaikan. Manpai-dō has Thousand-armed Kannon (千手観音菩薩) enshrined in the middle with Saichō (最澄) and Tendai Daishi (天台大師) on his sides. Behind the Kannon statue are three other Buddha statues, with the Gautama Buddha in the middle and Manjusri Bodhisattva and Samantabhadra on the sides.

Saichō is also known as Denkyō Daishi (伝教大師). He brought the teachings of the Chinese Tendai sect back to Japan and founded Enryakuji.

On the wall, portraits of various gods are hung. When Manpai-dō was completed during the Heisei era (1989 – 2019), all the gods, Buddhas, and Bodhisattva were welcomed to the worship hall. The temple prays for world peace and a happy life for everyone.

In addition, 108 large prayer beads circled the altar. A simple ritual you can do is to touch each bead in an anti-clockwise direction. Moreover, the base of the altar is decorated with the carving of the 12 zodiac signs.

The Ichigū Kaikan next to Manpai-dō is a free rest area for visitors. It is also a place for you to learn more information about Enryakuji. Underneath Ichigū Kaika, there is a soba noodle restaurant. But note non-vegetarian broth is used.

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.

The monks are closely monitoring the rapeseed oil level left in the lanterns. Once the oil runs out, the lanterns that have continued 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. 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 have 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: Tip: 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)

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 teachings 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, 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 (refer to the last photo in the IG post), 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.

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 the monks of Enryakuji.

Back in the Heian period, holding a ceremony to pass down the precepts required approval from the imperial court. Because the teachings of the Tendai sect were foreign to the populace at the time, the voices against having these ceremonies (to pass down Tendai’s precepts) were 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.

Opposite the promenade connecting Kaidan-in and Daikō-dō is a souvenir shop selling drinks and desserts. If you are visiting Enryakuji in the colder seasons, try their ginger-flavored Amazake (a fermented rice drink)!

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

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)

Ⓒ 京阪電車

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.

Explore Other Parts of Mt. Hiei (比叡山)

While the Tōdō (東塔) area consists Enryakuji’s highlights, if you have time, we recommend exploring other parts of Mt. Hiei. 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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