Vegetarian's Japan Guide

The Best Guide to Mt. Hiei Enryakuji Temple’s Yokawa Area

Mt. Hiei’s Yokawa (横川) area is the least visited but most spiritual part of Enryakuji by tourists. The area was founded by Ennin (円仁), also known as Jigaku Daishi (慈覚大師). He is the disciple of Saichō (最澄) and the third head of the Tendai sect in Japan. Tucked deep in the mountain, this part of Mt. Hiei is the best place to learn Buddhism and meditate. Many renowned eminent monks in Japan were trained here. It is also where Ganzan Daishi’s mausoleum is located. When you visit the Yokawa area, the peaceful and solemn ambiance will surely bring a positive impact on your spiritual state.

A List of Attractions in the Yokawa Area

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 lived in this pond when Ganzan Daishi was training at Mt. Hiei. Because the serpent attacked the villagers and the training monks, people started to avoid coming to the Yokawa area.

Ganzan Daishi was soon made aware of the existence of the serpent and visited the pond. He asked the serpent, “I heard you have the power to change your body size. Is this true?” The serpent said, “Of course! There is nothing I can’t become.”

So, Ganzan Daishi asked the serpent to show him his power by transforming into something gigantic, and the serpent’s body increased massively in size. Seeing the scene, Ganzan Daishi said, “Can you become so small that I can place you in my palm?” The serpent said, “Understood”, and it reduced its size and landed on Ganzan Daishi’s palm.
Ganzan Daishi then confined the serpent by borrowing Kannon Bodhisattva’s power and welcomed the Benzaiten from the sky. The serpent was then transformed into a dragon god to serve Benzaiten and protect those who visit the Yokawa area.

Ganzan Daishi then confined the serpent by borrowing Kannon Bodhisattva’s power 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.

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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)

Ⓒ 京阪電車

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.

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)

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), discussions 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.

Ⓒ 京阪電車

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.

According 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.

Explore Other Parts of Mt. Hiei (比叡山)

Ninaido-Saito-Mt.-Hiei-Shiga-Japan
Click the photo to find out more about Mt. Hiei!

The Yokawa 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. The Saitō area is another part of Mt. Hiei 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!

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