Visiting Kyoto’s Enryakuji Mountain Temple


Japan has an interesting combination of terrains that make up its visual beauty. Furthermore, Japan has a vast array of temples with significant importance to Shinto or Buddhist faiths. 

The Enryakuji Mountain Temple in Kyoto is designated as a monastery of great importance to Japan, as well as for the Tendai sect of the Buddhist faith.

This temple is actually made up of several smaller temples within the same area, and it’s known as the mountain temple as it’s constructed on Mount Hieizan. 

There’s quite a lot of history within this mountain temple, making it an ideal destination for tourists who are looking to learn more about Japanese history, the Buddhist faith, or just want to see beautiful construction and stunning vistas. 

The History Of Enryakuji Mountain Temple 

Enryakuji was established in 788 and was the birthplace of Tendai Buddhism in Japan. Saicho, who founded the temple, brought this particular sect to Japan for the first time. When Saicho first arrived in the area, he established a hut to live in before leaving to train in China for a year.

When he came back, he decided to build a temple and start the Tendai sect of Buddhism. 

Throughout history, Enryakuji has comprised up to 3000 structures and has seen its fair share of conflict, with grounds being protected by an army of warrior monks in order to maintain its status.

However, in 1571, the majority of Enryakuji was destroyed, leading to a devastating loss. 

Rebuilding of the area was completed after the warlord Nobungada Oda, who destroyed Enryakuji, passed away. The most current renovation was started in 2016.

Some of that renovation is still occurring today, but you can work around it when you want to visit the temple

The Importance Of Enryakuji

Throughout many centuries, this temple has seen some great monks walk through the doors and study, many of whom ended up founding their own sects of the faith.

Given the way that the Buddhist faith, an important faith in Japan, expanded through the goings-on in this temple, it has been credited as being a very important part of Japanese history. 

With all that’s happened throughout Enryakuji over centuries, it’s no surprise that the spiritual significance of its history can be felt throughout the area. 

The Tendai Sect Of Buddhism

The Tendai sect of Buddhism has been one of the prominent sects practiced by many Buddhist believers. This particular sect sees great importance in all the teachings that Buddha shared with people.

Thus, they are proponents of Integrating The Four Schools, wanting to bring together many elements of Buddhism that are practiced separately in other sects. 

Navigating Through Enryakuji 

The best way to navigate through this expansive mountain temple is to go through the three main areas that separate each sight; Todo, Saito, and Yokawa. 

Todo

Todo is considered to be the main temple area and is the area that has existed the longest. This location was where the first monastery of Enryakuji was placed. Todo is also often referred to as the East Pagoda, though there isn’t an actual pagoda here anymore. 

Todo is where you’ll find Kompon Chudo, the main hall of the temple. Within Kompon Chudo, you’ll be able to see the Inextinguishable Dharma Light.

The flame is known as being inextinguishable because it’s been alight for over 1200 years. In order to maintain this seemingly eternal flame, a monk will be assigned to the light at all times, ensuring it stays lit while also performing chants.  

Another hall to visit is the Amida Hall, which is one of the newest buildings built here. The hall honors the Amida Buddha, who is known as the main buddha of the Pure Land sect of Buddhism. 

The Daiko-do Hall is still used, mainly for monks who are training and to hold various conversations about the Buddhist faith. 

You can also make your way through the Kokuhoden Museum here, where you’ll be able to take a look at various artifacts and mandalas that have been collected over centuries. 

Saito

After you’re finished exploring Todo, you can walk through a magnificently beautiful forest full of lush green trees to make your way to Saito. Saito features a mausoleum that houses Saicho, the founder.

This mausoleum is known as Jodo-in, and is maintained meticulously by a team of devoted Tendai monks. 

You can also find Shaka Hall, which is a must-see as it’s the building that has survived on the mountain for the longest. You are also able to see one of Saicho’s carvings of Buddha here. Ninai Hall is also located in Saito, which actually consists of two connected halls. 

There is an interesting tale about this hall, wherein it’s said that the monk Benkei actually brought this hall together by carrying it on his shoulders.

These two halls, also known as Lotus and Constant Practice – or Hokke and Jogyo – is where many monks who are training will practice meditation and chanting. 

While Saito also doesn’t have a pagoda anymore, it is often called West Pagoda. 

Yokawa 

Yokawa is a bit of a trek from Todo and Saito, but the trek is worth it. Here you’ll find the Yokawa Hall, which is brilliantly built along a slope of the mountain. It’s kept in place due to strategically placed pillars. 

You’ll be able to find other important sites here, including the Konpon Nyoho-to where many sacred sutras are kept safe.

Additionally, there’s the Ganzan Daishido where there are various Buddhist tales painted onto panels. 

Yokawa isn’t often frequented as much as Todo and Saito, partially due to the distance from the entrance of Enryakuji to Yokawa. However, it’s recommended you make your way there when visiting, as you don’t want to miss out on the incredible views. 

Hiking Around Enryakuji

It might be no surprise given that Enryakuji was built on a mountain, but there are ample opportunities to get some hiking either before or after visiting the temple, or on another day.

You will be able to find several paths that you can hike through. 

Apart from the temple, the Hieizan Mountain offers some pretty wonderful views, with tons of tall trees decorating the area and the nearby Biwako lake being visible from the mountain. 

How To Get to Enryakuji 

Enryakuji sits right between Kyoto and Shiga prefectures, but it’s considered to be a part of Kyoto. Thus, there are a few different ways you can get to Enryakuji.

One such way is the Sakamoto Cablecar or Eizan Cablecar, depending on which prefecture you are coming from. 

If you want to take the Sakamoto Cablecar, you can get there by taking the JR Kosei train from Kyoto Station to the Hieizan-Sakamoto Station and either walking to the cable car station or taking a quick bus ride.

Kyoto Station

If you want to ride the Eizan Cablecar, you can get on the Eizan train from Demachi-yanagi Station and get off at the Yase-Hieizan-guchi Station. Just keep in mind that Eizan doesn’t run in the winter. 

Enryakuji Temple Official Website

Alternatively, you can catch a bus to Enryakuji, except in winter, if you want to enjoy a different kind of scenic ride towards the mountain temple. Buses can be caught from either Kyoto Station or Keihan Sanjo Station.

Enryakuji Mountain Temple Virtual Tour

MT Lee

My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.

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