This is one of my favourite temple regions and it is a World Heritage Site to boot. You will need a least a whole day to explore the three temple complexes properly. You will also need to have a basic level of fitness as the site is on top of Mt Hiei and there are a lot of hills and stairs to climb.
Located in Kyoto’s eastern mountain range on Mount Hieizan (比叡山), Enryakuji (延暦寺) is one of the most important monasteries in Japanese history and the headquarters of the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism. Many influential monks studied at Enryakuji, including the founders of a number of later sects, such as the Pure Land (Jodo), Zen and Nichiren sects.
Enryakuji was founded in 788 by Saicho, the monk who introduced Tendai Buddhism from China into Japan. At its peak, Enryakuji had as many as 3000 sub-temples and a powerful army of warrior monks who often engaged in power struggles with other monasteries and political leaders.
Mount Hiei (Hiei-zan) guards the northeastern approach to Kyoto. The sacred mountain and its remote Yokawa precinct are mentioned in the Uji chapters of The Tale of Genji. On the 49th day after Yugao’s death, Genji sponsors a reading of the Lotus Sutra for her at the Hokke-do in the Saito, or west precinct. The Toto, or east precinct, contains the Konpon Chudo, Amida Hall and Kaidan-in – the formerly much-prized ordination platform.
The temple’s power in the Kyoto region posed a threat to warlord Oda Nobunaga, who razed it to the ground and slaughtered all the warrior monks in 1571.
Mt Hiei is a place you will never forget. The history is long and exciting. The whole place exhumes spirituality. Amazing.
If you are based in Kyoto the best way to get to the site is to travel by bus. There is a regular bus service from from Kyoto station. If you want to visit the three temple complexes you can buy an all day ticket which also includes a shuttle bus ticket to each site. I visited in autumn a few years ago and it was beautiful. There were so many things to see we actually ran out of time and had to rush to get the last bus back to Kyoto.
I will add captions in the photos.
Text and photos by Stuart