Attraction Mt Hiei, Yaseakimotocho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 601-1252, Japan Published on: 29-02-2016
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Why Mount Hiei is special ?
Mount Hiei is a mountain to the northeast of Kyoto, lying on the border between the Kyoto and Shiga prefectures, Japan.
The temple of Enryaku-ji, the first outpost of the Japanese Tendai (Chin.Tiantai) sect of Buddhism, was founded atop Mount Hiei by Saichō in 788.Hōnen, Nichiren, and Shinran all studied at the temple before leaving to start their own practices. The temple complex was razed by Oda Nobunagain 1571 to quell the rising power of the Tendai's warrior monks, but it was rebuilt and remains the Tendai headquarters to this day.
The Imperial Japanese Navy 19th Century corvette Hiei was named after this mountain, as was the more famous World War II-era battleship Hiei, the latter having initially been built as a battlecruiser.
What to explore at Mount Hiei?
Beyond the mountain itself, its forests, and the views it affords – of Kyoto, of Ohara, of lake Biwa and Shiga – the main attraction is the temple complex of Enryaku-ji. The temple complex spreads out over the mountain, but is concentrated in three areas, connected by foot trails. There are also more minor temples and shrines.
Unusually, there are also a number of French-themed attractions – the peak itself features the Garden Museum Hiei, which is themed on French impressionism, featuring gardens and French paintings, while there is also a French-themed hotel, "L'hotel de Hiei" (The Hiei Hotel). The mountain is busiest during the daytime, but has some visitors in the evenings, for light-up displays and to see the night view of the surrounding towns.
How to get to Mount Hiei?
By Sakamoto Cablecar (around the year)
You take the JR Kosei Line from Kyoto Station to Hiei-Sakamoto Station (15 minutes, 320 yen one way), from where it is a 15 minute walk or 5 minute bus ride to the lower station of the Sakamoto Cablecar. The cablecar ride takes 11 minutes and costs 860 yen one way or 1620 yen for a round trip. From the upper station, Hieizan's Todo area can be reached in a 5-10 minute walk.
By bus (does not operate in winter)
There are direct buses from Kyoto Station and Keihan Sanjo Station to Hieizan's Todo area. The one way trip takes about one hour and costs 770 yen. There are 4-6 buses per day, except from December through mid March when no buses run.
By Eizan Cablecar and Ropeway (does not operate in winter)
You can take the Eizan Main Line from Demachi-yanagi Station in northeastern Kyoto to Yase-Hieizan-guchi Station (15 minutes, 260 yen). From there, take the Eizan Cablecar and Eizan Ropeway to the summit of Hieizan (15-20 minutes, 850 yen one way, 1700 yen round trip). From the summit, it is another 5 minute bus ride or 30 minute walk to the Todo area. The cable car and ropeway do not operate from early December to mid March.
- Serene and majestic
- Remote but definitely worthwhile
- Lovely spot for a cool walk
- A beautiful area to explore
- Very Scenic Diversion
Mt Hiei, Yaseakimotocho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 601-1252, Japan
Tips for you
You should check the weather forecast before you go so that you can dress appropriately. Kyoto is sunny but it starts to drizzle at the mountain peak. It’s hard to find a local who is good at English to tell you some things at the mountain. You should hire a tour guide before starting your trip. Each temple also allows you to meditate and try the matcha (green tea) as long as you want to do it.Things to do
Mount Hiei is about 1.5 hour by bus from Kyoto Station (seasonal schedule) and it contains three groups of temples called To-Do, Sai-Do and Yokawa, spread out over a large area. There is a shuttle bus linking all three sites making a day trip covering the entire site possible. The main temple is Konpon Chudo (To-Do), the home Inextinguishable Dharma Light, a lamp that has been continuously burning for over 1,000 years. I have been to Buddhist temples all over Japan and Asia but I would say that the hall of Konpon Chudo was the most spiritual atmosphere. Sai-Do is within 30 min walking distance of To-Do and the walk takes you past some charming satellite temples and also through some fine mountain views. Jodo-In is the first temple that you come across when walking and although it does not look like much at first, it is worth a close look. The main temple of Sai-Do is Shaka-Do at the far end of Sai-Do. There is a small path leading away from the back of Shak-Do which is worth exploring. Yokawa is quite far away and the shuttle bus is the best option. The main temple here is the Yokawa Chu-Do, built on the side of a mountain, a bit like Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto. An early start is necessary as the last bus back to Kyoto departs around 3pm (schedule is seasonal). I took the Sakamoto cable car down (last car around 5pm) and transfered by bus to Hieizansakamoto Station and took the train back to Kyoto. Although Kyoto is full of wonderful temples and shrines, if you are in Kyoto for more than 3 days, I would strongly recommend making a day trip to Mount Hiei.