When I was a student, I heard a lot about Mount Hiei in the history class. This was one of the reasons for me to visit Mount Hiei with the same passion as Japanese should climb Mount Fuji. Mount Hiei (848m) is located between the east part of Kyoto Prefecture and the west part of Shiga Prefecture. There are three stupa areas in Mount Hiei called Hieizan Enryakuji Temple. While I hiked three stupa areas, I could understand how Buddhists endured hard training at Mount Hiei.
Shakkei, Borrowing Landscape
After visiting Mount Hiei, I found there were many temples that harmonized with the natural scenery of Mount Hiei. The way of constructing gardens by borrowing from the surrounding scenery started in China and Japan adapted it to build the Japanese Garden. I never considered seeing gardens with background around it in Tokyo. In Kyoto, there are less buildings than Tokyo, and people still can enjoy gardens with impressive backgrounds of Mount Hiei.
Locals I met at an Izakaya, Japanese tapas-style restaurant, secretly told me of three temples as their special recommendations. There are many temples designed with the distant scenery of Mount Hiei as a backdrop, but I followed their recommendations and here’s the “top 3” Shakkei Gardens of Mount Hiei.
Shodenji Temple was far away from the center of Kyoto and the most difficult place to find ever. There might be public transportation, but even the local taxi driver had difficulty to find the Shodenji Temple. The Shodenji Temple is located near Kamigamo Shrine in the northern Kyoto and the nearest bus stop is Jinkoin mae from Kyoto Station (approximately 60 mins).The Shodenji Temple was established in 1282 and the garden is called Shishi-no-ko Watashi with Satsuki azalea “borrowing” Mount Hiei scenery. I really like the long entrance walk from the first gate to the inside of the temple. The approach path to the main building was surrounded by a bamboo grove and it has an authentic and calm atmosphere. The slope gradually reaches the entrance and it had been cleaned up and maintained well. The main building was smaller than I had expected. The approach was long and the site seemed wide, but the main building was modest and small. The garden of the Shodenji Temple was also so small, but in contrast Mount Hiei seemed huge. Everything seemed so simple, but everything was calculated to be a good balance. The principal objects of worship and hanging scrolls were gorgeously arranged in a small room of the main building. I was the only person to enjoy the garden and old statues at that time. It was precious time to spend. The Shodenji Temple is the most comfortable temple I have experienced in my life. The area was quiet and had many greens. The cool air was refreshing and the calmness made me relaxed.
Entsuji Temple is a much more famous place than the Shodenji Temple from which to see Mount Hiei with its garden. The site was wider than the Shodenji Temple and I could enjoy Mount Hiei from different angles. Trees in the garden were planted in a linear manner, contrasted with arrangements of round stones of the garden. The building of the temple was constructed in old Japanese style and I could take a rest in the Tatami-mat room. The nearest bus stop is Hata eda from Kyoto Station (45 mins).
Manshuin Mon Zeki Temple
Manshuin Mon Zeki Temple was also not convenient to visit, but it was well worth visiting. Every 20-30 years, Manshuin Mon Zeki Temple needs to re-thatch the roof of its buildings and I could observe the way of construction and re-thatching. The staff positively said it was very rare to see traditional re-roofing construction. I liked her idea. This temple caused me to get interested in Japanese architecture and to study the construction and materials for the first time. Manshuin Mon Zeki Temple originated with Saicho, a monk who started Mount Hiei Enryakuji Temple, and it was located here in 1656. Manshuin Mon Zeki Temple is a little bit far from the center of Kyoto city, but that’s how it was able to escape from the fires of wars and maintain valuable cultural assets. The nearest bus stop is Ichijoji Simizucho bus stop from Kyoto Station (60 mins).
Hassoken tea room
Hassoken tea room within Manshuin Mon Zeki Temple was not reformed and I could enter it. Inside of Hassoken, people enjoy changes of lights during their stay. The layout of the room is practical to carry water and serve guests with hospitality. The staff who explained about the Hassoken motivated me to learn about the Japanese tea ceremony and I started to participate in the lessons of tea ceremony after my journey to Kyoto.
From the inside of Hassouken, you can see the change of nature. When I visited there, the green was growing vividly. The staff explained that you could feel the changes of nature at this narrow space and could have sharper senses and greater body control. It costs an additional 1,000 yen to get inside of Hassouken, but it is strongly recommended.
How to get Mount Hiei
From Kyoto Station, get JR Tokaido line to Hieizan Sakamoto Station (22 mins) and head to Cable Sakamoto Station (10 mins) by cable sakamoto bus. Head to Enryakuji Station by cable car (11 mins). There were some transfers needed from Kyoto city to Mount Hiei, but the connection was smooth and the timing to catch the next train was well planned. I visited Mount Hiei from Kurama Station via Yase Hieizan Guchi Station to Cable Yase Station. The view of the local station made me feel I had come far away from my hometown and I imagined that it might be difficult to revisit here. It takes 10 mins from Cable Yase Station to the Cable Hiei Station. From Cable Hiei Station, a shuttle bus is available once every half hour to visit the three stupa areas or you can walk for about 90 minutes, excluding sightseeing time.