When I was a student, I heard a lot about Mt. Hiei in the history class. This was one of the reasons for me to visit Mt. Hiei with the same passion as Japanese should climb Mt. Fuji. I had been to Mt. Hiei before by car and seen the temples. I was not quite sure how big Mt. Hiei was during my previous trip there by car. I desired to go hiking in some mountains in Kyoto, so I used public transportation from Kyoto City to climb Mt. Hiei.
Mt. Hiei (848m) is located between the east part of Kyoto Prefecture and the west part of Shiga Prefecture. It takes about an hour and a half to Cable Hiei Station by public transportation from Kyoto Station. There are three stupa areas in Mt. Hiei called Hieizan Enryakuji Temple.
How to get there
A shuttle Bus is available once every half hour to visit the three areas or you can walk for about 90 minutes, excluding sightseeing time. This time, I could understand the seasonal nature and feel how Buddhists endured hard training at Mt. Hiei. There were some transfers needed from Kyoto city to Mt. Hiei, but the connection was smooth and the timing to catch the next train was well planned.
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. The cable car takes 10 mins from Yase Hieizan Guchi Station to the Cable Hiei Station.
After visiting Mt. Hiei, I found there were many temples that harmonized with the natural scenery around them. This 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.
Locals I met at an Izakaya, Japanese tapas-style restaurant, secretly told me of three temples as their special recommendations but they didn’t really want to share this information with other people. There are many temples designed with the distant scenery of Mt. Hiei as a backdrop, but I followed their recommendations.
It 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 near Kamigamo Shrine in the northern part of Kyoto. It was established in 1282 and the garden is called Shishi-no-ko Watashi with Satsuki azalea “borrowing” Mt. Hiei scenery.
I really like the long entrance walk from the first gate to the inside of the temple. It has an authentic and calm atmosphere. The Shodenji Temple is the most comfortable temple I have experienced in my life. The area was quiet and had many greens. My favorite part was the approach path to the main building surrounded by a bamboo grove. The slope gradually reaches the entrance. The path had been cleaned up and maintained well. I didn’t meet with anyone till the entrance of Shodenji Temple. The cool air was refreshing and the calmness made me relaxed.
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. Finally, I could enter the garden of Shodenji Temple. The garden was so small, but in contrast Mt. 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. I was the only person to enjoy the garden and old statues at that time. It was precious time to spend.
Entsuji Temple is a much more famous place than the Shodenji Temple from which to see Mt. Hiei with its garden. The site was wider than the Shodenji Temple and I could enjoy Mt. 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.
Manshuin Mon Zeki Temple
The Manshuin Mon Zeki Temple was also not convenient to visit, but it was well worth visiting. This temple caused me to get interested in Japanese architecture and to study the construction and materials for the first time. Every 20-30 years, Manshuin Mon Zeki Temple needs to re-thatch the roof of its buildings. The guide positively said it was very rare to see traditional re-roofing construction. I liked her idea.
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 this after my journey to Kyoto.
Manshuin Mon Zeki Temple originated with Saicho, a monk who started Mt. Hiei Enryakuji, 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. 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.
Time is always limited, and Kyoto has a lot to see and do, but the Shodenji Temple and the Manshuin Mon Zeki Temple would be quiet and relaxing places to visit.