The Vast Tendai Complex on Mount Hiei
Enryaku-ji is a Buddhist temple of the Tendai School located on Mount Hiei and attached to Otsu city, Shiga prefecture in Japan. It is also accessible from Kyoto. The temple’s ground spreads in the heart of the forest and its mystical character creates an exotic visit in an environment preserved from the city’s noise.
Konpon Chu-do main hall under scaffolding for renovation (2016-2026) but open to the public
Mount Hiei, 840 meters above sea level, is located between Kyoto and Shiga prefectures. Enryaku-ji temple, designed Unesco World Heritage Site in 1994, stands at its top.
Built in 788 by Saicho, the founder of Tendai-shu sect, this wonderful complex was composed of more than a hundred buildings constructed in a cedar forest. Far from the pacifist image than can label Japanese Buddhism, Hieizan monks belonged to the warrior class and were responsible for numerous destructions in Kyoto during the Age of Warring States (Sengoku period 1467-1615). In 1571, daimyo (warlord) Oda Nobunaga and his army destroyed the monks and burnt Enryaku-ji to the ground. The temple was rebuilt a few years later, and is now Tendai School’s main site.
Modern Warrior Monks
The mountain is however, still home to an original religious activity: it is inhabited by marathon monks. They follow a special training called Sennichi Kaihogyo ("the 1,000 days mountain training"), where they push their endurance, tenacity, and their will, both physically and mentally to their limits. During seven consecutive years, in addition to their daily duties such as meditation, calligraphy or temple’s maintenance, the monks must also run at a diabolic rhythm.
Spirituality and Authenticity
Three spaces are open to the visit:
- Todo (east): is the most visited area as it includes the main hall designed National Treasure and dedicated to Yakushi, the Buddha of medicine;
- Saito (west): where the Shaka Hall can be found, as well as the oldest preserved building of the complex;
- Yokawa: the least popular area as it is located several kilometers to the north, displays a building built on the mountainside.
In addition to a fascinating history, Mount Hiei is the ideal place to combine spirituality and sports. The hiking trail winding to the top is gorgeous in spring 🌸 during azalea blooming and colored in red in autumn 🍁 by the maple trees foliage. It is a beautiful excursion with almost no risk to go astray.
Hieizan, still considered a sacred area, benefits from an abundant and protected flora and fauna: wild animals such as monkeys 🐒, tanuki and even boars will please visitors looking for a more authentic and unique Japan.
It is highly recommended to take Sakamoto Cable Car 🚙, on Otsu’s side, to enjoy a wonderful view on the mountainside and on the vast Lake Biwa.