Located on Mount Hiei in Otsu, Enryaku-ji Temple overlooks all of Kyoto from its serene mountaintop home. This Tendai-sect monastery was founded in 788 during the early Heian period. The temple was founded by Saicho, who brought the Tendai sect of Buddhism over to Japan from China.
During the peak of its power, Enryaku-ji Temple was a complex of more than 3,000 sub-temples and a powerful army of warrior monks who were often used to settle disputes. In fact, the monks of Enryaku-ji Temple became so powerful they began to enforce monastic demands on the capital. In 1571, due to the Buddhist militancy and power the temple had accumulated, Oda Nobunaga led a campaign to destroy the temple and its monks.
Only one minor building survived the fires, the Ruri-do or Lapis Lazuli Hall, located down a long and unmarked path escaped the fate of the other buildings. During the reconstruction period, buildings were moved from other temples; most notably Mii-dera Temple was moved to join Enryaku-ji’s complex.
Today, the buildings of Enryaku-ji Temple are clustered in three main areas: East Pagoda, West Pagoda, and Side River. Although these three areas are all a part of Enryaku-ji, they are spread over a wide area. The most commonly visited is the East Pagoda area. From there, the West Pagoda area is a 20-minute walk; and the Side River a further 90-minute hike.
This National Treasure is the most important temple on Mount Hiei. There is said to be a Buddhist icon housed here that was carved by the founder himself in 788.
The Lapis Lazuli Hall is the only original sub-temple to escape the military campaign and subsequent fires of Oda Nobunaga. It is a clear example of Muromachi-period architecture.
Although a 4-kilometer walk from the main temple area, the sights of Yokawa’s main building are a beauty to behold. It also serves as a ceremony-closing dedication spot for pilgrims.
Mount Hiei can be accessed from the Kyoto-side by Eizan Cablecar or from the Shiga-side by Sakamoto Cablecar. The Sakamoto Cablecar operates year-round, while the Eizan Cablecar does not operate during winter. After leaving the cable car, there is a clearly marked path that leads to Enryaku-ji temple.
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