Nestled just a stone’s throw away from Kyoto city is the eastern mountain range of Mt. Hiei, home to Enryaku-ji Temple, one of the most important monasteries in Japanese history that was founded in the year 788. The temple complex is spread out over the mountain and makes the perfect daytrip getaway for those looking to escape the city, forest enthusiasts and those seeking views of Kyoto, Ohara, Lake Biwa and Shiga.
Start your day off at Demachiyanagi Station on the Keihan Railway, just half an hour out from Kyoto Station. If you plan to visit Mt. Hiei, check out Keihan's useful train pass depending on what you want to do!
Before transferring to the cable car from Demachiyanagi Station, you’ll find a small clearing with interweaving pathways called “Yase Autumn Leaves Pathways”. Here you can admire autumn colours in the open, free of large crowds while taking in the fresh mountain air. If you’re here after sunset during certain autumn periods, night illuminations are also held here that light up the night sky in gold and red hues.
Eizan Cable Line
After a short stroll through the autumn leaves, head to the Eizan Cable Line (ropeway cable car) which will take you straight up to the Hieizan summit in roughly 15-20 minutes.
During the cable car and ropeway rides, I’d recommend trying to get into the car first to get a front or rear view window seat. This will give you the best views of the incline and mountain as you ascend through the overgrowth.
Upon arriving the at the summit’s Hiei Sancho Station, hop on board the shuttle bus which will be your main mode of transport across the three areas – Todo (east area), Saito (west area) and Yokawa.
Exploring Enryaku-ji - Todo, Saito and Yokawa
The Todo area is only a 5 minute bus ride from the ropeway and is the main area of the temple complex, housing most of the frequently visited buildings. Stroll through the forest to reach each of the main buildings including the impressive East Pagoda (Tō-dō), the Main Hall (Kompon Chudo) and the Amida Hall (Amida-do), the latter of which was most recently added to the complex in 1937.
After exploring this area, head to the Saito area which is connected by shuttle bus or also accessible by foot through the forest (primarily downhill) for 20 minutes. Here the primary buildings include the Jogyodo and Hokkedo which are connected by a central corridor, the Belfry and also the Shaka Hall which is the oldest building within the complex.
The final area to explore is the Yokawa area which is also the most remotely located. I’d recommend getting the bus for this area as it is a bit too far out of reach by foot. However, given the location, it is also the least visited which provides a more tranquil and Zen environment. Here you can view the Yokawa Central Hall and the Ganzan Daishi Hall which is situated towards the back end of the complex.
Returning via Mt.Hiei Shuttle Bus
After exploring all three areas, head back onto the shuttle bus and reverse your trip in order to reach the Eizan Ropeway. However if you are travelling during winter, it’s important to note the Eizan cable car and ropeway does not operate from early December to mid-March. In this situation, head to the upper station of the Sakamoto cable car which provides access from the Shiga-side of the mountain. From the Todo area, this station can also be reached in a 10 minute walk. The Sakamoto cable car is an 11 minute ride back to the base, which then connects to Hieizan-Sakamoto Station on the JR Kosei line.
Daniel is a Tokyo-based Australian food and travel blogger who has resided in Japan since 2015. He enjoys trying new foods in addition to exploring Japan’s natural treasures. He has particularly enjoyed Kansai’s autumn colours and temples and hopes to visit again in the future.