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Hieizan and around by Keihan Railway

Mountain temple north of Kyoto

Located between the ancient capital of Kyoto and Japan's largest lake, Lake Biwa, is Mount Hiei or Hieizan. The sacred mountain is synonymous with Enraykuji Temple, the headquarters of the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism, which is built on the mountain. The temple was established on Hieizan around 1200 years ago by Saicho, a monk who introduced Tendai Buddhism from China to Japan, and has since been a culturally important location with regard to religion and history.

Enryakuji Temple developed a reputation as a school for Buddhist studies in its early days, and a number of influential monks who studied there went on to establish their own Buddhist sects. At its peak, Enryakuji Temple had thousands of sub temples spread across the mountain, but many were destroyed, and today the temple is not as large as it once was. There are three main temple areas on Mount Hiei, and they connected by numerous walking trails that were used in the past and are still in use today.

Hieizan is northeast of central Kyoto and can be easily accessed by Keihan Railway from either central Kyoto (about 1 hour) or central Osaka (about 2 hours). Cable cars and a ropeway provide access to the top of the mountain, and buses provide transportation on the mountaintop between the three main temple areas. Kansai International Airport (KIX) is the international airport serving the Kansai Region, and is directly connected to central Osaka by Nankai Railway.

Towns and cities surrounding Hieizan like Otsu, Uji and Fushimi can round out a visit to the sacred mountain. Green tea was brought into Japan by way of Tendai Buddhism, when Saicho brought back tea plants from China and promoted the benefits of drinking tea. Over the centuries drinking green tea became popular and growing tea spread to Uji, which is near the former capital of Kyoto. Uji is now famous for green tea, and visitors can take part in activities like making tea and eating and drinking green tea products.

Otsu borders Lake Biwa and offers some nice activities as well as local delicacies like Japanese beef and funazushi, the predecessor of modern sushi in which rice is used to cure fish. Fushimi is known for its sake breweries, and a visit to a sake brewery should not be missed. Below is a list of suggested itineraries to Hieizan and these towns and cities to experience green tea, sake and other local delicacies.

Suggested itineraries