Located in Kyoto's eastern mountain range on Mount Hieizan (比叡山), Enryakuji (延暦寺) is one of the most important monasteries in Japanese history and the headquarters of the Tendai sect of Japanese Buddhism. Many influential monks studied at Enryakuji, including the founders of a number of later sects, such as the Pure Land (Jodo), Zen and Nichiren sects.
Enryakuji was founded in 788 by Saicho, the monk who introduced Tendai Buddhism from China into Japan. At its peak, Enryakuji had as many as 3000 subtemples and a powerful army of warrior monks who often engaged in power struggles with other monasteries and political leaders.
On his way to remove all potential rivals and unite the country, Oda Nobunaga attacked and destroyed most of Enryakuji's buildings and killed most of its inhabitants in 1571. Therefore, most of today's temple buildings date back to the early Edo Period, when Enryakuji was rebuilt.
Enryakuji's attractions are concentrated in three areas: Todo (east area), Saito (west area) and Yokawa. The main area is the Todo area, where the monastry was originally founded and where most of the main buildings are located, including the Main Hall (Kompon Chudo) and the Amida Hall, which was added to the complex in 1937.
A pleasant walking trail through the forest connects the Todo with the Saito area, whose main building is the Shaka Hall, the oldest building on the mountain. Not far away stands the Ninai Hall, two halls connected to each other by a central corridor. A monk named Benkei, known for his legendary strength, is said to once have carried the hall on his shoulders.
The Yokawa area, is located several kilometers north of the other two areas and is visited by fewer people. Its main building, the Yokawa Central Hall, is partially built on a slope using pillars.
Enryakuji is located on Mount Hieizan, which lies on the border of Kyoto Prefecture and Shiga Prefecture. The mountain can be ascended from either the Kyoto side by Eizan Cablecar and ropeway, or from the Shiga side by Sakamoto Cablecar. There is also a toll road that leads up to the temple, which is used by buses from central Kyoto.
By Sakamoto Cablecar (around the year)
Take the JR Kosei Line from Kyoto Station to Hieizan-Sakamoto Station (15 minutes, 320 yen one way), from where it is a 15 minute walk or 5 minute bus ride to the lower station of the Sakamoto Cablecar. The cablecar ride takes 11 minutes and costs 860 yen one way or 1620 yen for a round trip. From the upper station, Hieizan's Todo area can be reached in a 5-10 minute walk.
By bus (does not operate in winter)
There are direct buses from Kyoto Station and Keihan Sanjo Station to Hieizan's Todo area. The one way trip takes about one hour and costs 770 yen. There are 4-6 buses per day, except from December through mid March when no buses run.
By Eizan Cablecar and Ropeway (does not operate in winter)
Take the Eizan Main Line from Demachi-yanagi Station in northeastern Kyoto to Yase-Hieizan-guchi Station (15 minutes, 260 yen). From there, take the Eizan Cablecar and Eizan Ropeway to the summit of Hieizan (15-20 minutes, 850 yen one way, 1700 yen round trip). From the summit, it is another 5 minute bus ride or 30 minute walk to the Todo area. The cable car and ropeway do not operate from early December to mid March.
The Todo and Saito areas are connected with each other by a pleasant walking trail (about 20 minutes one way) through the forest.
Shuttle buses operate between the upper station of the Eizan Ropeway (at the mountain's summit), the upper station of the Sakamoto Cablecar, the Todo area, the Saito area and the Yokawa area about every 60 minutes on weekdays and about every 30 minutes on weekends. There are no buses from December to mid March.
Bus fares depend on the distance traveled. The one way trip from the Todo to the Yokawa area, for example, takes 15 minutes and costs 650 yen. A one day pass for unlimited use of the shuttle bus on one calendar day is available for 800 yen.
9:00 to 16:00 (December)
9:00 to 16:30 (January and February)
Saito and Yokawa areas open 30 minutes later and close 30 minutes earlier