In November, I took a few friends northeast to Shiga-ken, the prefecture next door to Kyoto that is home to Japan’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Biwa. For ages I’d been wanting to make it to Ōtsu, the capital city of Shiga that borders the southwestern shores of Lake Biwa, so I was really excited to finally be heading out there! …Only, this time around, we didn’t go for the lake, but rather the mountains! Located on the top of Hiezan (Mount Hiei) is Enryaku-ji, a beautiful sprawling monastery that is known for being the birthplace of the Tendai (Pure Land) sect of Buddhism to which my family belongs.
To get there, we left from the nearby Demachiyanagi Station, which services the Keihan Railway lines. From Demachiyanagi, we headed to Sanjo Station, where we could transfer to the Tozai Line out towards Ōtsu.
When we went to ask the information center of Sanjo Station about the Koto Koto Otsu One-Day Pass which gives you unlimited rides along Keihan’s Otsu lines, the station workers suggested we instead get the Kyoto Subway and Otsu Train Line 1-day Ticket for ￥1,100, which gave us unlimited rides on both the Ōtsu lines as well as the Keihan Kyoto lines!
We got off the trains at Sakamoto Station, and right away we were greeted with beautiful views of autumn leaves. It was said that Kyoto’s momiji (red maple leaves) this fall weren’t very pretty, but they were beautiful in Ōtsu!
From Sakamoto Station, Google wanted us to take a bus to the Sakamoto Cable Car Station, but it was such a short walk we skipped the bus. When we got to the Cable Car station which runs cars up the mountain every half an hour, we were able to make it on to one that was just about to leave. The Sakamoto Cable Car runs for about 2 kilometers up the mountainside, and claims it is the longest cable car in Japan. It was my first time riding a cable car, so I was pretty excited!
For about 11 minutes, the cablecar plodded away slowly up the steep mountainside, which gave us plenty of time to take pictures! Every now and then, we’d catch glimpses of Lake Biwa through the trees, giving us an idea of what sort of view to expect when we finally made it to the top.
But actually seeing that view in person? I don’t have words to describe how lovely it was. I also have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that that huge body of water isn’t the ocean, but a lake. Now that I think about it, it might actually be the very first lake I’ve ever seen? Hawai’i doesn’t really have lakes!
From the cable car stop, we still had about an 8 minute walk to the entrance of Enryaku-ji. As we walked along, the mountain air was so refreshing, and in the distance we could hear the sound of a great bell ringing. As we approached, the sound got louder and louder. The deep gong-like sound echoing in the mountains was definitely one of my favorite parts of this trip. As we walked, we wondered if there was a monk whose job it was to ring the bell and what a tiring job that’d be. As soon as we entered Enryaku-ji, we discovered the bell we’d been hearing, and that it wasn’t a monk, but tourists ringing it! So of course, we donated a bit of money and gave it a shot.
There were a ton of different temples to see, and compared to other places in the surrounding Kyoto area, not very many tourists which let us wander at a unhurried, leisurely place. One thing I won’t soon forget is the sight of the clouds rolling by so closely overhead. It felt like the bottoms of the clouds would touch the tops of the buildings, they seemed so near!
As such a prominent religious site, the feel of Enryaku-ji is a lot different than other temples in Kansai. I’d say the domestic visitors who came here to actually pray nearly outnumbered the amount of foreign visitors who came here to sight-see. I’m planning on coming back to Enryaku-ji in March when my family comes to visit, so hopefully I can find out more then about the histories and the names of all the different temples and halls and write more about it then.
Until next time, Enryaku-ji!