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Mount Hiei (Hieizan)

Mount Hiei, called Hieizan in japanese, is a mountain located in the northeast of Kyoto.

In the woods of this mountain, in the year 788, the monk Saichō, founder of the Tendai Buddhist sect, came to this mountain as a hermit and founded the Enryaku-ji Temple, which still exists today and continues to be the main temple of the sect.

The only attraction on this mountain is the Enryaku-ji, however, it occupies an area so vast that it can take up to one full day to visit the whole grounds.
entrata tempio enryakuji ticket office and gate entrance to the Enryakuji complex
Admission: ¥700
Opening hours: 8:30:16:30 mar-nov, 9-16:00 dec, 9-16:30 jan-feb

The temple is divided into three main areas:

-the East Area (Todo), where most of the building of interest are located, and it is also the closest area to the two ropeways (see the Practical Guide below). If you want to make a quick visit, no longer than a half-day trip, you could visit just this area. The treasure house of the temple (separate admission, ¥500) and the main building, called Konpon Chudō, are located here too. Inside the Konpon Chudo there is a fire, beside which there is always a monk that stokes it, which is said to have been burning continuously for 1200 years;

-the West Area (Saito), which is located about one kilometer north-west of the East Area. The oldest building of the temple, the Shaka Hall, is located here. For a satisfying visit could stop here;

-the Yokawa is located three kilometers away from the West Area. It is much less popular than the previous two areas, and there are no special buildings to point out.

Actually, none of the buildings of this temple seems to be more special than the many temples that can be found everywhere in Japan, especially in Kyoto.
What makes this place worth a visit is more than anything the setting and the mystical atmosphere created by the forest and the mountains.
Although the most popular and easiest period to visit this place is summer, I want to give a special advice: go there in winter if you have a chance.
In winter it is harder to find yourself surrounded by hundreds of tourists. In addition, cold weather, fog, snow, which often characterize this place, in my opinion contribute to give even more charme to this place.
temple enryakuji with snow temple enryakuji with fog

Hiei Garden Museum

(admission 1030 yen, opening hours 10-17:30, until 20:45 19jul-31aug)
This curious museum is located right in front of the arrival of the Eizan cable car, it hosts art exhibitions and is mainly dedicated to the French Impressionism.
Inside there is also a garden and an observation deck with a great view over Lake Biwa and the town of Otsu.
lake biwa from hieizan view of Otsu and Lake Biwa from Mount Hiei

Staying in a temple on Mount Hiei

On Mount Hiei there is only one place where you can stay, and it is a shukubo, a japanese word which means the experience of staying in a temple.

Hieizan Shiga Enryakuji Kaikan
It is a modern building located within the Enryakuji temple, in the East area (Todo), the one closest to the cable car.
The prices are quite high but it is normal for this type of accommodation, from 12,000 yen per person and include breakfast and dinner, strictly vegetarian (shojin ryori). All rooms are Japanese style, similar to those of ryokans. Public baths with views of Lake Biwa are also available for guests. A special experience, one night is enough, no longer.

Pratical guide, how to get to Mount Hiei and how to get around

The three areas of Enryakuji Temple, the eastern one, the western one and Yokawa, are connected by some bus running hourly on weekdays and every half hour on weekends. From December to mid-March, the service is suspended.

You can climb on Mount Hiei from two sides: from the west side (Kyoto), or from the east side (Otsu, Shiga prefecture).

From the east side: Eizan Cablecar and Eizan Ropeway

(15 minutes, 850 yen one way, 1700 round trip, closed in winter)
The nearest railway station to the starting point of this cable car (a few meters away) is Yase-Hieizan-guchi Station, the last stop of the Eizan Main Line. Getting to this station from the center of Kyoto is a bit complicated and requires quite a lot of time, in order to take this line, you have to first go to Demachiyanagi station, terminus in the opposite direction of the Eizan Main line, and located in northern Kyoto. For the entire journey from Kyoto station you could need up to an hour and spend around 600 yen (In fact, you have to make at least two changes with lines of different companies).
About three-quarters of the way are covered by the cable car, the last part by a ropeway.
The arrival point on the mountain is located about 30 minutes walk from the East area of Enryakuji (Todo).

From the west side: Sakamoto Cablecar

(11 minutes, 860 yen one way, 1620 yen round trip, open all year)
The nearest railway station to the starting point of this cable car is Hieizan-Sakamoto Station, accessible from Kyoto Station through the JR Kosei line (20 minutes, 320 YEN). From this station, the cablecar is located about 1.2 km far, you can go on foot or by bus.
The arrival point on the mountain is located about 10 minutes' walk from the East area of Enryakuji (Todo).

Map of Mount Hiei

View Hieizan in a larger map

Guided tours, activities and other things to do

If you are planning a trip to Japan and you want to do something more than just visiting famous places and monuments, we suggest you to use Rakuten Travel Experiences.

How to use Rakuten Travel Experiences

Rakuten Travel is a very useful website to enrich your travel experience, especially if you are going solo or it's your first time in Japan.
Because of the language barrier (and more), in Japan it is very difficult to interact with the locals and to get off the tourist track.
Thanks to Rakuten Travel you can find a lot of interesting and sometimes unique guided tours and activities all over Japan (and not only in Japan), that you would otherwise never be able to enjoy.
But there's more: on Rakuten Travel you can also buy tickets for several famous attractions, events, transportation and other useful services for tourists. Last but not least, you can reserve a table in hundreds of restaurants.

Some examples

Take a look at Rakuten Travel Experiences

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