Mount Hiei 比叡山
Buddhism in the mountains
North of Kyoto is the Enryakuji temple of Mount Hiei, which was one of the most powerful temples of Japan. A visit to one of the great places of Japanese Buddhism.
Mount Hiei is located in the north east of Kyoto, away from the ancient capital. It is there that in 788 the monk Saicho received permission to found a monastery that was to protect the capital, as the North is the direction from which come bad influences. The Enryakuji temple was the heart of the Tendai Buddhist school and had therefore received privileges and wealth in large numbers. It quickly became one of the strongest Japanese shrines, and a real state within the state.
Golden Age and Fall
In its heyday, Mount Hiei had become a holy city mountain no fewer than 3,000 scattered temples and tens of thousands of monks, their servants and their families. The temple was protected by terrible warrior monks who imposed their will in Kyoto. In 1571, the warlord Oda Nobunaga, in order to unify Japan, attacked the mountain by burning down its temples and massacring its population. Mount Hiei took centuries to recover.
A mountain dedicated to Buddha
Enryakuji today is a much more peaceful place. From the thousands of temples, there remains only three centers: todo, Saito and Yokawa scattered on its slopes. The three locations are linked by hiking trails that will take you through the woods, with occasional ruins and isolated hermitages. Buses are also available on the wider tracks.
The entire Mount Hiei is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site, but it is Tōdo which is the heart of the Enryakuji, with its three-story pagoda and the main hall. This is where the original temple was built in the eighth century.
By visiting Saito, you will see very old buildings, including the mausoleum of the founder of the temple, Saicho. Many of these buildings have been moved to other temples to participate in the rebirth of Enryakuji in the sixteenth century.
Yokawa is further away, but you can admire the Chudo, the main hall built on a wooden platform. Many of the small side buildings and temples that you will find on your way are dedicated to local saints and great teachers, such as Nichiren or Eisai, the founder of Zen Buddhism.
Greenery and spirituality
Immersing yourself in nature and in the special atmosphere of the mountain and temples is why you should visit Mount Hiei as a one-day excursion. Take the time to discover and appreciate these places that one can not compare with other sacred mountains like Koyasan.
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