Have you ever heard of Mount Hiei? Just like Tokyo, Kyoto has a lot to offer, to such an extent that you can spend weeks wandering around its charming streets and still be left hungry for more. What many tourists don’t know, is that Kyoto is also a gateway to its surrounding mountains and less crowded attractions. As a matter of fact, Kyoto’s true itinerary is hidden away, well off the beaten track.
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Mount Hiei - Day trip from Kyoto
Wanting to hunt for Kyoto’s treasures, we decided to take a day trip to Mount Hiei, which is home to Enryakuji, one of Japan’s most important monasteries. What attracted us to this mountain is that you can get a cable car to its top and then hike through a dense forest all the way back down. This adventure can be done in a day, and you don’t need any special gear. This was part of our 2 weeks in Japan trip.
How to get to Mount Hiei
You need to get the train from Kyoto Station to Hieizan - Sakamoto Station. The journey is covered by the JR Pass, or it costs 330 yen for a single ticket.
The Sakamoto Train Station is located about 15 minutes walk from the Sakamoto cable car. You can purchase your ticket from a vending machine. The ride takes just over 10 minutes, and it costs 860 yen (single) or 1620 yen (return) - 2023 prices.
The Sakamoto Cable Car
One of the highlights of our trip to Mount Hiei was definitely the Sakamoto cable car ride. This is Japan's longest cable car route, opened in 1927. You will enjoy going up through a wonderful path of dense forest. You will then reach a crossroad, where cable cars pass each other and the drivers exchange a special salute.
When you are almost at the top, you will have panoramic views of Lake Biwa. Honestly, it's great fun. Quite a journey in itself. It's well worth experiencing this.
What to do at Mount Hiei
Most people make this journey to visit in the Hieizan’s Todo area, which can be reached by walking for 10 minutes from the Sakamoto cable car station. Enjoy the fantastic views from the top of Mount Hiei - you will have plenty of photo opportunities.
Enryaku-ji Temple is a historic Buddhist temple. It is one of the most significant and influential temples in Japanese Buddhism and has a rich history that spans over twelve centuries. Enryaku-ji Temple is known for its cultural and religious significance, as well as its beautiful natural surroundings.
Enryaku-ji Temple is an active centre of Tendai Buddhism. It attracts numerous visitors and pilgrims who come to explore its historical treasures, experience traditional Buddhist rituals, and enjoy the serene atmosphere of the mountain. The temple's strategic location on Mount Hiei offers breathtaking panoramic views of Kyoto and the surrounding areas.
The temple complex is divided into three main areas: Todo, Saito, and Yokawa.
The Todo area is the main complex and consists of several halls and structures. The most important hall is the Konpon Chudo, which enshrines a statue of Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of healing. This hall is considered the spiritual heart of the temple.
The Saito area is located to the east of the Todo area and is primarily used for training and meditation purposes. It includes a number of sub-temples and hermitages where monks practice rigorous ascetic training. The Saito area offers a serene and secluded atmosphere, making it a popular destination for visitors seeking tranquillity and spiritual retreat.
The Yokawa area is situated to the west of the Todo area and is known for its beautiful gardens and scenic views. It provides a peaceful environment for visitors to appreciate the natural beauty of Mount Hiei. Yokawa is also home to the Yokawa Kompon Daito, a large pagoda that serves as a symbol of Enryaku-ji Temple.
The trail down the mountain
We hiked back to the main train station by following the path through the forest. The walk is very pleasant and safe. You will enjoy a laid-back adventure which features some lovely views and great spots. We had great fun taking pictures. We visited in December, so we were dressed for winter, but it wasn't too cold. Although we used our hiking boots, we didn't need any specialised equipment for this hike.
The best of Mount Hiei
The best part of our trip to Mount Hiei, was when my partner proposed on the top of the mountain. Although he planned the proposal for Japan, he initially wanted to pop the question in a different spot, at the Fushimi Inari Shrine. But, as we are adventurers and nature lovers, the top of Mount Hiei turned out to be the best place for a proposal. That's yet another reason why Japan changed my life forever.
There you have it, Mount Hiei is a magnificent place to visit. I may be a little biased, given the sentimental value Mount Hiei now carries, but I do honestly recommend you to explore Kyoto's surroundings. You might even find that perfect spot you would have otherwise missed. All I know is that it's good to feel lost in the right direction.
Tell me why you would like to visit Mount Hiei in Japan? Would you walk up to the top or would you like to experience the cable car? Let me know in the comments section below.