Just like Tokyo, Kyoto has a lot to offer, to such 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.
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 cablecar to its top and then hike through a dense forest all the way back down to the train station. 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.
How to get to Mount Hiei
You need to get the shinkansen from Kyoto Station to Hieizan - Sakamoto Station. The journey is covered by the JR Pass, otherwise it costs 320 yen for a single ticket.
The Sakamoto train station is located about 15 minutes walk away 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).
What to do at Mount Hiei
Most people make this journey in order to be in the Hieizan’s Todo area which can be reached by walking for 10 minutes from the Sakamoto cablecar station. You will have a lot of photographic opportunity and enjoy some amazing views from the top of Mount Hiei.
You will love the Todo, Saito and Yokawa. Usually, Todo is the main area of interest as that’s where the Enryakuji monastery was originally founded.
From there, you can enjoy an awesome walking trail through the forest which connects the Todo with the Saito area, whose main building is the Shaka Hall, the oldest building on the mountain.
The least visited area is Yokawa, which is quite a few kilometres North of Todo and Saito areas. If you are up for the adventure, you can view Yokawa Central Hall.
The Sakamoto Cablecar
One of the highlights of our trip to Mount Hiei, was definitely the Sakamoto cablecar 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 cablecars 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.
The trail back
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 picnic spots. We had great fun taking pictures whilst breathing fresh air. We visited in December, thus we had to dress up 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.