Criss-crossing Lake Biwa to Hieizan Enryakuji 琵琶湖、比叡山延暦寺
Day 84, November 2016,
Lake Biwa Ohashi
Yet another chill morning, the sun is up but not very effective, as we set off for Hieizan. The countryside is flat and the roads straight, as we approach Lake Biwa. The landscape is mainly agricultural with large factories dotted about. Closer to the lake, we can see the mountain peaks rising above the clouds on the other side.
After crossing the toll bridge, to the Kyoto side, we stop at the michi no eki ‘Lake Biwa Ohashi kome Plaza‘ to take a look at the lake. Sadly, the lake cannot really be seen.
After taking the wrong exit out of the car park, find ourselves re-crossing the toll bridge. Once, safely back in Shiga, we U- turn in a 7&I, and head back to Kyoto. Approaching the toll booth on the bridge, I change lanes to avoid paying the same man – too embarrassing. After another minor error, that takes us on a tour of the outskirts of Otsu, we find the toll road to take us up Hieizan and to Enryakuji temple.
＊Lake Biwa Oohashi bridge ; 150 yen
Hieizan Enryakuji consists of three separate areas which are Todo, Saito and Yokawa. From Todo to Yokawa is quite long way. If you go by car, you have to use Okuhiei Driveway and Hieizan Driveway. From the Kyoto side through Hieizan to Otsu in Shiga pref. cost 2380 yen. There are many different price setting depending on your start and finishing points on the driveways. These driveways are famous as night viewing spots, too, providing views of Kyoto city or Otsu and the dark waters of Biwa.
Alternatively, you can take a shuttle bus between the three Hieizan Enryakuji areas, if you arrive by bus or cable-car from Yase, Kyoto or Sakamoto, Otsu.
At the Todo area, we discover that major restoration work is under way at Konpon Chudo, which is the most famous hall in Enryakuji. Just what this work was going to achieve I couldn’t tell but it was extensive.
The building is wonderful with ornate or, at least, painted ceilings but the statues themselves are far from the viewer and shrouded in darkness.
Enryakuji is unique, as far as I know, in providing ‘hot carpets’ at the point where one might stop to admire the Buddha, drop a coin or two and pray. Very welcome warmth. One of the other temple buildings in the complex, appeared to have very beautiful statutes but they were again far away and steeped in shadow.
Hieizan Yokawa Area
Sadly, the other temples in the Saito area are closed but, eventually, we reach Yokawa at the far end of the group. Tourists tend to neglect this temple complex, it was almost deserted.
At one of the temples in the Yokawa group, Ganzan Daishido, we collect prints of an Oni-demon (Tsuno daishi). This talisman has the power to ward off ill health. The design I was familiar with and I had been wondering where it originated. My neighbours have a fine example of this print by their front door.
On my first visit to Enryakuji, many years ago I was very impressed but not nearly so much this time. Less mysterious perhaps?
There is a new series of plaques depicting the lives of famous monks but there is no English explanation, something I thought odd in a World Heritage site. Sadly, the artwork is reminiscent of the Watchtower. Nevertheless, we spend some hours here but, for a ‘World Heritage’ site with so many tourists, the toilets are rubbish.
Therefore, we retrace our steps a little to a shop/ restaurant place we passed, to find a decent toilet. This turns out to be fortunate as, on the way, we see a very large bird perched on a branch, hanging over the abyss, at the side of the road. This we identify positively as a Mountain Hawk Eagle/ Hodgeon’s Hawk Eagle/ Kumataka. Very rare.
＊Hieizan driveway (Tanotani-toge gate – Todo – Saito – Yokawa – Ogi gate) ; 2430 yen / car (Feb. 2023)
michi no eki Galleria Kameoka
Down from Heizan, the toll fee an outrageous 2380 yen, and we find we are still on the Lake Biwa side of the mountain not the city side so we have a long drive to and through Kyoto City. Then, D. realizes that, the michi no eki with an onsen, we are heading for, does not have an onsen on this particular night. Changing plan, we drive to the michi no eki Galleria Kameoka. This place is large and crowded. The nearby onsen is nice and hot but that is all. Then back to the Kameoka michi no eki for the night.
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.