WALK KYOTO → OTSU

WALK KYOTO → OTSU

Intro

Kyoto-Otsu area map

The reflective blue waters of a lake; old pilgrim paths cutting through trees; dramatic tales of warrior monks – plus a string of breathtaking temples and shrines, hidden in sacred mountainside forests.

The list of reasons to visit Otsu is as long as it is varied. The small city fringes the southern shores of Lake Biwa, the nation’s largest freshwater lake, and is home to a cornucopia of culture, history and nature.
And perhaps best of all? Getting to Otsu couldn’t be easier: the city is just nine minutes by train from Kyoto Station and its historical sites are rarely crowded, ensuring a peaceful and authentic experience.

Alternatively, visitors can hop on a ferry – it takes less than an hour between Kyoto and Otsu – or even put their walking shoes on and follow trekking routes that link the two cities.

Experience 1: Enryakuji
Walking Meditation

A meditative journey into the mountainous heart of Japanese Buddhism.

Engage your senses as you walk the historic paths of Mt. Hiei to Enryakuji Temple, the birthplace of Buddhism in Japan. Since antiquity, Buddhists have used walking in the mountains as a means of training their bodies and minds and relinquishing their emotions on their lifelong pursuit of enlightenment. Take a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life as you trace the footsteps of untold generations to clear your mind through meditation.

Area map

Experience 2: Miidera
Walking Through Time

Living history along a 1000-year-old ancient mountain path.

Dating back over a thousand years, this historic mountain throughway once connected Kyoto and Miidera Temple near Kyoto. Serving an important role in the lives of the historic peoples who built their communities alongside it, this storied route was even host to the occasional battle during Japan’s tumultuous past. As you walk along select portions of this preserved ancient pathway, let your thoughts flow from past to present and on to the future while enjoying the seasonal scenic beauty that envelops the surroundings.

Area map

Otsu 10 Temples and Shrines

Enryakuji Temple on Mount Hiei

Enryakuji Temple on Mount Hiei

There are few more spiritual sites than Mount Hiei. Long celebrated as the place where Japanese Buddhism came to life, its atmospheric forests house the scattered Hieizan Enryakuji Temple complex, which was founded in the 8th century and remains the HQ of the Tendai Buddism sect. It's a temple entwined with its colourful history – from its early armies of fearsome warrior monks and its rigorous ascetic practices to its erudite reputation as a hub of Buddhist learning. Today, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is still home to so-called “marathon monks”, who undertake a monumental 1,000-day challenge in the quest for enlightenment. Visitors, however, can relax, with a gentle mix of forest hiking and temple spotting. A good starting point is the main hall which is currently under reconstruction but is still open (climb the temporary stairs for a rare glimpse of intricate upper level craftsmanship). Those keen to delve deeper can try activities ranging from meditation and sutra practice to calligraphy. Or simply sip a matcha latte, a Sanskrit motif expertly created in the froth, while soaking up views of Lake Biwa at Enryakuji Kaikan cafe.

PDF : https://www.hieizan.or.jp/wp-content/themes/enryakuji/pdf/english.pdf

Enryakuji Temple on Mount Hiei

Miidera Temple

Miidera Temple

It’s all about sacred springs and sakura cherry blossoms at Miidera Temple, an expansive complex (one of the four biggest in Japan) at the base of Mount Hiei. The 7th century temple is famed for the spiritual purity of its spring waters, traditionally used to washed newborn emperors-to-be (its name means “Three Wells”) as well as well its haiku-inspiringly perfect scattering of cherry blossoms, which burst into bloom among its winding hillside complex of stone pathways, temple structures and tiered pagodas every spring. It’s also a treasure trove of acclaimed Buddhist artifacts, with an impressive collection of exquisitely crafted Buddhist sculptures in the main Kondo building (one is so sacred, it’s never been seen before by human eyes). Don't miss the opportunity to strike the large green bell just outside, famed for its beautifully deep resonance. For the ultimate Buddhist experience, visitors can stay overnight in temple lodging, trying Zen mediation and Buddhist bracelet making, or explore the ascetic world of yamabushi mountain monks with remote mountain hikes.

HP : http://miidera1200.jp/?fbclid=IwAR1CEPdd273hxuMXVphnD1clc-XSB4GcPt0FDNSuZ42-T7Bl7v8rJ3Tjqpg

Miidera Temple

Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine

Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine

Arriving at Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine – with its fairytale-like stone bridges, red torii gates and forested pathways – feels a little like stepping back in time, particularly when there are few other people around. Hiyoshi Taisha, located at the base of sacred Mount Hiei, is the main shrine for more than 3,800 Sanno shrines across the country and has a reputation for warding off evil (due to its inauspicious northeasterly direction). Its presence is woven through centuries of history, with the shrine’s existence first recorded in 8th century records, although it was destroyed and later rebuilt in the 16th century. Today, dozens of sacred shrines are scattered across its spacious grounds and it’s famed for its sacred monkeys as well as its 3,000-plus maple trees, which transform the setting into shades of fiery red in late autumn. The shrine is also home to one of Lake Biwa’s most famous festivals – the six-week Sanno Festival, which climaxes in April and dates back more than 1,000 years.

HP : http://hiyoshitaisha.jp/

Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine

Ishiyamedera Temple

Ishiyamedera Temple

It was while sitting beneath a full moon, in the scenic confines of Ishiyamedera Temple, that the noblewoman Murasaki Shikibu began writing a story – and the iconic Tale of Genji, widely regarded as the world’s first novel, was born. Fast-forward 1,000 years and the setting of the hillside temple, fringed with flowers and forests along the banks of the Seta River, remains no less inspiring. The temple, constructed around 747, has since become something of a Mecca for writers seeking inspiration, as well as more typical Buddhist pilgrims (it’s part of a 33-temple circuit in the Kansai region dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of mercy). The temple’s beauty is in tune with the seasons – from its wintertime plum blossoms to the irises of early summer. Perhaps best of all? Moon viewings still take place, with stone pathways lit with lanterns leading to views of moonlight reflecting off the still surface of a distant Lake Biwa – a vision celebrated through the centuries in countless works of Japanese art.

HP : https://www.ishiyamadera.or.jp/en

Ishiyamedera Temple

Saikyo-ji Temple

Saikyo-ji Temple

It’s worth looking over your shoulder after stepping into the inner courtyards of the hillside Saikyo-ji Temple – and find yourself rewarded with breathtaking views across Lake Biwa, framed by majestic wooden gates. Saikyo-ji Temple is the picturesque headquarters of the Tendai Shinsei sect of Buddhism, complete with quiet inner gardens, elegant matsu pine trees, exquisite craftsmanship and a rich heritage dating back to the 7th century. The main Hondo hall is a famed example of Japanese temple architecture: constructed in the 18th century, the smooth expanses of Zelkova wood were pieced together without the use of a single nail. Inside is a dreamy Buddhist enclave of golden artifacts and heady incense. Look out for the monkey motifs scattered around the complex, the legacy of a centuries-old tale that claims a monkey used to ring the temple’s bell to warn of incoming attacks.

HP : http://saikyoji.org/publics/index/19/

Saikyo-ji Temple

Omi Jingu Shrine

Omi Jingu Shrine

With its curved tiled roofs above facades of vermilion and white, Omi Jingu’s striking architecture stands out boldly at the top of a staircase that cuts through the surrounding forest. The elegant shrine, built in the 1940s, is not only a showcase of more contemporary shrine architecture – it’s also dedicated to seventh century Emperor Tenji, whose palace was once on these grounds. He is credited with a raft of innovations, from introducing Japan’s first water clock to inventing a (still used) family registry system. In tribute to this, the grounds in front of the main building showcase several replicas of ancient clocks, while there is also a small clock museum on site plus a Clock Festival held every June. The shrine is also famed as the birthplace of karuta, a centuries-old card game based on 100 poems, which has recently boomed in popularity, thanks to the runaway success of a popular manga comic featuring the game being played at the shrine (visitors can dress up in karuta costumes, watch karuta competitions in action and even pick up a manga T-shirt).

HP : http://oumijingu.org/publics/index/0/#googtrans(ja|en)

Omi Jingu Shrine

Ukimido Temple

Ukimido Temple

A floating temple is not a common sight – yet this is precisely what Ukimodo is. Serene expanses of blue surround the small temple hall – also known as Mangetsu – which hovers above Lake Biwa. Long loved by haiku poets, the scenic structure was immmortalised alongside a flock of flying geese in Eight Views of Omi by ukiyo-e artist Hiroshige. The temple was created over a thousand years ago to pray for safety on the lake. The current structure was rebuilt in 1937, with its heritage evoked by its curved tiled roof and intricate wood craftsmanship.

Ukimido Temple

Takebe Taisha Shrine

Takebe Taisha Shrine

Not only is Takebe Taisha one of the oldest shrines in Japan, it was, historically, the most important in the Omi region (as Shiga Prefecture was once known). Inside the atmospheric shrine complex, there is one scene-stealing protagonist: the legendary prince Yamato Takeru to whom the shrine is devoted. The prince is enshrined in the main hall, where pilgrims have long prayed for good fortune and success. Every August, the shrine stages the famed Senkosai Festival, which reenacts the warrior prince’s journey across water, with a portable shrine flowing along the Setagawa River climaxing in a firework display.

HP : http://takebetaisha.jp/

Takebe Taisha Shrine

Iwamadera Temple

Iwamadera Temple

Hidden among the green forests of Mount Iwama is Iwamadera Temple. Its story dates back to the 8th century, when a monk named Taicho apparently cured the reigning empress of her sickness – and was allowed to build this temple as a reward. The temple, whose main building was built in the 16th century, is famous in particular for its statue of a thousand-armed Kannon – also known as the Preventer of Dementia and the Sweating Kannon (according to temple legend, it ventures to hell every night to help lost souls, before returning in the mornings soaked in sweat).

HP : http://www.iwama-dera.or.jp/

Iwamadera Temple

Tachiki Kannon Temple

Tachiki Kannon Temple

Reaching the entrance of Tachiki Kannon Temple is no mean feat – it involves climbing 800 stone steps that cut through the forested banks of the Setagawa River. But it’s clearly worth the effort: upon arriving, the ancient landmark is as atmospheric as it is remote. A clue to its history can be found in a stone statue of its founder, the legendary monk Kukai, sitting on a deer. He famously carved a life-sized statue of the bodhisattva Kannon from a sacred tree. More than 1,000 years on, the statue today continues to draw pilgrims due to its apparent ability to ward off misfortune.

HP : https://www.tachikikannon.or.jp/english

HP : https://sp.tachikikannon.or.jp/english

Tachiki Kannon Temple

Access

By train

Otsu Station is just nine minutes by train from Kyoto Station, on the JR Biwako Line. The Subway Tozai / Keihan Keishin Line also takes 25 minutes from central Kyoto’s Sanjo Station to Otsu’s Biwako- Hamaotsu Station. Otsu is around 2.5 hours by train from Tokyo, including transfers at Kyoto Station.

By air

Otsu is one hour 25 minutes from Kansai International Airport and one hour 45 minutes from Chubu International Airport.