Hiyoshi Taisha – A Hidden Shrine Within Mt. Hiei, Kyoto
One of the wonderful things about visiting Kyoto is not only being able to savor the indigenous Japanese culture through temples and shrines and traditional crafts, but also exploring sites in the lowland rivers as well as the highland mountains.
Mt. Hiei, together with Mt. Kurama, Mt. Daimonji and Mt. Atago is the second highest mountain in Kyoto, standing at 848 meters in the northeastern part of the city, and is popularly visited by many tourists, foreign and Japanese. As it lies on the border between Kyoto and Shiga, locals from both sides benefit an easy access to the mountain, which is most visited for the famous and huge complex of Enryaku-ji Temple. Not many people though know that there is also a vast complex of shrines just below Enryaku-ji, about 14 kilometers by car.
Hiyoshi Taisha Shrine complex was quite an unexpected revelation. Established over 2100 years ago in the 7th year by Emperor Sujin, its rustic structures not only exude the antiquity of the site, but the sprawling territory housing approximately 40 small shrines within various sections is absolutely impressive. It is definitely worth visiting since it is known to be the head shrine in the largest shrine network in Japan that is comprised of about 4,000 shrines nationwide.
The shrine is recorded in the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters that chronicle Japanese myths, legends, oral traditions and semi-historical accounts outlining the origin of the Japanese archipelago) from the 8th century. The West Hall of Worship called Nishi Hon-gū and the East Hall of Worship called Higashi Hon-gū have been designated as National Treasures by the Agency for Cultural Affairs. Although the shrine buildings were burnt down when Oda Nobunaga destroyed Enryaku-ji in 1571, they were reconstructed towards the end of the 16th century.
Hiyoshi Taisha was patronized by the Imperial Court during the Heian Period. Today, in April, the huge Sanno Festival, one of the three major festivals of Lake Biwa, is celebrated on this site, which parades mikoshi shrines dedicated to the deities, especially the ritual of the horse.
The grounds are so immensely expansive that it may require half a day to pass by all the little shrines. If you plan to reach the shrine on foot from the Keihan Railway Sakamoto Station or JR Mt. Hiei Sakamoto Station, the entrance would be an imposing red shrine gate that leads to the beginning of the paths to the different shrines. There are old bridges to cross, such as the Omiya Bridge, and on both left and right sides of the paths sit small shrines for various purposes—good health, companionship, cure of diseases, education, wealth, and so on.
The Nishi hon-gū-ro-mon is perhaps, the most prominent shrine gate in pale red color and reminiscent of Shinto architecture. The major sections of the shrine complex are: The Nishi hon-gū, which itself has 3 buildings in the area; Higashi hon-gū, with about four shrine buildings; and Kogane no Oiwa, which can be reached by climbing up midway to the mountain. The Nishi hon-gū honten or main shrine palace inside the Nishi hon-gū area was built in 1586 and represents the typical Hiyoshi architectural style.
There are approximately 3000 maple trees in this complex; thus, is a favorite spot for viewing the autumn foliage. You can appreciate numerous significant national treasures and cultural assets around the area while being completely mesmerized by the towering Hiei mountains surrounding the shrine. Needless to say, Hiyoshi Taisha is also an ideal place for hiking and mountain climbing, especially when you continue your tour to the rest of the enormous Mt. Hiei.
5-1-1 Sakamoto, Otsu-City, Shiga Prefecture
Entrance fee: 300 yen
About 10 minutes on foot from Keihan Railway Sakamoto Station
About 20 minutes on foot from JR Mt. Hiei Sakamoto Station