Mii-dera: One of Japan's Four Largest Temples
Mii-dera (三井寺) also referred to as Onjo-ji is one of Japan’s four largest temples. It is also one of the 33 temples of the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage.
One of the main appeals of Mii-dera is its proximity to so many cool spots. The temple is located in Shiga Prefecture in Otsu making it accessible from Kyoto. It is near Biwako Lake, the largest lake in Japan and located at the foot of Mt. Hiei.
About the Temple's Name
Even if the temple is called Onjo-ji, it is more famously known and referred to as Mii-dera. Mii-dera (三井寺) means “the temple of the three wells.”
三 "Mi" means three
井 "I" means well
寺 "Dera" means temple
The temple is referred to in such a way do to a historical event which occurred there. Three important emperors of Japanese history, Emperor Tenji, Emperor Tenmu and Emperor Jito were all given their first bath, known as ubuyu, at a well located in this temple.
Mii-dera is the head temple of the Buddhist Tendaijimon sect. It is one of Japan’s four largest temples together with Todai-ji, Kofuku-ji and Enryaku-ji. The large temple complex, which is an important heritage of Japan, has various national treasures and important cultural properties.
As Mii-dera is huge with various buildings within its complex, less than an hour is needed to visit all the buildings within the temple, however, more hours will be needed if visitors would like to see the temple and really look deep and study it.
Opening Hours: 8:00 – 17:00
Located higher up in the temple, the view from the Kannon-do hall of the city of Otsu and Biwako Lake is breathtaking.
Mii-dera is also very famous for both fantastic cherry blossoms in spring and beautiful foliage in autumn. The temple is said to have over 1000 cherry blossom trees, which make the temple extremely alluring. In autumn, the temple has an evening light-up event to show the autumn leaves glowing gorgeously at night.
The Grand Gate. Photo by 663highland on Wikipedia
Mii-dera with its long prestigious history has various legends.
Legend 1) The Bell
The temple bell is said to be manufactured during the Nara Period and was given to Mii-dera as a gift from Fujiwara no Hidesato to give his gratitude for exterminating the centipedes at Mii-dera. It was said that the bell has came from Ryugyu-jo, a dragon palace located underwater.
Sometime in the 10th century there were battles between Tendai monks. One day, a warrior monk named Benkei, stole the bell from Mii-dera and brought it away to the summit of Mt. Hiei. There, Benkei tried to ring and stroke the bell. He then heard the bell ringing “eeno eeno” which meant, “I want to go back” in local dialect at the time. He got furious with the bell and threw it down Mt. Hiei to the bottom of the valley. Legend has it that this is where the cracks and scars on the bell are from.
Legend 2) The Dragon Sculpture
In Mii-dera exists a wooden dragon sculpture on the facade of the Akaiya building. It is believed that the sculpture was a work of Jingoro Hidari. The dragon was said to escape during the night from Mii-dera and fly to Biwako Lake and cause damage. Jingoro Hidari, who was concerned about the dragon such damage so he drove spikes into the eyeballs of it. Today, the dragon calmly watches over Mii-dera at the facade of the Akaiya building.
10 minutes walk from Mii-dera station on the Keihan Line
Address: 〒520-0036 Shiga Prefecture, Otsu, 246 Onjoji-cho
Phone Number: 077-522-2238