Mount Hiei

Mount Hiei | Tendai Buddhism
Mount Hiei | Tendai Buddhism

Mount Hiei

Mount Hiei (Hiei-zan) is a mountain to the northeast of Kyoto, lying on the border between the Kyoto and Shiga Prefectures, Japan.

The temple of Enryaku-ji, the first outpost of the Japanese Tendai sect of Buddhism, was founded atop Mount Hiei by Saichō in 788 and rapidly grew into a sprawling complex of temples and buildings that were roughly divided into 3 areas:

1) The Sai-tō ("West Pagoda") area near the summit, and technically in Kyoto Prefecture.

2) The Tō-dō ("East Pagoda") area, also near the summit, where Enryaku-ji Temple was first founded, and located just within Shiga Prefecture.

3) The Yokawa ("Along the river") area near the northernmost end of Mount Hiei. Due to its remoteness, as a temple complex it experienced periods of revival and decline, starting with Ennin, later revived by Ryōgen and made famous by the scholar-monk Genshin.

Due to its position north-east of the ancient capital of Kyoto, it was thought in ancient geomancy practices to be a protective bulwark against negative influences on the capital,

which along with the rise of the Tendai sect in Heian period Japan (8-12th centuries) meant that the mountain and the temple complex were politically powerful and influential.

Later schools of Buddhism in Japan were almost entirely founded by ex-monks of the Tendai sect, such as Hōnen, Nichiren, Dōgen and Shinran, who all studied at the temple before leaving Mount Hiei to start their own practices.

The temple complex was razed by Oda Nobunaga in 1571 to quell the rising power of Tendai's warrior monks (Sōhei), but it was rebuilt and remains the Tendai headquarters to this day.

Mount Hiei has been featured in many folk tales over the ages:

Originally it was thought to be the home of gods and demons of Shinto lore, although it is predominantly known for the Buddhist monks that come from the temple of Enryaku-ji.


Beyond the mountain itself, its forests, and the views it affords – of Kyoto, of Ohara, of Lake Biwa and Shiga – the main attraction is the temple complex of Enryaku-ji.

The temple complex spreads out over the mountain, but is concentrated in 3 areas, connected by foot trails. There are also more minor temples and shrines.

Unusually, there are also a number of French-themed attractions – the peak itself features the Garden Museum Hiei, which is themed on French impressionism, featuring gardens and French paintings, while there is also a French-themed hotel, "L'hotel de Hiei" (The Hiei Hotel).

The mountain is busiest during the daytime, but has some visitors in the evenings, for light-up displays and to see the night view of the surrounding towns.


The mountain is a popular area for hikers and a toll road provides access by automobile to the top of the mountain; there are also buses that connect the mountaintop to town a few times a day.

There are also 2 routes of funiculars:

the Eizan Cable from the Kyoto side to the connecting point with an aerial tramway ("ropeway") to the top, and the Sakamoto Cable from the Shiga side to the foot of Enryaku-ji.

The attractions on the mountain are quite spread out, so there are regular buses during the daytime connecting the attractions.

The centre for these is the bus centre, in front of the entrance to the main temple complex at Tō-dō ("East Pagoda").