Thinking of taking a day trip from Kyoto? Mt Hiei might be exactly what you’re looking for! The mountain located is on the border of Kyoto and Shiga prefectures and houses one of Japan’s most important temples, Enryaku-ji. This mountain has it all- a pretty temple complex, gorgeous natural scenery and an a fantastic view to boot!
The beautiful mountain can be accessed from two points – from Kyoto via the Eizan cable car and from Otsu via the Sakamoto cable car. Unfortunately the Eizan line does not run during winter, so i took the Sakamoto line from Otsu instead, which made for a lovely day trip. Otsu city and Kyoto are neighbours separated by the lovely mountainous region.
I finally reached the cable car which was 10 minutes away from the train station. It was a really cute European style cable car with enough seats for about 20 people. This is actually the longest cable car line in Japan!
Mt. Hiei is probably one of the best kept secrets in the Kansai region. The view is absolutely spectacular and you can see Lake Biwa in all its (massive) glory. If you walk over to the Kyoto side of the mountain, you can also get impressive views of Kyoto city. When I visited, it was winter and so there was also a little bit of snow at the top!
Everyone was just so happy to see the snow. It was a rather sunny day so we didn’t realise that there would be any at all. As someone who lives in the tropics, even a little snow is a huge bonus.
I then walked to the main temple, Enryakuji, which is accesible for a small fee (they also provide a pamphlet). This is one of Kyoto’s many UNESCO world heritage sites. Very strangely, this temple was once also involved with the yakuza which lead to a nationwide scandal and resignation of many officials.
Unfortunately, the temple was going through restoration and some of the areas were closed. Even so, the main temple looked really beautiful covered in the snow.
There were also other parts of the temple that were not covered in scaffolding that were scattered around the mountain. Walking the entire route will take you from the Sakamoto cable car to the Eizan cable car, so when both cable cars are open you can ascend and descend while viewing different parts of the mountain.
I then walked around the forested areas around the temple complex. There were lots of beautiful places to take photos of the natural surroundings, and just relax as you explore. There is quite a bit of walking to be done, but I still felt refreshed strolling around the quaint temple grounds.
There is also a path for walking up the mountain, but be warned, this will take quite some time as this is a proper hiking path, and is more suitable for those with a little experience. Please stay safe and do your research if attempting!
I took in the view for a last time and made my way down. This was without a doubt one of my favourite days during my trip. I highly recommend Mt Hiei for those looking for a day trip away from the crowds in Kyoto, and especially if you love nature.
Do visit Kaihan Railway’s official website for access information. Happy travelling!
[Adapted from my now missing Odigo page]