On the top of Mt. Hiei is Enryaku-ji Temple. The temple has two pagodas: the Easter Pagoda (the To-do) and the Western Pagoda— the Sai-to. While the To-do is the main site of Enryaku-ji Temple, the Sai-to is a pretty place where you can enjoy the sacred atmosphere of the temple.
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The Sai-to is only a 15-minute walk from the To-do. Though the Sai-to is quite smaller than its eastern counterpart, it is still significantly bigger than other pagodas at ordinary temples. The Sai-to was created by Encho [円澄], the 2nd abbot of Enryaku-ji Temple.
Right away upon entering the Sai-to, you will see its most iconic building, the Ninai-do. This got its name from a folktale about the famous samurai, Benkei, who lifted the building as a display of his strength (ninairu is an old Japanese verb for to lift).
The Ninai-do consists of the Jogyo-do (on left ) and the Hokke-do (on right). Various kinds of religious practices are conducted in these buildings. For example, in the Jogyo-do, where monks form a circle around a Buddha statue and pray for 90 days.
The main building of the Sai-to is the shaka-do. It is a huge building! Perhaps one of the most interesting facts about the shaka-do is that it was not originally part of Enrayku-ji at all! Toyotomi Hideyoshi forcibly relocated the building from the nearby rival temple, Mii-dera in the 16th century. I guess while Nobunaga hated Enyraku-ji, Hideyoshi hated Mii-dera...
If you are heading over Yokawa, another important section of the Enryaku-ji complex, there is a walking path right next to shaka-do, just be aware that it will take you about an hour and a half to get there on foot.
In the back of the Sai-to is Sanoin-do, which enshrines Senju Kannon. Two of Saicho’s most influential students, Ennin and Enchin, fought vehemently over who would take control of the temple after their teacher’s death. In the end, Enchin lost and left Enryaku-ji and went to Mii-dera, leaving his statue of Senju Kannon here. The conflict between Ennin and Enchin ultimately led to long-term tension between Enryaku-ji and Mii-dera Temple. Maybe they are friendly with each other now?
Sai-to: Points of Interest
Between Saito and Toto is a small hut — the Jodo-in. Since it doesn’t look very important, many people just pass through without pay any attention. However, this is indeed one of the most sacred places in the Enryaku-ji temple complex.
The reason why the Jodo-in is sacred is it is home to the grave of the founder of the Tendai sect, Saicho. Saicho passed away at the somewhat young age of 56 in Enryaku-ji. A special monk, called a Jishin [侍真], serves the grave for a 12 years period. During this period, the Jishin never leaves Enryaku-ji Temple.
Saicho’s grave is strikingly different when you compare it to the grave of another prominent monk, Kukai. Kukai’s grave in the Okunoin of Koyasan essentially enshrines him, as people from all over the country come to pray there. However, some people say that the status of Enryaku-ji is as an important temple in Japan comes from the fact that Saicho wasn’t overly glorified.