Called Hie no Yama in the Kojiki, Mount Hiei has been long revered by the Japanese people as a sacred place. In the 9th century, Saicho built Enryaku-ji Temple on the top of this mountain and established the Tendai sect. Since then, Enryaku-ji Temple has played a prominent role in Japanese Buddhism. Enrayku-ji is without a doubt one of the most important temples in Japan. The main section of this sprawling temple complex is To-do, the Eastern Pagoda.
Note: Enryaku-ji is really huge temple complex and consists of three areas: To-do, Sai-to, and Yokawa. Among those, Toto is the main area. See our post for basic information on Enryaku-ji Temple for dire.
The History of Enryaku-ji Temple
The history of Enryaku-ji dates back to the 8th century when Saicho founded his temple, Ichijo Shikanin, as the main site for his newly created Tendai sect. But soon the people began to call the temple Enryaku-ji, in reference to that period time, the Enryaku Period (aka the Nengo Period).
Since then, Enryaku-ji has been the most important temple in Japan for Buddhism in Japan, especially for teaching Buddhism, which is why almost all founders of new sects of Buddhism in the 12th century studied basics in Enryaku-ji. However, around this time, the temple not only started to fight against nearby temple-like Mii-dera but also gradually gained political power. They even became as strong as other warriors in the Sengoku era, eventually leading to the war against Oda Nobunaga in 1571.
Once you arrive at Enryakuji, you will be surprised by how big this temple is. As the main area of Enryaku-ji, Toto attracts many people from all over Japan every year.
Going down from Monjuro, you will see the Konpon-chudo [根本中堂], the main building of Enryaku-ji Temple. Built through donations from the Tokugawa shogunate in the 17th century, the Konpon-chudo, Enryaku-ji’s only national treasure building. This means Enryaku-ji lacked a central building for about 100 years after Nobunaga’s ravaged the temple.
Renovations of the Kopnpon-chudo began in 2016 and will be completed in 2026. During this time, you cannot see the outside Konpon-chudo though you still can go inside!
Near the back of the Konpon-chudo, you can find many people sitting and praying. This is where Enryaku-ji Temple’s principal object of worship, a statue of Yakushi Nyorai craved by the temple’s founder Saicho, is enshrined. While the actual artifact is not on public display, there is a very faithful replica for guests to see. Interestingly, these important objects sit at eye-level, even though it is typical for sacred objects such as these to be placed high up; so that no one can look down on them.
After seeing Konpon-chudo, you should walk around the temple complex. There are so many things to see here, so take your time to explore!
Apart from Konponchudo, the Kaidan-in is one the most important places in Enryaku-ji. Kaidan-in used to be the place to give an official license to monks and when Saicho was alive, only Todai-ji had Kaidanin in Kansai. While Kukai’s Shingon sect somehow managed to build Kaidanin, Saicho’s Tendai sect had a hard time getting official permission to build this. This was critical to the Tendai sect because they couldn’t be an official monk without Kaidanin. Seven days after Saicho died, Kaidanin could finally build in Enryaku-ji Temple, which became one of the most important places in Japan for studying Buddhism.
If you want to walk to Saito, you can find the path between the Amida-do and the To-do Pagoda.