Feb
16
2014

Miidera Temple in Otsu (Shiga) – One of Japan’s Largest Temples

A lot of tourists think of Kyoto or maybe Osaka when they plan a trip to the Kansai region of Japan.
Many don’t seem to know that there’s so much more to explore. Otsu City is just a few minutes away by train from Kyoto and has to offer some very interesting sights.

Today I want to introduce one of them: Miidera Temple

 

smilie Visited: April 5th 2013 smilie

Miidera Temple Otsu

Miidera Temple: Location and Access

Miidera Temple (三井寺) is located at the foot of Mt. Hiei in Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture (map). It’s not too far from Kyoto City, so it makes a great day trip!

It can be accessed by train. Use the Keihan Line and get off at “Miidera Station“. It takes about 20-30 minutes from Kyoto. From the station it’s a 10-min walk to the temple.

Alternatively you can get off at JR Otsu Station (10 mins from Kyoto) and take a Keihan bus (get off at “Miidera Temple”, 15 mins).

 

Miidera Temple Otsu

Required Time at Miidera Temple

Miidera Temple is quite spacious as you can see in the map above. Actually it’s one of the four largest temples in Japan, so you want to spend at least 1h there. Next to the parking lot there are also restaurants and souvenir shops, so you could have lunch there as well.

 

Miidera Temple Otsu

Best Time to Visit Miidera Temple

The temple is a popular cherry blossom viewing spot, so spring (early April) is definitely the best time to visit. Another great season would be fall with the colorful autumn foliage.

Miidera Temple Otsu Miidera Temple Otsu

With about 1,500 cherry trees spread throughout the temple grounds, it’s a cherry blossom paradise.

 

Miidera Temple Otsu Miidera Temple Otsu

Interesting Facts About Miidera Temple

The temple was founded in 672. Throughout history, the three emperors Tenji, Kobun and Tenmu modified its structure and name a few times.

Emperor Tenmu was in charge of finishing the building process and named it originally “Onjo-ji” (園城寺).
Its common name “Miidera” (三井寺) literally means “temple of the three wells“.

It’s said that the name comes from a special spring in which those three emperors had their first bath.

Miidera Temple Otsu

Miidera Temple has been destroyed many times by fire, but has been restored every single time with the help of Hideyoshi Toyotomi and Ieyasu Tokugawa.

Nowadays, the temple is designated as a national treasure and important cultural property.

It is also the head temple of the Tendai Buddhist sect and has long been considered as one of the Four Great Temples of Japan.
Chisho Daishi became the first head of the temple in 859 and 10 years later the fifth head of the Tendai sect.

You can read more about Miidera Temple’s history here.

Miidera Temple Otsu Miidera Temple Otsu

Two Legends:

Legend #1: Jingoro Hidari’s Dragon (left photo):

This wooden dragon sculpture is said to be the work of Jingoro Hidari. You can find it outside of the Akaiya building that houses the miraculous spring.

According to a legend the dragon used to escape every night, causing damages around Lake Biwa. In order to stop the dragon, Jingoro drove spikes into the eyes of the dragon.

 

Legend #2: Benkei And The Bell He Dragged Along (right photo):

The temple bell you see in the photo above dates back to the Nara period. There are many legends and mysteries concerning this bell. Some say it was donated to the temple to thank Fujiwara no Hidesato for the “Extermination of the Centipede” (Mukade Taiji) that was living on Mt. Mikami.

Another legend says that the bell has been brought back from the underwater palace of the Dragon King.

In the 10th century, Benkei, a warrior monk, tried to move the bell to the top of Mt. Hiei. However, when he tried to strike it, the bell rang “eeno eeno” – which means “I want to go back” in Kansai dialect. As Benkei got angry, he threw the bell back down into the valley. The cracks you can still observe nowadays are said to date back to that time.

 

Miidera Temple’s Worship Route

Miidera Temple Otsu

You’ll start at the Niomon Gate (仁王門) which is the entrance to the temple complex. It’s designated as an important cultural property.

Miidera Temple Otsu

Shortly after that, you’ll reach the Kondo (金堂), the main structure of the temple.

Miidera Temple Otsu

Very interesting is the Issaikyozo (一切経蔵), containing the complete Buddhist scriptures.

Miidera Temple Otsu

You’ll also come across a beautiful wooden 3-storied pagoda (三重塔).

Miidera Temple Otsu

Then, you’ll pass the Touin Shikyakumon (唐院四脚門), a four-legged gate.

Miidera Temple Otsu Miidera Temple Otsu

There are several impressive stone statues.

Miidera Temple Otsu Miidera Temple Otsu

On the right photo you can see the Bishamon Hall(毘沙門堂).

Miidera Temple Otsu

The hall stands alone, but the surroundings are extremely photo-worthy.

Miidera Temple Otsu

After climbing up several stone steps you’ll finally reach the Kannon Hall (観音堂).

It was built in 1072 and is dedicated to Kannon, Bodhisattva of Compassion.

Miidera Temple Otsu

Climb another few staircase steps and you’ll get to an observation platform.

Miidera Temple Otsu

From there you’ll have a great view of Otsu City.

Miidera Temple Otsu Miidera Temple Otsu

As you can see it’s especially beautiful in spring with all the cherry blossoms surrounding the temple complex.

 

Miidera Temple is certainly worth a visit if you’re staying in Kyoto and have some extra time.

 

T O U R I S T     I N F O R M A T I O N
Opening Hours: 8:00-17:00
Holidays: none
Entrance fee: 500 yen (adult); 300 yen (jr. high and high school); 200 yen (elementary school)
Time required: at least 1h
TEL: (+81)077-522-2238
Website: http://www.shiga-miidera.or.jp/
Access: 10 mins walk from Miidera Station (Keihan), 15 mins by Keihan bus from Otsu Station (JR).

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