The Treasures of Ishiyamadera in Otsu

Otsu in Shiga Prefecture is not too far away from Kyoto and makes a great day trip. Besides Miidera Temple, Ishiyamadera is another great spot for cherry blossom viewing in spring.

Visited: April 5th 2013

Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu

Access to Ishiyamadera

Ishiyamadera (石山寺) is a temple in Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture (map), not too far away from Kyoto City.

Take a train and get off at “Ishiyamadera Station” on the Keihan Ishiyama-Sakamoto Line.
It takes about half an hour from JR Kyoto Station. You need to change trains once, but it’s not very difficult.

Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu

From Ishiyamadera Station it’s a short (~ 10 mins) and pleasant walk along the Seta River (瀬田川) where you could also do a river cruise.

Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu


Important Facts About Ishiyamadera

Ishiyamadera (石山寺) literally means “stone mountain temple”.
It’s the thirteenth of the 33 Kansai Kannon Temples Pilgrimage.

It is said to have been founded by a priest named Rouben in the middle of the 8th century. Ishiyama Temple is the headquarter of one of the Shingon Buddhist sects.


Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu

The huge white rocks that gave the temple its name are in fact mineral wollastonite. They have been designated as a national monument.

Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu

Some people believe that Murasaki Shikibu started writing the famous Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji), the world’s oldest novel, at Ishiyamadera.

Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu

Ishiyamadera is a huge temple complex stretching up to a mountain, directly above Lake Biwa.

Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu

The temple is famous for its beautiful cherry blossoms in spring and rich foliage in autumn.

Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu

There are many spectacular things to see in any season, though.

Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu

This is the adorable Otsu City mascot, Hikaru-kun.

Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu

I love paper lanterns! Written in bold kanji is “big black heaven”. But it’s actually read as “Daikokuten” (大黒天) who is one of the “Seven Gods of Fortune“. He’s the god of great darkness.

Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu

The area surrounding the Hondo (Main Hall) is beautiful and calm.

Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu

As the temple complex is so huge, you can also find a small shrine there.

Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu

The ema of Ishiyamadera mainly feature the zodiac of the previous and current year (2012: dragon; 2013: snake).

Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu

A small red hall hidden between the trees.

Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu

Tahoto (Treasure Tower)

On the left you see the “temple seal book” of Ishiyamadera. It’s lovely and I almost bought it, but I already have enough empty books that need to be filled with seals.

Displayed is Tahoto (多宝塔), a 2-storied pagoda, built in 1194 by Minamoto Yoritomo.

It’s the oldest surviving example of a treasure tower in Japan and you can find an image of this pagoda on the 4 yen stamp. The inside of the treasure tower is open to the public only every 33 years!! Inside you can find wall paintings of mandala figures and Dainichi Nyorai, also known as “wish-fulfilling Kannon”.

Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu

On the left photo is the moon-viewing pavillion.
Ishiyamadera is one of the best spots for viewing the bright moon. “Autumn moon at Ishiyama” has been selected as one of the Eight Views of Omi, originally drawn by Hiroshige. The print featuring the temple is called “The autumn moon at Ishiyama” (石山の秋月).


Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu

On top of the mountain, there’s an exhibition hall featuring the temple’s treasures and items related to Genji Monogatari. It’s a seasonal exhibition in spring (March 18 – June 30) and autumn (September 1 – November 30). You have to pay an extra fee if you want to enter, though.

I didn’t, so I can’t tell you if it’s worth checking out.

Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu Ishiyamadera Temple in Otsu

As you can see, Ishiyamadera has a lot to offer. You won’t regret if you decide to drop by.

You can easily visit this temple and nearby Miidera on the same day – and you’ll still have time to explore another sightseeing spot!

It makes a great day trip from Kyoto as Otsu City is literally around the corner.


Tourist Information:
Opening Hours:
8:00-16:30 (enter until 16:00)
Entrance fee:
500 yen
Time required:
around 30 mins
10 mins walk from Ishiyamadera Station on the Keihan Ishiyama-Sakamoto Line.
Please note: Prices as well as opening hours / holidays are subject to change. Please make sure to follow the provided link to the official website to check out the latest updates.


  • Another well constructed and informative piece on a truly beautiful area; thanks for your work again J. I really get a touristy feeling from the photos and it reminds me of some places in the Southern USA: one called Stone Mountain in the state of Georgia and an area around Asheville North Carolina, where the dogwood trees blossom (they’re pink, red and white colors). Both Areas have many tourist attractions, but they don’t look near as historical as the temples of Ishiyamadera. This article has made me decide to do some research on religion in Japan, so thanks J. for the push to get me motivated enough to do something I’ve been wanting to do for quite some time.

    P.S. I love the ornaments and intricacy of the roofs in Japan, thanks for the closeups!! By the way, could you number or use some identification scheme on the pictures so it would be easy to identify what pictures comments refer to? Just a suggestion, but only possible because you have so many wonderful and well done pictures to view!!.

    • Glad to hear you got some motivation through this blog post! ^___^

      I usually try to just write right under the photo and if there are two, I usually mention if it’s the left or the right one, but I’ll think about it.
      Thanks for the suggestion, Bud. :D

  • Very Nice! Looks like an interesting place to visit. I’ve yet to really explore Otsu and usually just pass it on the way to Kyoto from Gifu. I will have to correct that and make the effort to stop there next time. Shiga Prefecture has a lot of great places to explore. Did you know that it has more temples and shrines than Kyoto?

    • I ended up in Otsu once when all hotels in Kyoto were already booked out during cherry blossom season. *g*
      As it’s so close to Kyoto, it’s very convenient.
      And yes, Shiga has a LOT of great places, but I didn’t know there were so many temples and shrines. Wow! ^^

      • I also really like Omihachiman which is close by. I think that it would make a great base to explore Kyoto during the busy season when accommodation isn’t readily available.

  • Yay, Ishiyamadera!!! I’ve been looking forward to your post about Ishiyamadera temple and wow. Your photos look so great, I can’t wait to get there and to see it too. :luvit: It’s also great that it isn’t so crowded there like in other temples. Some questions: You mentioned that the temple is above lake Biwa. Is it possible to have a good view over the lake when visiting the temple? And did you do the river cruise? Is it worth a ride? All in all thank you for another great blog post, now I’m even more excited to visit Ishiyamadera in April. ;)
    PS: love the cover of the temple seal book of Ishiyamadera and the mascot is uber-cute. ^___^

    • To be honest, I didn’t see Lake Biw, only the other river, but maybe that was just me.
      Unfortunately, I didn’t have any time for the river cruise, but I’m sure it’s lovely, especially during cherry blossom season! :D

      As always, you’re very welcome! ^__^

      • Ok, thanks. ^.^ I guess we’ll try the river cruise then, it looks nice. And I think you’re probably right that you can see the river from up there and maybe not the lake. I saw a vid on Youtube where I also only saw the river. And there was a small waterfall (a really small one) somewhere around the temple and that looked beautiful too. Yay, so much to explore and see there. *vor Freude im Dreieck hüpf* :D

  • Wow, this place looks beautiful. I’m flying to Japan in a bout a week and I’ll be in the Kyoto area, so I may give this place a quick visit on one of my days there. Thanks again for sharing.

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