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.
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.
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.
Important Facts About Ishiyamadera
Ishiyamadera (石山寺） literally means “stone mountain temple”.
It’s the thirteenth of the 33 Kansai Kannon Temples Pilgrimage.
The huge white rocks that gave the temple its name are in fact mineral wollastonite. They have been designated as a national monument.
Some people believe that Murasaki Shikibu started writing the famous Genji Monogatari (The Tale of Genji), the world’s oldest novel, at Ishiyamadera.
Ishiyamadera is a huge temple complex stretching up to a mountain, directly above Lake Biwa.
The temple is famous for its beautiful cherry blossoms in spring and rich foliage in autumn.
There are many spectacular things to see in any season, though.
This is the adorable Otsu City mascot, Hikaru-kun.
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.
The area surrounding the Hondo (Main Hall) is beautiful and calm.
As the temple complex is so huge, you can also find a small shrine there.
A small red hall hidden between the trees.
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”.
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).
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.
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.