Travel

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

 

Visited: April 5th 2013

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.

 

Tourist Information:
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
Contact:
(+81)077-522-2238
Access:
10 mins walk from Miidera Station (Keihan), 15 mins by Keihan bus from Otsu Station (JR).
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.

18 Comments

  • Hi,

    I see that you are really love to visit Japanese temple & castle. Someday, I would like to do a temple pilgrimage and collect “Go-Shuin” from every temple in Japan. Do you also get Go-Shuin every time you pay a visit to Japanese temple?

  • Really beautiful scenery at this temple; but I also spent time reading the links on the history. It was very interesting, since I’ve heard these names before in so many Anime and Manga episodes as well as Japanese movies and TV shows. I’m starting to get a simple mental picture for a small part of Japan’s early history now and its amazing how a culture that has so MUCH historical roots to draw upon can use that culture for so much media entertainment. We only have some 200+ years of history to draw from while Japan has thousands of years and much of it is almost supernatural in its portrayal. Thanks again for the wonderful pics J and may Buddha bless all of your travels!!

    • You’re so sweet, Bud. Thank you! ^__^

      When you say “we”, are you talking about America?
      Because in Europe we have a LOT of history and it’s also all around the media (Hollywood movies, dramas, etc.). I find it just as interesting.
      However, there’s still so much I don’t know about Japan’s history, that it’s more fun to learn new things about it every single time I encounter something new.

      • Gomenasai, you are correct, I meant USA. In my early years I did study European history much more, especially from the Greco-Roman times until the end of WWII; western civilization was taught in public schools here in America, while Asian culture was almost ignored in the US education system totally. Now, it seems like Asian and Japanese sites are more on my to-do list since I know far less about their history and culture.

        I see a Chinese movie recently won top honors in the German film industry awards held in Berlin (http://www.dw.de/chinese-crime-film-wins-top-berlin-prize/a-17435779 ) and a Japanese woman won the best female actress award, so maybe Asian media is getting more attention everywhere because of the growth of wealth in that region of the world.

        • No need to apologize. ;)

          Oh, yes, I’ve noticed that, too. I like it and I hope the Western world will get to see more Asian movies in the future. I watch them anyways. ;)

    • Haha, that’s because I’m not catching up with all my trips at all. I’ll probably post about trips I did 7 years ago if this goes on. ;)
      It’s sunny here in Kansai as well and let’s just hope that spring is coming soon! :D

  • Hola Zooming, thanks for another great post. I didn’t know about Miidera Temple. On your photos it looks so beautiful with all the cherry blossoms everywhere. Now I have another temple to add to our travel plan. :D It’s also very interesting that it’s connected to the Benkei legend. I think I remember him from an anime or a manga ( or maybe it was a character named after him, I can’t remember ).

    PS: also big thanks that you always add access information how to get to the places. That really helps a lot. ;)

    • It really is a great spot for cherry blossom viewing. Sounds like your vacation will be very busy, but in a good way. ^^

      It’s my pleasure. That’s one of the most important things anyways – and the one that keeps me browsing for hours because so many sites have no access information – or it’s only availalbe in Japanese. If I’ve already been there and know how to get there, why not also post about it, right? :D

    • It’s a very interesting temple complex, so I would recommend a visit even when it’s not cherry blossom season.
      Although I agree that it’s most beautiful then. ^^

  • Looks very interesting and you could certainly spend a good amount of time exploring all the temple complex has to offer. I would probably need a full morning to appreciate it all let alone all the photos I would take :)

    • I know that you can probably still see the last few cherry blossoms in the eastern and northern parts of Hokkaido. There and only there!
      In the rest of Japan they’ll be gone by then!
      Popular tourist destinations like Hiroshima, Kyoto or Tokyo will usually have their cherry blossom peak in the first week of April.
      Here’s the cherry blossom blooming forecast for 2014. :D