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
Miidera Temple: Location and Access
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).
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.
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.
With about 1,500 cherry trees spread throughout the temple grounds, it’s a cherry blossom paradise.
Interesting Facts About Miidera Temple
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.
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.
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
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.
Shortly after that, you’ll reach the Kondo (金堂), the main structure of the temple.
Very interesting is the Issaikyozo (一切経蔵), containing the complete Buddhist scriptures.
You’ll also come across a beautiful wooden 3-storied pagoda (三重塔).
Then, you’ll pass the Touin Shikyakumon (唐院四脚門), a four-legged gate.
There are several impressive stone statues.
On the right photo you can see the Bishamon Hall（毘沙門堂）.
The hall stands alone, but the surroundings are extremely photo-worthy.
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.
Climb another few staircase steps and you’ll get to an observation platform.
From there you’ll have a great view of Otsu City.
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.