We were introduced to Ishiyama-dera Temple near Lake Biwa Japan by our Japanese friend Reiko. She collected us from JR Ishiyama train station and took us to Dinner in a Japanese Home but first we went to explore this important temple. It is situated in Otsu, the capital city of Shiga Prefecture, on the south-western shores of Lake Biwa.
Kyoto temples are known for their Autumn colours and we’d seen quite a few – the Silver Pagoda and the Golden Pavilion are two of the most famous. The only downside to these beauties is the amount of people they attract.
The autumn colours at Ishiyama-dera are just as good.
The temple is lit at night in Autumn – a big draw card in Japan – maybe this is why the mornings are so quiet. Climbing the hill (Ishiyama-dera means stony mountain temple) the difference between this temple garden and the show stoppers in Kyoto is revealed.
Even wearing her spectacular autumn colours, Ishiyama-dera is a relaxed and crowd-free mountain temple. The further up the hill we went the more it felt like our own private Japanese garden.
Relaxed viewing at Ishiyama-dera Temple.
Stony Mountain Temple
The temple is built on a base rock of Wollastonite – a recurring theme throughout the garden.
And from below.
From the street outside, inviting Autumn foliage crowds behind the San-mon Gate, also called Todaimon gate at Ishiyama-dera.
Situated on a hill overlooking the Seta River at Lake Biwa, the temple unites all To-ji Shingon Buddhist temples in Japan, making it one of the most sacred of Japanese temples. The image of Nyoirin-Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) is enshrined in the main hall and people come here for blessings in the range of safe childbirth, protection from evil spirits, marriage, and good luck.
The view from the temple grounds of the Seta River as it leaves Lake Biwa. Lake Biwa is in the background.
Stepping through a temple gate is like stepping into another world.
This famous female novelist began writing the Japanese Literary Classic The Tale of Genji here during the full moon in August 1004. It is sometimes given credit as being the first written Novel – and a saucy one at that. It’s 1100 pages and 54 chapters drew on tales of court life with it’s clandestine romantic affairs and took over a decade to complete.
There is a statue of Murasaki in the temple grounds.
Near the top of the hill overlooking the lake is a Full Moon Viewing platform. I wonder if Murasaki’s writings bore any influence on this particular platform – but either way full moon viewing is extremely popular. A viewing with special food and drink would be held in this pavilion.
Foliage and Flowers
In Spring Ishiyama-dera, also known as the Flower Temple, is known for it’s flowering Ume (plum), cherry blossoms trees and rhododendrons but in Autumn when we were there the deciduous trees provided a beautiful range of coloured leaves.
A Maple tree overhangs the statue of Murasaki and a peaceful bench.
A man made waterfall in the flower garden at the base of the hill.
Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage.
There are many pilgrimages in Japan but the most important is the Saigoku Kannon. A pilgrimage is a spiritual and physical journey which can be either sombre or festive. Kannon is the Japanese name for the Bodhisattva of Compassion who has 33 manifestations. Symbolically there are 33 temples along the 1500 mile pilgrimage, but before the temples appeared, holy men specialising in healing miracles secreted themselves in out of the way locations to practice their craft.
When word of their miracles spread, temples were built to accommodate them. Ishiyama-dera is the 13th on the route. I wonder if 13 is considered an auspicious number in Japan? Traditionally the temples are visited in numerical order, but in pragmatic style, it is now possible to see all 33 by train from Koyto, expediting the process even further by visiting two per day.
If you wish to visit all the temples you should buy a Saigoku pilgrims’s book (available at Ishiyama-dera and other places). At each temple your book gets inscribed and stamped at a cost of 300 yen.
The Kannon statue at Ishiyama-dera is only available for viewing one year in every 33 and 2016 is one of those years.
Photos were not allowed in the main hall during our visit so we took a photo looking out from the hall at the autumn colours. I love the solid timber feel of Japanese temples.
Walk up to the door and peek through the hole.
Colour is not confined to the trees.
Ishiyama-dera in Autumn is a photographer’s dream.
Otsu is only one stop from Kyoto Station. Climbing the hill and finding hidden corners of Ishiyama-dera offers an adventure lacking at other temples. It is an experience not to be missed.
Thanks for visiting, I really appreciate it and would love you to add your travel post to the link below for Nancie’s Travel Photo Thursday which I co-host with Ruth from Tanama Tales and Rachel from Rachel’s Ruminations.
Things to know:
The principal Nyoirin Kannon statue is able to be viewed from March 18 to Sunday, December 4, 2016.
To get there from Kyoto train station. Tokaido Line to JR Ishiyama Station, then take a 10-minute bus ride or transfer to Keihan Ishiyama-Sakamoto Line to Ishiyama Dera Station and walk for ten minutes.
Another value-added way of arriving by train is by the private Keihan Line. They have an interesting Koto Koto Otsu One Day Pass which allows for a day of sightseeing.