Many people come to Kyoto and expect an old, traditional city; ancient temples bursting forth from behind tiny, winding streets lined with wooden machiya. To an extent this is true, a city with one of the largest UNESCO World Heritage sites in the entire globe, it’s any Japanophile’s Mecca when it comes to an era-immemorial and the romanticism that that holds. What people are unaware of before visiting this show-stopper of a city is the contiguous countryside and mountains that encircle Kyoto on three sides. A haven for hikers, walkers and nature-lovers; you can be out and about and enjoying the good old outdoors in less than the time it takes to get from Kensington to King’s Cross. One such hike is that of Mount Hiei (Hiei-zan in Japanese), where the rewards at the top more than make up for the aches and pains ensuing from the journey!
There are myriad reasons to hike Mt. Hiei, the beautiful scenery, the flora and fauna, the exercise (maybe?!), but for me the real reason to get motivated to make it to the summit is the sprawling temple complex of Enryakuji. The trail path starts from Shugakuin Station, on the Eizan Line from Demachiyanagi. From here it’s about a 15-minute walk, heading east past Shirakawa Dori and alongside the canal, to the trailhead.
The first thirty minutes are steep. Some parts of the path are carved between giant rocks and there were a few steps that came to about hip height on me. The thought ‘my legs are going to ache tomorrow’ circled around my mind during the first thirty minutes and throughout the rest of the hike! Even though the path was steep, it was direct and very easy to follow and will take even inexperienced hikers no more than two hours to reach the top. There’s also a funicular railway and ropeway to the top for the lazy ones among us!
Reaching Enryakuji after hours of energy expenditure is like reaching nirvana, only far more beautiful I imagine. Engulfed in sweet-smelling cedar trees, the air – pure and fresh – is a delight to drink down. There’s a thickness and stillness that holds the scent of the cedar and the odd waft of smoky incense. Vermillion beams pop against the lush green maple in the background. This is only the first of the almost twenty-strong temple complex, Hokke So Ji-in.
There are three ‘stupa areas’ in which a number of temples are scattered atop the mountai; To-do, Sai-to and Yokawa. Each radiating graceful elegance amongst an ocean of nature. It’s hard not to slip into a silent contemplation whilst wandering this magnificent mountain and it’s 1200 years of religious history, inspiring and educating a great many brilliant Buddhist priests. It’s no wonder Mt. Hiei is known as The Holy Mother Mountain.
How numerous they are,
the so-called mountains of this earth,
but the one and only Mountain is Mt. Hiei.