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Region
Kansai
Island
Honshu
Largest City
Otsu
Population
1,342,811

Isaki-ji Temple

At this remote temple on stunning Lake Biwa, monks make leaps of faith in a 1,000-year-old tradition.

By Aaron Baggett

On Lake Biwa, in Shiga Prefecture, ascetic Buddhist monks at the remote Isaki-ji Temple walk a narrow wooden beam and leap seven meters into the water in a rite of passage that displays tradition and devotion. The temple is a branch of Kyoto’s Enryaku-ji Temple, the headquarters of Tendai Buddhism.

The monks finish a 100-day practice of walking routes along Mount Hiei called kaihogyo (circling the mountain), and, on Aug. 1, come to Isakiji Temple to celebrate the Sennichikai festival and perform isaki no saotobi (jumping from a beam at Isaki). They walk along a narrow beam, clasping their hands in prayer and leaping into Lake Biwa.

It’s an exciting spectacle of Japanese religion and culture. The tradition dates back over 1,000 years when monks would throw bowls into the lake in front of passing fishermen and dive into the water to collect donations.

Isakiji Temple

Photo by: 近江八幡観光物産協会 An Isakiji monk in perfect form.

Also known as Ikiya-san, this serene temple shares its mountain name with Chomei-ji Temple, one of the esteemed 33 temples in the Saigoku region. Surrounded by forests and water, legend says during the Nara period, En no Gyoja, the founder of Shugendo, discovered the site and chose it as his training ground.

Lake Biwa

Photo by: iStock/ NaturePhotograph Lake Biwa’s evening mist.

Lake Biwa is the largest freshwater lake in Japan. It is an ancient lake, considered the 13th oldest in the world. Due to its proximity to Kyoto (only 14 minutes by car), Lake Biwa is culturally significant to Japanese culture, appearing in history, art and media. The city of Omihachiman stretches across the shore of Lake Biwa and the Suzuka Mountains.

Most tourism is seasonal, but there are many recreational water sports that visitors can experience at Lake Biwa, such as fishing, canoeing and swimming.

Things To Know

Recreational diving

Only a trainee Buddhist monk of Isakiji temple is allowed to participate in the ritual. Locals were known to make dives recreationally, but the area has been roped off.

How To Get There

Address

1391 Shiraōchō, Omihachiman, Shiga 523-0803, Japan

By train

The nearest station is  Omi-Hachiman on the JR Biwako line Omi-Hachiman in Omihachiman, Shiga. From the station, it takes about 30 minutes to reach the temple by bus.

By bus

Take the Kyukamura Omihachiman bound bus via Chomeiji Temple, and get off at the Horikiriko bus stop.

Where To Stay

Rakuten Stay House x Will Style Hachimanbori
  • 580-6 Tagacho, Omihachiman-shi, Shiga, 523-0821 Japan
  • ¥24,100 - ¥119,800
  • 4.5/5 (35 reviews)
  • 7.0 km
Comfort Inn Omihachiman
  • 514-1 Takakaicho, Omihachiman-shi, Shiga, 523-0891 Japan
  • ¥6,200 - ¥31,200
  • 9.3 km

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