A secluded paradise with much historic and literary significance not too far from Kyoto.
Only 30 minutes from Kyoto station, Ishiyama Temple in Shiga Prefecture is a wonderful getaway from the busy tourist spots of the area — which shouldn’t be surprising, considering the temple’s rich history. Surrounded by forest, a centuries old temple and beautiful gardens, you’re sure to feel like you’ve slipped back in time.
An official national treasure of Japan
The main hall of the temple, established in the 8th century, is a designated National Treasure. The tahoto, or “treasure tower” where statues of Buddha are sealed away, is one of the oldest in Japan; Minamoto Yoritomo, a famous general-turned-literary character (The Tale of Heike), built it in the Kamakura period (late-12th to mid-14th century).
Not only that, inside the temple are portions of ancient scrolls depicting kannon (bodhisattva of mercy), which are also considered Important Cultural Properties. Ishiyama Temple is spiritually significant for being the 13th stop on the Kannon Spiritual Pilgrimage.
The birthplace of The Tale of Genji
An Introduction to: Classical Japanese Literature
Due to its deep ties to The Tale of Genji, the temple often holds a Murasaki Shikibu-themed exhibition in one of its small former guest houses. Famous author Fujimura Shimazaki apparently stayed there for a time to write his poetic masterpiece, Insight. I guess Ishiyama Temple is a power spot for writers!
Serene natural beauty
Ishiyama Temple isn’t just all about the history, however. Once you visit, you can see why Murasaki Shikibu, Fujimori Shimazaki, and Minamoto Yoritomo all fell in love with this place.
As I got off the bus in front of Ishiyama Temple, with Lake Biwa on my left, the air felt fresher. Coming from the dusty city, it was a nice change of pace to breathe in the clean air, hear the rustle of the giant, old trees, and explore the stone paths in the temple’s gardens.
Ishiyama Temple has a magnificent garden. Spanning the majority of the temple grounds, it features trees and flowers for all seasons, but come March the sakura trees are the main event — making for a perfect historical and cultural hanami event.