Hello readers! This is another must-read installment for my ‘Driving in Japan’ series and is highly recommended for those interested in driving country roads in Kyoto! In the north of Kyoto, there are three main routes which absolutely must be driven. In the West there is Route 162 which goes straight north through Takao and onward to Ayabe and Obama. In the East you’ll find Route 367 running north from Kawaramachi 河原町 to Ohara, Mt. Hieizan and onward near to where Shiga and Fukui Prefectures bump into Kyoto. There is also the incredible Route 477 which runs eastbound from Kawanishi 川西 in Hyogo Prefecture all the way to Lake Biwa 琵琶湖 in Shiga, intersecting both the 162 and the 367 at remarkable points and even sailing OVER the Lake thanks to part of the road becoming a toll bridge! Go figure.
Route 367 is noteworthy today as the main access to several UNESCO World Heritages and National Treasures and allows visitors a look into the lifestyles of very traditional, rural Kyoto. Of particular interest are Sanzen-in shown in the picture above and Mt. Hieizan which, together with its fantastic Enryaku-ji, make this area a great day trip if not even a very nice weekender in a ryokan 旅館.
Enryaku-ji was founded in 788 by Saichou 最澄, the important early Buddhist responsible for establishing the Tenzai School. At its peak, Enryaku-ji contained more than 3000 buildings and, of course this had to be seen as a threat to somebody so a series of attacks, arsons, sackings and wars resulted in the area for much of the 16th Century. What exists today is a wonderful place to hang around and explore, but avoid sunny long weekends as it gets utterly inundated by tour buses.
The summit can also be reached by a funicular cable which leaves every hour or so from Sakamoto on the Shiga Prefecture side of the mountain. This is very interesting and a wonderful access option if you’re planning to arrive from Lake Biwa.
Sanzen-in was founded in 784, also by the Tenzai sect partriarch Saichou and has to be one of the most photographed places in all of Kansai. The little temple and its Sinden Hall aren’t the most increadible things to see in Kansai, but the setting and the highly-reputed Yusei-en garden that you get to walk around in are just wonderful. Go on a miserable, rainy day and have the beauty and tranquility of the whole place to yourself!! It feels like stepping into a time machine and appearing long before there were cars. If you haven’t eaten, there is also a long string of wonderful local specialties along the way up the path to the site.
You can also get there by bus from Demachiyanagi but by the time you arrive you’ll be pretty much ready for bed. Rent a car and enjoy!
Martin W Zander
Smith’s School of English Fukushima Osaka Umeda
月謝制 の スミス 英会話 福島 校 大阪 市 梅田 校
Smith’s School of English Kotoen Nigawa Nishinomiya
月謝制 の スミス 英会話 甲東園 校 仁川 校 西宮 市
My absolute favourite spot in Japan is Mt. Hiei, and so I’m glad you found it. It’s only a 20 minute ride from SSE Ohtsu, and as well as being a Heritage Site and a nice drive, it also offers a dozen different easy hiking routes from the Shiga side and a dozen more from the Kyoto side. You can even make a nice day hike from Biwako all the way into Kyoto if you know the way. One way up can be between 1 and 3 hours alng well groomed trails. So thanks for highlighting this spot and I recommend everyone to check it out someday. If you want to go for a hike there, just let me know and I’d be happy to be your [local] guide.
Edward, SSE Ohtsu