For anyone who’s used to Buddhism’s modern peace-loving image, it might come as a shock that the monks of Japan were as much a part of its bloody history as the samurai and ninja! The story of Enryakuji reveals as much.
Founded in the year 788 AD, it stands on the north side of Mt. Hiei, separated from the city of Otsu to the south. Inside that city, you’ll find Enryakuji’s long-time rival, the older and wiser Miidera Temple. Both temples were regarded as among the four most important of their day.
In a classic “this town ain’t big enough for the both of us” tale, it didn’t take too long for conflict to occur between these two rowdy neighbors. Over time, the doctrine followed by the two temples split into two competing branches of the Tendai sect.
The rivalry which resulted from this schism resulted in years of violent conflict between warrior monks from each faction. Miidera even earned the nickname “The Phoenix Temple,” on account of how often it was burned down by the monks of Enryakuji!
You’d never be able to guess at the violent past of Enryakuji Temple nowadays. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this active monastery boasts an extensive complex surrounded by nature – perfect for an afternoon stroll through the grounds, and at only 700 yen entry, one of the best-value temple visits in Japan.