Sunday, April 10, 2011

Kyoto the Trip! Part 7 - Ohara and the Wrath of Mount Hiei

On the third day of our Kyoto trip, we decided to follow a suggestion in the Lonely Planet guide that we do a combined day trip to Ohara and Mount Hiei, north of Kyoto. Ohara is a little farming town in the mountains that is home to Sanzenin, a pleasant mountain temple. Mount Hiei is home to a temple complex, Enryakuji, that is quite famous. I've been interested in the place for a while, it figures prominently in a lot of Japanese stories from the middle ages, mainly because the temple had an army of warrior monks that used to terrorize Kyoto in the Heian era. Oda Nobunaga in the 16th century had the whole mountain razed and all the monks executed, after which it was rebuilt on a more modest scale.

Both Ohara and Mount Hiei are on the #17 bus route from Kyoto station, so they can, as the Lonely Planet guide suggests, both be visited on the same day. The guide does, however, neglect to mention one important piece of information that totally blew our plans to pieces, as I'll explain below.

First, we were off to Ohara, a sleepy mountain village populated with sleepy mountain villagers as we quickly discovered:
We had lunch at a little restaurant next to the bus stop. For reasons that are unknown to me, the decor reminded me of my grandparent's old farmhouse in Quebec:
Maybe the wood paneling. I don't know. Quaint little place though.

It is about a 10 minute walk from the bus stop to the temple. The route leads you up a little mountain road lined with souvenir shops and places selling local food to tourists:
As a side note, I have to add that I love these little lanes lined with souvenir shops that have cropped up in front of most major tourist attractions here. The guide books always criticize them for being "touristy", but that is really where their brilliance lies. I think I mainly like them simply because they remind me of being on vacation. They evoke memories of all the fun places I've been to over the years while taking trips like this. I get the same feeling around train stations and airports - that feeling that I associate with holidays and travel.

Anyway, back to Ohara. The shops continue up to the temple, whose walls look like those of a castle:
Sanzenin is well know for its beautiful garden:
And its nice temple buildings set in well-kept forests of cypress trees:

A lot of the cute Buddhist statues I included in my previous post were at this temple.

After finishing with the Sanzenin at about 2PM we decided to head back down to the bus stop to catch the next ride to Mt. Hiei.
We caught the 2:20 bus and arrived at Mt. Hiei about fifteen minutes later.

In order to reach the top of the Mountain, you have to take a cable car and a ropeway. The bus lets you off at the Cable car station:
If you look closely in the above photo you can just see the cable car leaving up the mountain, we had just missed the 2:35 departure.

So we went, bought our ticket from the vending machine and began to wait for the next one. While sitting there, an employee politely notified us that the 2:35 cable car was the last one that we could take.

This is the key piece of information that the Lonely Planet had neglected to inform us of, and which I want to impart to everyone out there considering a similar trip. If you are going to combine a trip to Ohara and Mount Hiei, make sure you visit Mount Hiei first and Ohara second. Otherwise you'll be screwed like we were. Ignore the fact that the bus schedule says you have until 7PM, according to the station staff you really need to arrive at Mount Hiei in the morning and not after noon to see the place.

The plus side was that we only lost about 20 minutes due to this detour as we were able to hop on the next bus into town and enjoy the rest of the day exploring central Kyoto. The downside though is that I still haven't seen Mt. Hiei, except for the cable car station!

Our Kyoto trip continues in the next post.

Related Posts:
- Kyoto the Trip! Part 1 - Tofukuji and Sanjusangendo
- Kyoto the Trip! Part 2 - Kiyomizu Temple and Maruyama Koen
- Kyoto the Trip! Part 3 - Ryoanji and Ninnaji
- Kyoto the Trip! Part 4 - Shopping Arcades by Night
- Kyoto the Trip! Part 5 - Antiquing Kyoto Style
- Kyoto the Trip! Part 6 - Cute Buddhist Statues
- Kyoto the Trip! Part 7 - Ohara and the Wrath of Mount Hiei

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