Looking as if it has no connection to this world, Kannonshoji Temple stands quietly near the top of Mt. Kinugasa, a 433 meter high mountain located on the eastern side of Lake Biwa. The temple is the 32nd of the Saigoku 33 Pilgrimage Temples, which are located in 6 prefectures in the Kinki region and Gifu Prefecture. This pilgrim route is said to be Japan’s oldest pilgrim route.
According to the temple record, Kannonshoji Temple was founded by Prince Shotoku (574-622). Then, in the Kamakura (1192-1333) and Muromachi (1336-1573) periods, it thrived under the protection of the Rokkaku clan and gained power of influence. During these periods, there were as many as 33 attached temples in the mountain.
In the later periods, the temple was involved in wars and relocated to another place. However, in 1597, it was moved again to its original location. Though having receded into the background today, the temple is visited by a lot of worshippers who offer prayers for good relationship in life.
Fukurinji Temple located beside the east end of the Biwako Ohashi Bridge in the outskirts of Moriyama City, Shiga Prefecture, was founded by the priest Saicho, the founder of the Tendai sect of Buddhism, in the Heian period (794-1192). It is the 4th temple of Kokoku Holy Places of Juichimen Kannon.
The principal object of worship, the statue of Juichimen Kannon (11-Headed Kannon), is about 1.8 m tall wooden and colored secret Buddha. With the moonlight-shaped halo on its back, it stands on the five-colored lotus base. Its slender and tall shape with plump cheeks, round shoulders and breasts and beautiful garment lines is often compared to a noble person of the Tenpyo culture. It is designated as a national Important Cultural Property.
The two stone pagodas on the right side of the precinct were dedicated by Sasaki Takatsuna, a Kamakura-period warrior born in this town. These pagodas are though to be the Sutra pagodas and also designated as a national Important Cultural Property. The both pagodas have kosama (a decorative motif which is curved like a bowl at the base) on the four sides. Standing for 800 years, the statues of Buddha carved on one side have become dim and the finial at the top are missing.
Izaki Pole Diving is a Buddhist rite held on the 1st Sunday of August every year at Izaki Temple in Shirao Town in Omihachiman City, Shiga Prefecture. Izakiji Temple located at the tip of the small peninsula protruding into Lake Biwa is a temple belonging to the Tendai sect. It is said that the temple was founded in the Teikan era (859-877) by Priest Gyoki.
Pole Diving is a Buddhist rite, in which people dive into Lake Biwa from a 13 meter pole that sticks out under a cliff about 7 meters above the water level of the lake. It is said that this rite dates back about 1,100 years ago, when Konryu Daishi of Mt. Hiei trained himself at this temple. He would often threw an empty bowl down to a fishing boat passing below the temple and asked fishermen for charity, and then he dived into the lake to retrieve it.
It is performed to pray for getting rid of bad luck and also testing for participants’ courage, which is a vestige of harsh ascetic training performed by Tendai monks. The spectators on fishing boats on the lake erupt into cheers and applause when gallant young men dive into the lake with splashes of water in the strong sunshine.
Kyosudare is a hand-woven bamboo blind, which is known as a luxury item. Today, most of these handmade blinds are made in Kyoto. It is a traditional furnishing item to create a cool and elegant atmosphere.
The origin of Kyosudare is Misu (literally meaning “Holy Blind”), an indispensable item at the Imperial Palace in the Heian period (794-1192). Since Misu were forbidden to be used for the homes of the townspeople, they used bamboo blinds with no edgings.
Bamboo blinds have been passed down through the ages as an art craft in Kyoto, where there are many shrines, temples, restaurants and other traditional places. After the Meiji period (1868-1912), the square angular bamboo rods became rounded and Zashiki-sudare (an interior blind), which had edges on all four sides, came to be known as Kyosudare and spread nationwide.
The reed blinds, whose materials come from the eastern shore of Lake Biwa, are thought to be especially of high-quality. Its practicality as a partition and sun shade and its charming design has made it a popular product, which has been exported to the West as well.
Otsu-juku in present Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture was the 53rd of 53 post stations of the Tokaido Road and the 69th of 69 post stations of the Nakasendo Road; that is, the last post station on the long way from Edo to Kyoto. Since the honjin (the lodging for daimyo and the nobility) was built in 1602, it had developed in to a large town with 100 sub-towns and the population of 18,000. It was the largest post station on the roads with 2 honjin, 1 sub-honjin and 71 inns lining along the street. The town was also the important point of traffic, where commodities via Lake Biwa were collected and distributed.
The famous Ukiyoe artist Ando Hiroshige depicted tea houses along the street, where travelers drank tea to relieve their thirst. The place where the tea houses were located was known for the clear spring water called “Hashirii no Shimizu,” which still springs out of the well in the precinct of Gesshinji Temple.
Hashirii-mochi, which was served with Japanese green tea at these tea houses, is a soft rice cake ball with bean jam in it. It is still loved by both local people and tourists. Contrary to the prosperity at the time, Otsu-juku at present is a quiet town, where only the stone monument tells us the thriving atmosphere in the old days.
Lake Biwa was formed about four million years ago and is the third oldest lake in the world behind Lake Baikal and Lake Tanganyika. It is one of only 10 ancient lakes in the world. It is also the biggest lake in Japan.
In the Muromachi period, Konoeno Masaie, one of the then emperor's chief advisers, selected the Eight Views of Omi around the lake, following the Eight Views of the Xiao and Xiang around Lake Dongting in China.
Unfortunately, the appearance of the scenery has completely changed today. But for the Eight Major Views of Lake Biwa that were selected in 1950, the scenery has not changed much.
The present eight scenic views include:
*Morning fog, rocks in Nedu-Osaki (Takashima City)
*Cool wind, white beach in Omatsuzaki (Otsu City)
*Drizzle, trees in Hiei (Otsu City)
*Evening sunlight, clear stream in Seda, Ishiyama (Otsu City)
*New snow, spectacle of Mt Shizuka (Kinomoto Town)
*Deep green, shadow of Takebu Island (Nagahama City)
*Bright moon, old castle in Hikone (Hikone City)
*Spring color, Azuchi-Hachiman's waterfront (Azuchi Town, Omi-Hachiman City)
You can enjoy these various scenic sights, too, and be moved by their magnificence, as well as walk around the castle town reading about its history.
Kyomei Temple is located 250m above sea level on the slopes of Mt Kyomeiji (333m).
It is said that the basic shape of Kyomei Temple was founded during the early Heian period. Later, Sasaki Sadatsuna added buildings such as Hondo, Shakado, Yakushido, Taishido, Gomado, Hoto, Shuro and Nio-mon as memorials to his father. The Shaden burned down during the Warring States period, but has since been renovated.
When climbing the 808 steps to the temple from Lake Biwa, one first sees the beautiful roof of the temple. Its principal image is Sahasrabhuja-arya-avalokiteśvara. Within the temple are several statues that are designated as important cultural assets, such as those of Avalokitesvara, the Eleven-Headed Kannon and Vaisravana.
Also the view of mountains and Lake Biwa is magnificent. Moreover, nowadays the temple is also famous for hydrangea. During different seasons, many visitors come to see the views of mountain and lake and enjoy the seasonal flowers.