Enryakuji monastery, (near) Ôtsu, Shiga Prefecture, JP

Raw data

Enryakuji is located on Mount Hiei, on the border between Shiga and Kyoto prefectures. The modern postal system places it in Shiga prefecture. Along with Kôfukuji, Tôdaiji, and Onjôji, it became an important guardian of Heian-kyô (Kyoto), the capital city during the Heian period (794-1185).

Saichô (767-822), the founder of the Tendai sect, promoted the Lotus Sutra and criticized the Nara sects, which were influenced by Hinayana doctrines. In 788, he pledged Enryakuji, then known as Hieizanji. Emperor Kanmu allocated tax revenues from estates in Ômi to support the temple. The emperor had moved his capital from Nara to Nagaoka, partly to escape the powerful Nara sects. After moving his capital again, this time to Heian-kyô in 794, Kanmu funded Saichô’s participation in the 804 mission to China, where the monk studied at Mount T'ien-t'ai under Hsiao-jan, and was ordained under Tao-sui at T'ai-chou [a town - tmc, 28 Sep 2013] monastery. Saichô brought back with him ritual instruments and over 200 Chinese manuscripts, which he presented to Emperor Kanmu.

On his return to Japan, Saichô incorporated Mikkyô (esoteric) and Zen practices into the exoteric Tendai teachings at Enryakuji. He also petitioned the imperial court for an ordination platform, much to the horror of Gomyô, the abbot of Kôfukuji in Nara, where the monks of Enryakuji had to go to be ordained. The petition was granted in 823, after Saichô died, and the monastery was renamed Enryakuji. Saichô was also able to free his monks from oversight by the Office of Monastic Affairs, a court office dominated by monks of the Hossô sect from Kôfukuji. The abbot of Enryakuji now liaised directly with the court. In addition, his monks could remain on Mount Hiei for the entire period of their 12-year training program. These developments led to a deterioration of relations with Kôfukuji.

After Saichô’s death, a schism developed between his disciples Enchô and Gishin. Enryakuji fell into poverty, after alienating the Sôgô school of Nara Buddhism, and many monks subsisted on lectureships at Hôryûji and Shittenôji, which may have been chosen because of the connection to Shôtoku Taishi, who was supposedly the reincarnation of the T’ien-t’ai patriarch Hui-ssu. When Ennin (794-864) became abbot of Enryakuji, he built storehouses for the sutras he had brought back from China. He also founded in 848 the Shuryôgonin, the central cloister of the Yokawa precinct of Enryakuji (now replaced by the Yokawa Chûdô). However, his successor Enchin parted ways with Ennin’s followers, and left to become the abbot of Onjôji (Miidera). Armed monks (“warrior monks”) from Enryakuji fought monks from other major monasteries, such as Onjôji in Ôtsu, Kôfukuji in Nara, and Shittennôji in Naniwa (Osaka), over matters of prestige, land, appointments to positions, and rights of jurisdiction over smaller temples.

The monastery grew extremely large, but the records of its estates and properties were lost when warlord Oda Nobunaga burned Enryakuji to the ground in 1571, destroying most of the 3000 buildings and their treasures. Certain court diaries and other records suggest that there were roughly 300 private estates (shôen) registered in Enryakuji’s name. Many of them were donated by aristocrats when they joined the monastery. Emperors founded cloisters there, such as the Sôjiin and Shiôin, that had complicated, semi-autonomous landholding rights. From 840 to 882, eleven cloisters in other geographical regions attached themselves to Enryakuji. Similarly, Shinto shrines became affiliates of the monastery in order to gain tax-free status. Over time, Enryakuji gave birth to many Buddhist denominations.

Enryakuji reached its architectural peak under Ryôgen (912-985), who became abbot in 964. After a fire destroyed thirty buildings, he set about restoring them, drawing on revenues from the imperial family and eleven estates bequeathed by the regent Fujiwara no Morosuke. Emperor Enyû and his top ministers attended the opening ceremony of the Kompon Chûdô in 980.

Enryakuji has three precincts spread across the mountain, each with its own main hall. The Tôdô (“East Pagoda”) precinct in the center is the original founding site where Saichô built the Lecture Hall, the Ordination Hall, and the Ichijo Shikanin (One-Vehicle Meditation Hall), now replaced by the Kompon Chûdô. The buildings that stand there today date to around 1642. The oldest surviving building is the Shakadô (Buddha Hall) in the Saitô (“West Pagoda”) precinct, about a mile away. It was built in the Kamakura period (1185-1333) on the site of the original Shakadô, founded by Saichô’s disciple Enchô.

-Adolphson (2000: 5, 28-33, 37-44, 55, 57)
-McCullough & Shively, eds. (1999: 463-5, 485-7, 495-7)
-Hieizan = Mt. Hiei Enryaku-ji (1999: 16, 24, 42, 60-1)
-“Ennin.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ennin
- Groner (2000:281)

Enryakuji acquired many sub-temples and shrines. Among them was Taisanji in Dazaifu, Chikuzen Province, on the island of Kyushu. Through this temple, the monks of Mount Hiei traded with Chinese merchants, such as Ch'ang Kuang-an, who was an affiliate of both Taisanji and another Hieizan subsidiary, the Kamado Shrine. Enryaku-ji also controlled the Hie Shrine in Ôtsu, Kyôgokuji temple in Kyoto, and the Gion Shrine in Kyoto, which functioned as a "detached cloister."

-Piggott, ed. (2006: 267-8, 305, 324)

The main object of worship is Yakushi Nyôrai. Enryakuji was burned down by warlord Oda Nobunaga, but his successors Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu donated 1500 and 3427 koku respectively to rebuild part of the monastery.

- Tamamuro (1992: 73)
Src: JP

Input by: Lizbeth H. Piel, Mar 19, 2010

Final data (and their sources)

Last updated: 01 Sep 2013

Lat/Long coordinates' accuracy:
The monastery in question is assumed to be situated actually no farther than 200 m from the point defined by the coordinates below.

Location of Enryakuji monastery, JP.

General location of the Enryakuji monastery, JP.
Lat 35.0705 Long 135.8411
Mapping & images: Falling Rain Genomics (http://www.fallingrain.com), 2009.

Google Map link:


Final data - explanatory notes

1. Monastery's name

  • Enryakuji 延暦寺 monastery. Alternative English spelling: Enryaku-ji

2. Monastery's modern country & province

  • Japan: Shiga Prefecture

3. Monastery's alternative/historical names

  • Hieizan. Alternative English spelling: Hieizan
  • Hieizanji –Adolphson (2000: 26)

4. Monastery's lat/long coordinates

  • Approx., Lat 35.0705 Long 135.8411 - based on visual identification of the monastery in satellite images, using maps.google.com - tmciolek, 26 Mar 2010.

5. Other known nearby Buddhist monasteries

6. Modern name of the known nearest city, town, or village

  • Ôtsu-shi (Ôtsu City), Sakamoto-chô, Honmachi.
  • Sakamoto - http://www.fallingrain.com/world/JA/35/Sakamoto.html
  • Sakamoto was an old post town on the Nishi-Ômi-michi (West Ômi Road) that became part of Ôtsu City in 1961. – Nihon chimei jiten (1998: 521)

7. The settlement's alternative/historical names

8. The settlement's coordinates

9. Monastery's major Buddhist tradition

  • Mahayana

10. Monastery's Buddhist sub-tradition

  • Tendai sect (Chinese: T'ien-t'ai)

11. Date-early

  • Pledged in 788 -Adolphson (2000: 26)
  • MBM chrono-tag 0767-99c - tmciolek 08 Feb 2013
  • 0767-99c 0800-32c 0833-66c 0867-99c 0900-32c 0933-66c 0967-99c 1000-32c 1033-66c 1067-99c 1100-32c 1133-66c 1167-99c 1200=> dated-el

12. Date-intermediate

  • 10th century -Adolphson (2000: 43)

13. Date-late

  • Most buildings were restored or rebuilt in the Muromachi period (1333-1573) and the Edo period (1600-1868). - Hieizan = Mt. Hiei Enryaku-ji (1999: 6, 16)
  • MBM chrono-tag 1200=> - tmciolek 08 Feb 2013

14. Details of contacts with other monasteries

15. Type of evidence regarding the monastery

  • Documents

16. Additional notes

  • By the late 10th century, the number of resident monks at Enryakuji increased from a couple of hundred to 2,700. The monastery was often referred to as "the three thousand monks." –Adolphson (2000: 44)

17. Corrections & addenda to this page were kindly provided by

  • [missing data]

end of page

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License