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Fri. Mar. 22. 2019Field trip to Mt. Hiei 


March 1, 2019:Field trip to Mt. Hiei

Reported by Jared Hwang (KCJS30 Spring, Tufts University).

On Friday, Professor Lyons and the Buddhism and Shinto in Japanese History class cohort made the trip to and up Mt. Hiei. This spiritual mountain is the home of Enryaku-ji (延暦寺), a famous temple built and founded in the Heian period by Saichō, a prominent figure in Japanese Buddhism who founded the Tendai sect of Mahayana Buddhism.

Our extra-long-field-trip-special started off with disappointment, as the usual Sakamoto Cable car up to the mountain was out of service. Instead, we enjoyed a leisurely winding 40-minute taxi ride upwards, leaving a few of us dazed and nauseous. It was also several degrees cooler on the top of the mountain, making us dazed, nauseous, and cold. However, once we started exploring the Enryaku-ji complex, these feelings were quickly forgotten.

Enryaku-ji is the largest location we’ve been to so far in this class. We spent the afternoon wandering the grounds, exploring the numerous buildings Enryaku-ji had to offer. The first was the main hall, and the instant one entered the building, a weight could be felt. Something about the dim lighting and glare of the Buddhas in the chamber imbued the hall with a sense of something profound, religious or not.

Exploring the myriad of other buildings in the temple complex was also fascinating: given that there were so many, one could really feel how significant this temple must have been at the time. Plus, they were all built on top of a mountain! How did they get up there without taxis???

Enryaku-ji was a profound experience: to witness such a religiously significant site, having read about it and the people involved in the temple really gave a sense of appreciation for how central Kyoto was for a long period in Japanese history—which is easy to forget in the days of Shinkansen and conveyor belt sushi. I’m excited to learn more about Buddhism in Japan as we delve deeper with Professor Lyons, and I’m grateful to be in Kyoto to witness such a significant site as Enryaku-ji!

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