Mii-dera, located at the foot of Mt. Hiei in Shiga Prefecture near Lake Biwa, is one of Japan’s four largest temples together with Todai-ji, Kofuku-ji, and Enryaku-ji. It is also one of the 33 temples that make up the Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage.
The main appeal of this temple is the fact that it is so big in scale yet its surrounding nature and cultural buildings are well preserved, letting its visitors feel as if they went back in time to traditional Japan. Mii-dera holds various National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties which makes the temple very valuable. The temple also has a rich history which makes visiting it not only relaxing but also exciting with how much you can learn about historical events together with interesting stories about the temple.
Mii-dera is the head temple of the Tendaijimon sect of Buddhism. The original name of the temple is Onjo-ji; however, it is better known as Mii-dera, which in Japanese means the “temple of the three wells.” This is due to the historical event where three important Emperors in Japanese history: Emperor Tenji, Emperor Tenmu, and Emperor Jito, were given their first bath in a well that exists in Mii-dera.
Mii-dera has various gardens built in different periods which visitors can enjoy. Two gardens built during the Edo period, one during the Muromachi period, and another during the Momoyama period exist within the temple complex. Therefore, it is possible to see different garden styles here.
The temple buildings, important sculptures, and paintings are mainly Important Cultural Properties and National Treasures of Japan. They are prestigious remains from different time periods in Japan. Some works are treasures from the Heian period, while others are from the Edo period, and so on. Beautiful works of different styles from different periods of Japan can be seen at Mii-dera.
Mii-dera is especially beautiful in the springtime when over 1,000 cherry blossoms are in bloom, as well as in the fall season when colorful autumn leaves adorn the temple grounds. During the time of their full bloom, the temple holds a special night illumination which makes a visit to the temple beyond its usual visiting hours possible.
Mii-dera also offers a special zen training experience if you make a reservation prior to your visit. However, it is said that a booking of over five people is required to reserve the course.
Several events and festivals are also held at the temple, such as Setsubun on February 3rd and New Year’s ceremony on December 31st. During such events, people gather and spend the day at this temple.
Mii-dera is just a 10-minute walk from Miidera Station on the Keihan Line. It’s open from 8 AM to 5 PM and admission costs 600 yen. The temple is also easily accessible from Kyoto which makes it truly worth a visit during your stay in the nearby city, especially in spring or autumn.