A Special Cultural and Culinary Experience Near Kyoto: Dining Out Hieizan
Dining Out Hieizan at Enryakuji Temple on Mt. Hiei is a special two-day tour of history, culture, and fine dining near Kyoto. This tour is an ideal opportunity for those looking to learn more about Japanese culture and religion while experiencing nature, history, and traditional food.
Immerse Your Senses at Dining Out Hieizan
In December 2023, Enryakuji, a prominent Buddhist temple on beautiful Mt. Hiei (Hieizan), will host the special immersive culinary and cultural experience, Dining Out Hieizan.
This exclusive two-day experience includes a tour and overnight stay at Enryakuji Temple. The tour is a fantastic way to experience and learn about this world-famous UNESCO World Heritage site with a 1,200-year history that has shaped Buddhism and Japanese society.
Another highlight is a one-of-a-kind dining experience featuring shojin ryori, traditional Buddhist vegetarian food served at temples, prepared by a 2-star Michelin Japanese chef.
The tour will be led by Ryojo Isomura, the head of Hieizan Kondai-in Temple, a friendly and knowledgable host with a passion for sharing the magic of Mt. Hiei and Enryakuji with guests. English interpretation is also available during the tour.
Day 1: Learn About Enryakuji and Savor a Special Dining Experience
The tour commences with provided taxi transportation from Kyoto City to the Mt. Hiei area to begin exploring Enryakuji Temple and its surroundings. Mt. Hiei is just northeast of Kyoto City and it takes less than an hour to get to the area.
Enyrakuji was founded in 788 by the Buddhist monk Saicho (767 - 822) and is the head temple of the Tendai sect of Buddhism. The temple was historically used as an educational center for monks and also became well-known for its secular teachings, especially in science, literature, and architecture. Many monks who came to study at Enryakuji started different sects of Buddhism, including Pure Land Buddhism (Jodo Shinshu) and Soto Zen. To this day the temple still carries out Buddhist training for monks and role in educating the public.
Enyrakuji is located on scenic Mt. Hiei, which overlooks Kyoto to the west and Lake Biwa to the east. The temple’s lush mountainous grounds cover around 1,700 hectares (6.5 square miles), so when visiting there are many opportunities to take in the picturesque views and appreciate nature and wildlife.
Explore the Highlights of Enryakuji
Participants on the tour will be able to experience and learn firsthand about Enryakuji’s history, including major highlights like the eastern part of the grounds: the eastern Todo area, where Konpon Chudo Hall is located, the first temple hall built at Enyrakuji. Konpon Chudo Hall is a designated National Treasure and is home to the temple's famous Futsumetsu no Hoto, an inextinguishable light that has been said to have been kept burning throughout the temple's history.
The tour also covers parts of the temple that are not normally open to the public, allowing those to further connect to Enryakuji, such as Jodoin Hall, where Enryakuji’s founder, Saicho, is buried. Throughout the guided tour, participants will not only absorb the history of the temple but also gain insights into the pivotal role Enryakuji has played in shaping and influencing Buddhism, and get a taste of how the generations of monks who trained here experienced life.
Relish a Traditional Buddhist Dinner with a Fine Dining Twist
After exploring the temple, guests can enjoy a one-of-a-kind evening with a marvelous dinner and drinks at Daishoin Hall. Daishoin Hall was designed by the architect Goichi Takeda and built in Akasaka, Tokyo; it was relocated in 1928 to commemorate the 1,150th anniversary of Enryakuji’s founding. Constructed originally during Japan’s Taisho period (1912 - 1926), the building's stately exterior echoes the elegance of its era.
The interior of the hall displays a mixture of Japanese style with Western influences—beautiful sliding doors and pristine tatami mat floors alongside Western light fixtures and windowpanes made of hand-blown glass. Normally the stately building is open only for special occasions and is not open to the public––this event provides a rare chance to experience food and entertainment inside of a historic architectural masterpiece.
The menu for the night features shojin ryori, Buddhist vegetarian cuisine that is typically eaten at temples in Japan. Chef Kanji Kobayashi, a two-star Michelin chef renowned for his vegetable-centric dishes, is in charge of the meal.
The shojin ryori served at this event respects the classic elements of the cuisine, staying true to traditional color and balance of flavors, while innovating each dish and perfecting every detail to make it fit for a modern fine dining experience. Each dish is a creative symphony of color and flavors that will surprise and delight dinner guests. The elegant and beautiful Daishoin Hall elevates the dining experience even more so.
Please note that visitors with specific dietary concerns and allergies should inquire before joining the tour to ensure they can be accommodated.
After dinner, participants can continue to socialize casually and reflect on the first day of the tour together while winding down for the evening. Guests can continue their experience at the temple grounds by staying the night at Enryakuji Hall, or choose to return to their hotel and re-join the experience the following day.
Day 2: Journey Deeper into Enryakuji and the World of Japanese Buddhism
Photo by Pixta
The second day reveals an even more intimate view of Enryakuji. After breakfast, the day begins with a morning prayer at Konpon Chudo Hall. The prayer session includes sutra recitation, prayers, and a sermon by the head priest. It is important to note that Konpon Chudo is currently undergoing restoration, which includes repainting the hall. Later in the day, participants will also partake in a traditional painting workshop, during which they can learn firsthand what it’s like to do restoration work at a temple. Both these activities provide guests with one-of-a-kind experiences that will heighten understanding of Enryakuji and Buddhism in Japan.
The rest of the day includes lunch and visiting other highlights in the Mt. Hiei area. At the end of the tour, guests will be comfortably transported back to Kyoto City by a taxi service. After arriving in Kyoto and the tour ends, participants are free to continue their travels in Japan or head home.
How to Participate in Dining Out Hieizan
Those interested in going on the Dining Out Hieizan two-day tour should make their reservations by emailing their name and the dates they want to attend (December 8 to 9, 2023, or December 9 to 10, 2023) to the tour operator's email address below.
After getting in contact with the tour operator, participants will receive information about payment, and more details about the tour, including lodging and transportation. Participants should be aware that the tour involves walking around the temple grounds, which include mountain paths and stairs.
An Unforgettable Visit to Hieizan
Dining Out Hieizan offers an unparalleled opportunity to travelers, converging history, culture, and exquisite dining. This immersive tour is a rare opportunity to enjoy not just a meal, but also a journey deep into Japanese culture and religion that will exceed all expectations. The tour will leave a lasting mark and invite participants to carry the richness of their experiences long after they depart from the enchanting landscapes of Hieizan.
Written by Jasmine Ortlieb
Sponsored by ONESTORY. Pictures courtesy of ONESTORY unless noted otherwise
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