Date: 25th November 2017
Kongourinji (金剛輪寺) is one of the three Kotosanzan temples, the Three Head Temples of the Tendai sect of Buddhism in Aisho, Shiga Prefecture.
The Kotosanzan temples are especially well-known for its autumn leaves which reaches its peak between mid to late November, with seasonal shuttle buses and bus pass during the autumn season (read below for access details). I had planned on going to all the three temples, but having spent a longer time than initially intended at Hikone castle, I chose to put off my visit to the other two temples.
Kongourinji is especially known for its dark-red momiji (maple leaves), also called blood-stained leaves. Now where is that? I see more orange and yellow shades, and the normal red than blood-red here. Maybe I missed it. Nevertheless, it is definitely a good autumn spot!
The temple, which was built in 741 as per Emperor Shomu’s order, became a Tendai Buddhist temple in 850 after Jikaku Daishi of Hiezan’s Enryakuji came to this temple.
In 1246, a 3-storied pagoda was constructed near the main hall. Though the temple suffered some destruction and fires in 1573, the priests were able to save the main hall, the nitenmon and the pagoda. Reconstruction started during the Edo period following a contribution by Tokugawa Ieyasu.
The hondo (main temple) dates back to the Kamakura period. Some of the statues in Kongourinji are the Sho Kannon (Sacred Form of Kannon), Amitabha (Buddha of Infinite Life), Eleven-faced Kannon. There is also a statue of Daikokuten (God of Earth, Agriculture, Rice, Farmers, the Kitchen, & Wealth) from the Heian Period, which is only on display during special events.
On the way to the main hall, you will see the Sentai (thousand) Jizo statues. Note that there are a lot of stairs in this temple, I am not showing it, but there are A LOT.
The gardens were constructed in the Azuchi-Momoyama period to the Edo period.
The temple is open from 8.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and entrance fee is 600 yen. Here is an English pamphlet of the history of the temple for further reading.
From Hikone Station, a shuttle bus operates from 9 a.m. (last bus leaves at 2.45 p.m.) and stops at all the Kotosanzan temples, only 6 buses per day. The journey between the station to Kongourinji takes 45 minutes. The last stop is Hyakusaiji (one of the Kotosanzan temples) and the last bus departs from Hyakusaiji at 4.50 p.m.
A day pass called Momiji kippu is available for purchase for 1,200 yen only between mid to late November (in 2017 this was from 18th to 27th November). Check-out the Omi-Tetsudo site for info as the timing might change. The Shiga prefecture blog wrote that it is only available for purchase between 8.30 a.m. to 11 a.m., so as I left Hikone station at 1 p.m., I did not purchase the pass. I do recommend buying the pass though, as it easily covers your return journey. The normal bus fare is between 300 to 600 yen depending on your stops.
The nearest station is Inae station though instead of Hikone station. There are buses from Inae station, which runs hourly from as early as 7.51 a.m., and the one-way journey takes only 15 minutes. You can use Google Translate on the official Kongourinji site, the bus timetable is right below the access page.
Hikone station is just 50 minutes away from Kyoto on the local line (1,140 yen), if you take the bullet train between Kyoto to Maibara then transfer to the local line for Hikone, it could save you 15 minutes, but would cost 3,580 yen. Inae station is just 3 stops away (10 minutes, 240 yen) from Hikone station.