Note: For the 2022 autumn season, see https://shiga-ken.com/blog/2022/10/koto-sanzan-temple-trio-autumn-foliage-2022/
In 2021, the Koto Sanzan autumn foliage peak season will be November 20th–23rd, 2021. Convenient shuttle buses will run between Hikone Station and the three Koto Sanzan temples. The shuttle bus day pass is ¥1,800 (Momiji kippu) for adults and ¥900 for kids sold at Hikone Station’s west exit bus stop.
Koto Sanzan (湖東三山) is a trio of large Tendai Buddhist temples in eastern Shiga famous for National Treasure buildings and autumn leaves. They are Saimyoji (西明寺) in Kora, Kongorinji (金剛輪寺) in Aisho, and Hyakusaiji (百済寺) in Higashi-Omi (see map below).
The three temples are some distance apart and far from train stations. So if you don’t have a car, the shuttle buses are very convenient to see all three temples.
Each temple has unique characteristics, so each one is worth visiting. Saimyoji’s main temple and pagoda are both National Treasures that you can enter. It’s also deservedly one of Japan’s 100 Grand Autumn Foliage Sites.
Kongorinji has many colorfully dressed Jizo statues and a National Treasure main temple housing an 11-faced Kannon statue and 13 other statues that are Important Cultural Properties.
Hyakusaiji is famous for giant straw sandals on a gate and a Japanese garden. Established by Shotoku Taishi in 609, It’s Shiga Prefecture’s oldest temple and one of Japan’s oldest. After entering the gate adorned with giant straw sandals, see the Hondo temple hall with an 11-faced Kannon statue carved by Shotoku Taishi, a prince credited with spreading Buddhism in Japan.
During this year’s autumn foliage season from November 20th–23rd, 2021, convenient shuttle buses (Koyo Shuttle Bus 紅葉シャトルバス) will run every day between Hikone Station and the three Koto Sanzan temples. At Hikone Station, the first shuttle bus leaves at 8:45 a.m. and goes to Saimyoji, Kongorinji, and Hyakusaiji. From Hyakusaiji, the shuttle bus goes back to Hikone Station while stopping at the other temples along the way. (See the shuttle bus schedule below.) It will take most of the day to see all three temples so start as early as you can in the morning.
Although you can pay the shuttle bus fare per ride (costing ¥300 to ¥600), I recommend buying the day pass called Momiji kippu (Maple ticket) for ¥1,800 (¥900 for kids). This day pass is good for riding the shuttle bus between Hikone Station and the three temples. Get on and off as much as you like for one day. So you start and end at Hikone Station.
Each temple charges admission. With the Momiji kippu bus pass, you get a ¥50 discount for admission to each temple. If you are coming in a group of several people or more and will board the shuttle bus from Hikone Station, you should make shuttle bus reservations by calling Omi Travel Tour Center at 0749-24-8103 (in Japanese only, weekdays 10 am–6 pm). Tell them which bus (departure time time) you want to get on.
[tKoto Sanzan Foliage Shuttle Bus Schedule (Nov. 20th–23rd, 2021), Hikone Station to Hyakusaiji (read down).
|Bus Stop||Bus 1||Bus 2||Bus 3||Bus 4|
|Hikone Station||8:45 am||9:35 am||10:35 am||11:35 am|
|Taga Town Hall||9:05 am||9:55 am||10:55 am||11:55 pm|
|Seseragi no Sato||9:12 am||10:02 am||11:02 am||12:02 pm|
|Saimyoji||9:17 am||10:07 am||11:07 am||12:07 pm|
|Kongorinji||10:22 am||11:22 am||12:22 pm|
|Kongoen-guchi||11:27 am||12:27 pm|
|Crefeel Koto||11:30 am||12:30 pm|
|Yomiaido||11:34 am||12:34 pm|
|Arrive Hyakusaiji||11:45 am||12:45 pm|
[tKoto Sanzan Foliage Shuttle Bus Schedule (Nov. 20th–23rd, 2021), return trip from Hyakusaiji to Hikone Station (Read down)
|Bus Stop||Bus 1||Bus 2||Bus 3||Bus 4|
|Depart Hyakusaiji||12:45 pm||1:50 pm||3:15 pm||4:15 pm|
|Yomiaido||12:51 pm||1:56 pm||3:21 pm||4:21 pm|
|Crefeel Koto||12:55 pm||2:00 pm||3:25 pm||4:25 pm|
|Kongoen-guchi||12:58 pm||203 pm||3:28 pm||4:28 pm|
|Kongorinji||1:08 pm||2:13 pm||3:38 pm||4:38 pm|
|Saimyoji||1:18 pm||2:23 pm||3:48 pm||4:48 pm|
|Seseragi no Sato||1:23 pm||2:28 pm||3:53 pm||4:53 pm|
|Taga Town Hall||1:30 pm||2:35 pm||4:00 pm||5:00 pm|
|Arrive Hikone Station||13:55 pm||3:00 pm||4:25 pm||5:25 pm|
The Momiji kippu day pass is sold at Hikone Station’s bus stop at the west exit from 8:15 a.m. Be sure to wear a mask on the bus and while touring the temples. Refrain from loud talking and eating on the bus. Absolutely no smoking on the bus and at the temples.
There are also guided tour buses (teiki kanko bus) departing Nagahama, Kyoto, Maibara, and Hikone Stations that are much more expensive (around ¥9,000) and follow a set tour schedule. No English guides. Call Omi Travel Tour Center at 0749-24-8103. If you’re in Kyoto, call Keihan Bus Sightseeing Reservations at 075-672-2100.
If you have time on another day, also see Eigenji Temple (永源寺) in Higashi-Omi. It also famous for pretty autumn foliage. However, being a Zen Buddhist temple instead of Tendai, it’s not part of the Koto Sanzan Trio and the shuttle buses do not run to/from Eigenji. To get to Eigenji, take a bus from Yokaichi Station.
Koto Sanzan shuttle bus info in Japanese:
Official temple sites: Saimyoji | Kongorinji | Hyakusaiji | Eigenji