Koto Sanzan (湖東三山) is Shiga Prefecture’s famous trio of autumn foliage spots. The fall leaves are spectacular, contrasting with distinctive National Treasure Tendai Buddhist temple buildings and Japanese gardens.
Koto Sanzan is a trio of major Tendai Buddhist temples in three different municipalities in eastern Shiga’s low mountains. They are famous for National Treasure buildings and autumn leaves.
In 2022, the Koto Sanzan autumn foliage peak period will be November 19th–23rd, 2022. Since the three temples are far from the train station and located apart from each other, convenient shuttle buses run from Hikone Station to the three temples during this period. See the bus schedule below.
The shuttle bus day pass is ¥1,800 (Momiji kippu もみじきっぷ) for adults and ¥900 for kids sold at Hikone Station’s west exit bus stop. The bus pass also gives you a ¥50 discount for each temple admission fee. Temple hopping is easy with this bus pass.
Each temple has unique characteristics, so each one is worth visiting. They all have stunning red maples, yellow gingko leaves, and greenery.
Saimyoji’s path to the main temple and pagoda is lined with spectacular autumn colors. It’s deservedly one of Japan’s 100 Grand Autumn Foliage Sites. Both the main temple and pagoda are National Treasures that you can enter. The temple was established in 834 in Kora Town.
Kongorinji is landscaped with many colorfully dressed Jizo statues. The main temple is a National Treasure housing an 11-faced Kannon statue and 13 other statues that are Important Cultural Properties. The three-story pagoda built in 1246 is a National Important Cultural Property and surrounded by autumn colors. The pride of Aisho Town.
Hyakusaiji in Higashi-Omi 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. The temple is noted for a large, hillside Japanese garden. The main temple is a National Important Cultural Property.
Koto Sanzan rules
- Tripods and monopods for photography are not allowed.
- Pets must be hand-carried or carted/caged on temple grounds. Pets are not allowed inside temple buildings.
- No smoking at temples.
- Due to many stone steps and mountainous terrain, the three temples (and Eigenji) are not really wheelchair accessible except at the parking lot area where there may be some foliage.
Koto Sanzan Shuttle Bus
During this year’s autumn foliage season from November 19th–23rd, 2022, 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 ¥200 to ¥1,000), the day pass called Momiji kippu (Maple ticket) for ¥1,800 (¥900 for kids) is cheaper if you want to visit all three temples. 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.
The Momiji kippu day pass is sold at Hikone Station’s bus stop at the West exit (Nishi-guchi 西口) 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. No smoking on the bus and at the temples.
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 Kokoku Bus Hikone Office at 0749-25-2501 (in Japanese only, 9 am–6 pm). Tell them which bus (departure day and time) you want to get on. Bus reservations can only be made for buses leaving Hikone Station and if you plan to buy the Momiji kippu day pass.
You can still get on the shuttle bus from Hikone Station without reservations if seats are still available.
Koto Sanzan Shuttle Bus Schedule: Hikone Station → Hyakusaiji (Nov. 19th–23rd, 2022)
|Taga Town Hall
|Seseragi no Sato
|Arrive Hyakusaiji Temple
Koto Sanzan Return Shuttle Bus Schedule: Hyakusaiji → Hikone Station (Nov. 19th–23rd, 2022)
|Depart Hyakusaiji Temple
|Seseragi no Sato
|Taga Town Hall
Koto Sanzan shuttle bus info in Japanese:
Other transportation options
If you are unable to visit during the shuttle bus operation period, you can take a taxi cab from a train station. For Saimyoji, take a taxi from JR Kawase Station. For Kongorinji, take a taxi from JR Inae Station. And for Hyakusaiji or Eigenji, take a taxi from Ohmi Railways Yokaichi Station. To reserve a taxi, call Ohmi Taxi in Hikone at 0749-22-1111. (Kawase and Inae Stations might not have a taxi on standby.)
There are also guided tour buses (teiki kanko bus) departing Kyoto, Nagahama, Maibara, and Hikone Stations that are much more expensive (around ¥9,000 or from Kyoto, ¥10,000) and follow a set tour schedule. It runs from mid-November to early December. The price includes an elaborate lunch in Shiga. No English guides.
To make reservations in Shiga, call Kokoku Bus in Nagahama at 0749-62-3201 (9 am–5 pm). If you’re in Kyoto, call Keihan Bus Sightseeing Reservations at 075-672-2100. Info in Japanese here.
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.