Japan: Lake Biwa, the Mangetsuji Temple and its Floating Pavilion Ukimido
Updated: Feb 7
Mangetsuji Temple is a Buddhist temple located on Lake Biwa, precisely on the Katata Peninsula in Shiga Prefecture, Japan. This temple of Tendai Buddhism is famous for its Ukimido Pavilion, known as the "Floating Pavilion," a picturesque and emblematic site of the region. It is a favored spot for photographers.
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Ukimido is certainly one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, of the temple pavilions set on water. Its relationship to the distant landscape, the visual openness, or its connection to the shore make it a particularly well-balanced subject. And fortunately, because it can only be photographed from a small beach, located not far from Mangetsuji Temple. However, this is not widely known...
The history of Mangetsuji Temple dates back to the Heian period (794-1185), although the precise details of its foundation are somewhat unclear. According to tradition, the temple was founded by the Buddhist monk Gyoki in the 8th century.
Over the centuries, the temple has become an important site for the practice and dissemination of Buddhism in the region. It has played a role in local religious beliefs and practices, attracting pilgrims and visitors.
Mangetsuji Temple belongs to the Tendai Buddhist sect. Tendai Buddhism, introduced to Japan in the early 9th century by the monk Saichō (later known as Dengyō Daishi), is a major Buddhist school in Japan and one of the oldest alongside Shingon Buddhism. See articles on Shingon Buddhism.
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This spiritual and religious movement finds its roots in the teachings of Tiantai in China. Saichō adapted it to the Japanese context, creating a unique version of this Buddhist practice.
Tendai is known for its syncretic approach, incorporating various elements of Buddhist teachings. It emphasizes the Lotus Sūtra as the central text and promotes the idea that all beings possess the nature of Buddha.
Tendai has significantly influenced many other Buddhist streams in Japan, including Nichiren, Zen, and Jōdoshu.
Therefore, Mangetsuji Temple reflects the teachings and practices of Tendai Buddhism. It illustrates how this school has influenced not only religious practice but also Japanese culture and art. The Ukimido pavilion itself, a place of calm and meditation, is an example of religious architecture influenced by Tendai principles, promoting contemplation and spiritual pursuit. See articles on Buddhism in Japan.
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Features of the Ukimido Pavilion
The most notable feature of Mangetsuji Temple is its Ukimido Pavilion. Built on stilts over the lake, the pavilion creates the illusion of floating on water, especially when the lake is calm.
Ukimido's architecture is typical of Japanese Buddhist pavilions, with a curved roof and wooden elements. It is particularly beautiful in the morning or evening light, creating a meditative and minimalist landscape highly sought after by photographers.
The pavilion has undergone several restorations over time, the most recent being in the 20th century. These restorations have been necessary to maintain the structure against the elements and erosion caused by the lake.
The temple and Ukimido Pavilion are popular sites for various local festivals and religious events throughout the year, drawing visitors for special occasions and celebrations.
As for photographers fond of minimalist lakeside landscapes, they will delight in this small Ukimido pavilion, regardless of the season. The clear background allows the tranquility of the scene to be fully captured. The temple of course has opening hours, but the Ukimido Pavilion can be observed and photographed at any time from the small beach located about 200 meters to the left. See all articles on Lake Biwa.
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Getting to Mangetsuji Temple
To get to Mangetsuji Temple, visitors have several options, depending on their starting point. Here is some information:
1. From Kyoto:
Train: Take a train from Kyoto Station on the JR Kosei Line to Katata Station. The journey takes about 30 minutes. From Katata Station, Mangetsuji Temple is a short walk or taxi ride away.
Car: If traveling by car, the journey from Kyoto takes about 1 hour, depending on traffic. There are usually parking spaces available near the temple.
2. From Osaka:
Train: From Osaka, take a train on the JR Kyoto Line and transfer at Kyoto Station to the JR Kosei Line to Katata Station. The total journey can take between 1 hour and 1 hour and a half.
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3. From Otsu:
To get to Mangetsuji Temple from Otsu, which is the capital of Shiga Prefecture and located south of Lake Biwa, here are the transportation options:
Train: JR Kosei Line: Take a train on the JR Kosei Line from Otsu Station to Katata Station. The journey lasts about 20 to 30 minutes. Once at Katata Station, Mangetsuji Temple is accessible on foot in about 15 to 20 minutes, or by taxi for a shorter ride.
Car: Driving from Otsu to Katata is another option. The car journey takes about 30 minutes, depending on traffic.
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4. Visiting the Temple:
Check the opening hours of Mangetsuji Temple before planning your visit, as they may vary depending on the season or special events.
Upon arriving at Katata Station, you can enjoy a pleasant walk to the temple, allowing you to appreciate the local landscapes and the peaceful atmosphere of the Lake Biwa region.
Mangetsuji Temple and its Ukimido Pavilion offer a fascinating glimpse into Japan's religious history and traditional architecture. They stand out not only for their beauty and unique location but also for their role in the cultural and spiritual fabric of the Lake Biwa region.
For enthusiasts of history, architecture, and Japanese culture, this temple represents a site of great value and a symbol of the harmonious relationship between humans, nature, and spirituality.
As a photographer, it's a must-visit site that you should add to your long list of locations when you visit the shores of Biwa. A preliminary visit to Mangetsuji Temple allows for a more immersive approach to the spirituality that envelops the place.