Protecting Kyoto’s northeastern flank (traditionally considered the source of evil spirits threatening the capital), the sacred mountain of Hiei-zan (比叡山) is the home of Tendai Buddhism, the headquarters of which are housed in an atmospheric collection of buildings, Enryaku-ji. Also on top of the mountain is the kitsch Garden Museum Hiei, an outdoor museum devoted to re-creating garden scenes from famous paintings by Monet and Renoir. Away from the commercialization, Enryaku-ji is still a pleasant place to meander along ancient paths through cedar forests. Though there are several ways of getting to Enryaku-ji, the easiest route is by bus from Kyoto, wriggling up the mountainside and then following a ridge road north. On a clear day you’ll be rewarded with huge views west over Biwa-ko, Japan’s largest lake and the second-oldest freshwater lake in the world after Lake Baikal in Siberia.

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