With Kyoto so close – less than fifteen minutes’ travel on the JR Biwako Line – it might come as a surprise that anyone would travel a long distance to visit a shrine in Otsu. Yet Ishiyama-dera held a strange allure for me from the first time I saw it. Nestled in the hills about half an hour’s walk from JR Ishiyama (or switch to the Keihan Line and take it right to the shrine’s own tiny station), it boasts a fair amount of traffic, but is almost never crowded. Steep steps lead up to the pagodas and most of the other sights; enough to make even lovers of heights take their time making it back down. The Main Hall is the oldest building in Shiga Prefecture. My favourite feature, however, is the Genji Room – it is said that Murasaki Shikibu, author of The Tale of Genji, began writing her famous work here; said to be the first novel ever written. A life-sized Murasaki figure sits in the room. While her work didn’t resonate as strongly with me as it has with other fans of Japanese literature, it was still an experience to visit the Genji room and imagine that I was in the very place where the novel was conceived. From that moment, Ishiyama-dera became my go-to place whenever I was seeking inspiration, quiet, or even just a way to pass the afternoon.

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