The Kiyomizu-dera Temple located on a mountain by a waterfall is one of Kyoto’s many historic religious sites attracting Buddhist pilgrims since the eighth Century. Current structures include the Main Hall and a large terrace overlooking the city.
Kyoto is a city with many temples and cultural monuments of great historical value. In 1994, UNESCO registered 17 city properties in the List of World Cultural Heritage Sites. The locations are collectively known as “The Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto”. Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple established in 778, before Kyoto became the Imperial capital of Japan, is one of these renowned cultural sites.
Since its founding in 778, the temple structures, built primarily of wood, have been destroyed several times by earthquakes or fires. Most of the current buildings date from 1633, belonging to the early Edo period of Japanese history (1603 -1868). The complex consists of 15 colorful structures of beautiful architecture, including large gates, several halls, a three-story pagoda and numerous terraces, sculptures and gardens. It is one of the Kyoto temples most frequented by local Buddhist devotees and is also one of the main tourist attractions of the city.
Kiyomizu-dera is located next to a waterfall on the slopes of Otowa Mountain, a hill in the eastern side of the city, at a height that makes it somewhat difficult to reach, but also provides an excellent view of Kyoto.
Precisely because of its location next to spring waters on the green hillside of Otowa-san, Kiyomizu-dera is known as "the temple of clear water". Three branches of the spring water surface at the base of the Main Temple. The water is very clean and for long time Buddhists have considered it as a cure for all illnesses. Because of the abundance of water, the grounds surrounding the temple are verdant and particularly attractive during the cherry blossom period in the spring, and at the time of the red foliage of the Japanese maples in the fall.
On Sundays, many Kyoto residents wear traditional attire when visiting the Buddhist temples of the city.
The Main Hall of Kiyomizu-dera is devoted to the Kannon Bodhisattva, the Buddhist goddess of mercy and compassion. The eleven-faced, thousand-armed image of Kannon is famous for her power of listening to prayers and granting wishes. Nevertheless, the image remains hidden and it is only shown to the public once every 33 years. The large building is flanked by a vast terrace, known as the Kiyomizu Stage, offering beautiful views of the city. The stage is supported by 139 wooden pillars and extends over a 14-meter-deep ravine.
There are several superstitions connected to the historic religious site. One of them refers to the two stones, placed 18 meters apart in front of Jishu Shrine, which is dedicated to the deity of love and match-making. Those able to walk from one stone to the other with their eyes closed can expect much luck in finding love.
Many drink the water from the spring which divides into three separate streams at the base of the Main Hall. It’s expected that the water from each stream may provide different benefits, such as longevity, wisdom or a happy love life. Drinking from all three streams, however, is seen as greedy.
During the Edo period, people used to jump from the Kiyomizu Stage towards the precipice. Those who survived could expect their dearest wish to be granted. According to the records of the time, at least 234 people jumped, of which about 85% survived. Currently, jumping from the terrace of the temple is illegal.
View of the Main Hall and the Kiyomizu Stage. The wooden structure was assembled without the use of metal nails. The Kiyozumi stage stands 14-meters over the ravine and is supported by 139 inter-locked wooden pillars.
Access to the Temple
Kiyomizu-dera is located about 15 minutes by bus (N° 100 or 206) from Kyoto Station. Get off at Kiyomizu-michi or Gojo-zaka bus stops. From there it’s a 15 minute uphill walk through a quaint narrow street in the Higashiyama District, lined with souvenir shops, restaurants and Japanese-style inns (ryokan). Before reaching the main gate of the temple there are many small shops selling knick-knacks, talismans, incense, and fortune-telling paper strips (omikuji). The Temple is open every day 6:00-18:00 hrs. Admission: ¥ 300 (USD 3.2).
Related article on a Buddhist Temple in Kyoto:
‘Sanjusangen-do’ — A splendid collection of Japanese Buddhist art