Temples & Shrines: Kiyomizu Dera
Kiyomizu Temple 清水寺
The hugely popular Kiyomizu Temple (Kiyomizu-dera, in Japanese) is a must for most visitors to Kyoto.
The main hall of Kiyomizu is built out on a veranda onto pillars, a structure constructed without nails. The effect is that of a deck reaching out from the foot of the mountain - Otowa Hill.
Kiyomizu-dera is composed of several Buddhist temples and is a must see on a visit to Kyoto. Kiyomizu temple was founded in 798 C.E., and it is named for a waterfall on the grounds ("Kiyoi mizu" means pure water), which is pictured at right above.
As you climb the stairs to the entrance on your left is the Uma-todome - a set of wooden horse stalls from the Edo Period that was used by visiting samurai. Kiyomizu Temple is entered through the Nio-mon Gate, a two-story structure guarded by two Deva statues or Nio and two koma-inu (Lion dogs). The next gate is the Sai-mon with a cypress-bark roof held up by eight pillars. The gate is decorated with carved elephant heads.
The original Kiyomizu Temple dates from the eighth century C.E, when the Shishinden Hall of the Imperial Palace at Nagaoka was moved here. The present buildings were re-erected in 1633 on the orders of the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu. A two-storey gate to the west serves as the main entrance, with statues of Kongo-Rikishi standing in niches on both sides.
The main image of the Shishinden is an 11-headed statue of Kannon - the Buddhist goddess of mercy, believed to have been carved by the priest Enchin in the 7th century. The image called a Juichimen-Senju-Sengen-Kannon, is only displayed every 33 years.
Close by is a belfry (Shoro) with the bell cast in 1478 and a fine three-storey pagoda, Sanju-no-to, dating from 1633, while to the east are the Scripture Hall and the Founder's Hall. Asakurado or Asakura Hall was built by Sadakage Asakura (1473-1512), a Buddhist devout and son of the emperor Temmu.
The most well-known aspect of Kiyomzu dera is the huge veranda of the main hall. It juts out on wooden pillars and is an impressive site. "To jump from the balcony of Kiyomizu" is an old Japanese saying meaning to do something daring and courageous.
After taking in the views of Kyoto city from the veranda - below left - most tourists wander down to the Otowa waterfall below. The water is said to have healing properties and here worshippers offer prayers to Fudo-Myo-o, who is believed to punish evil-doers. Long-handled cups are provided to drink the water.
To the right of Otowa Falls are three small halls: Shaka-do, Amida-do and Okuno-in. The Shakado was rebuilt after it collapsed in a mudslide in 1972. The Amida-do has an image of the Amida Nyorai, the Buddha of the Western Paradise and it is said that the priest Honen in 1188 proclaimed his doctrine of nenbutsu or praise to the Amida Buddha, thus beginning the Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhism. The Okuno-in is a thatched structure said to be the spot where Enchin encountered the legendary hermit Gyo-ei, an event which lead to the founding of the temple.
In addition to the veranda and for health reasons, Kiyomizu dera temple brings in visitors hoping for luck in love. The sub-temple Jishu-jinja (Jishu Shrine) has two love stones (Mekura-ishi; Blind Stones) placed roughly 20 meters apart. If you can manage to walk between with the stones, eyes closed, you will find love--or so the faithful believe. (Cheating however is allowed: pilgrims are often seen being led by their significant other.) Love charms can be bought at Jishu-jinja to help you in your search for true love as well as charms for safe driving, easy childbirth and longevity.
As well as being a World Heritage Site, Kiyomizu was recently submitted as a candidate as a New Seven Wonders of the World.
In early November the garden of the residence (Joju-in) of the abbot of the temple is opened to the public and contains a water basin stone given to Kiyomizu by Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
After visiting the temple, wander around Sannenzaka, a small shopping street lined with traditional, wooden shops selling kiyomizu-yaki, a type of pottery linked to the area and yatsuhashi - a kind of Japanese confectionary made from rice flour that can be eaten raw or baked. You can follow this road as it winds its way down past Nene no Michi, Kodaiji to Gion - the traditional pleasure and geisha quarter of the city. On the way is Yasaka Gojonoto, a five-story pagoda. Just near the entance to Kiyomizudera are a number of souvenir shops enticing visitors in with free tea. They sell a variety of Kyoto arts and crafts as well as dried foods and tea.
Admission fees (300 yen) to the sub-temples; Daily 6am-6pm.
Approach to Kiyomizudera, Guillaume Marcotte, All Rights Reserved
From Kyoto Station it takes about 20 minutes by bus. Take bus number #100 or #206 and get off at Kiyomizu-michi or Gojo-zaka. From there it is a 15-minute walk up a hill. From Keihan Gojo Station, a 20-minute walk. From Shijo-Kawaramachi, take the #207, #80, or #85 bus.
By bicycle from Kiyomizudera to Chionin if visiting Kiyomizu on two wheels.
Hotels Near Kiyomizudera Temple
If you wish to stay in this area of Kyoto near Kiyomizudera Temple, there are a number of options. Nearest is the small 14-room Amenity Hotel at the foot of the slope leading up to the temple, the 20-room Gion Maifukukan, and the Japanese style Hotel Shuhokaku with futons and tatami floors and a communal Japanese bath.
Kiyomizudera temple gate.