The Kiyomizu-dera Temple In Kyoto Has The Wow Factor

It can be difficult to stand out in the beautiful city of Kyoto.   With 2,000 religious sites in the city, temples are literally everywhere and you won’t have time to see them all.  One of the most famous in all of Japan is Kiyomizu-dera and rightly so.  It combines myths, a long storied history and sits on a stunning location that wows visitors.  It comes as no surprise it was one of 21 finalists for the new seven wonders of the world. 

Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera Temple dates back to 778.  Most of the buildings standing today were built in 1633.  Kiyomizu-dera Temple translates to pure water temple after the waterfall that runs through the complex.  The temple is dedicated to Kannon the Goddess of Mercy.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple sits on the side of Mt. Otawa in the Higashiyama district of eastern Kyoto.  The approach to the temple is a pilgrimage in itself.  Winding up steep narrow lanes visitors pass preserved traditional Japanese streets. The shops are full of Japanese treats offering free samples and touristy trinkets, but the commercialism hardly detracts from the experience. 

Nio-mon Gate

Your reward for reaching the temple is a two story Nio-mon Gate that looks much taller as you are looking up at it from a lower elevation.  The large complex features several more gates and halls to worship from. 

The Honda or main hall is the defining feature of the temple.  The hall houses a statue of the eleven headed Kannon.  The all wooden structure is an engineering marvel.  A large stage protrudes out over the mountain providing great views of the surrounding area below.  The 600 foot stage is supported by wooden pillars over 30 feet tall.  Thanks to a traditional Japanese building technique there are no nails in the entire main hall. 

Pillars supporting the stage

An ancient practice of jumping off the wooden stage has now been banned.  It was said that if one survived the 30 foot fall, that their wish would be granted.  A Japanese expression “jump off the stage at Kiyomizu” remains. 

Wish granting remains below the main hall.  The Ottawa waterfall still runs and visitors are welcome to take a drink of the water as is trickles out of one of three channels.  Drinking the water is said to make your wish come true, and because of this you will likely encounter a line to partake. 

Standing next to the main hall is Jishu Shrine.  It is dedicated deity of love and matchmaking.  In front of the shrine are two stones approximately 60 feet apart.  The legend says that if you are able to walk from one stone to the other with your eyes closed, you will be lucky in love.  If you are given a helping hand to navigate the two stones, you will need a assistance from another in finding love. 

The myths do not end there.  Off in the distance from the main hall is the Koyasu Pagoda.  A visit here is said to bring an easy and safe childbirth.  Another hall of note is the Okuno-in hall.  Most pictures you see of the main hall are taken from the Okuno-in hall. 

Fall foliage season

The temple is beautiful to visit any time of the year, but like much of Kyoto it takes it to the next level during cherry blossom or Sakura season and the autumn fall foliage season. Crowds intensify during these times, but it is well worth the hassle.  In addition, there are special evening illumination hours, where the halls are lit up, providing gorgeous photograph opportunities. 

Kiyomizu-dera is an absolute must see when in Kyoto.  Like much of the city the temple complex looks like it was designed by nature, not man.  It fits in so seamlessly and only enhances one of the most picturesque urban centers in the world. 


Visiting Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Kiyomizu-dera temple is located in the Higashiyama District in eastern Kyoto.  Most of the year it is open from 6:00AM to 6:00 PM.  During cherry blossom season and Fall foliage season hours are extended to 9:00PM.  If you want to avoid crowds it would be best to go early in the morning or shortly before closing.  The temple grounds and Higashiyama district are packed with tourists during the middle of the day.    

The nearest train station is Kiyomizu-Gojo Station along the Keihan Railway Line.   From there is approximately a 20 minute uphill walk.  You may also take bus number 100 or 206 to Gojo-zaka or Kiyomizu-michi.  It is about a ten minute uphill walk to the temple from the bus stop. 

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