Shrouded within a forest, the Kiyomizu-dera Temple is balanced on the edge of Mt. Otowa. It is built into the rock wall facing the city of Kyoto overlooking the Higashiyama District to the west. Your journey to Kiyomizu-dera will provide you a glimpse of what you are about to experience along the way. The top most part of the red colored roofs peek through the treetops, inviting all who wander to witness the mystery of this place. This temple offers the promise of Love, Health and Success inside its boundaries.
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294 Kiyomizu 1-chome, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0862, Japan
Hours: 6am – 6pm (6:30 on weekends, holidays, and throughout summer)
No closing days
There are several ways to get to this temple. The first is the most common, and is by way of the Higashiyama District which offers an old world view of Kyoto including restaurants, shops and cafes along Ninen-zaka, or Teapoy Lane. The full length of the shopping district is just over a mile, with narrow streets, steep stairs and wooden buildings that set the tone for the temple.
Alternatively, you can wind your way through the Ontani Mausoleum. This cemetery is dedicated to the monks who walked the Nenbutsu Path of the Primal Vow. You can find monks chanting here and an extraordinary cemetery like you’ve never seen before.
Like most of the shrines in Japan, there is a large entrance plaza that houses several buildings for praying, purifying, and contemplating. This portion of the grounds are not particularly grand, but if you pay a small entrance fee of ¥300 to climb up the mountain you’ll discover a literal well of beauty before you.
In terms of size, Kannon Bosatsu at this temple is not nearly as grand as Rengeoin Sanjusangendo. She also has eleven faces, but 42 arms that extend her abundant compassion, however her specific promises of grandeur eclipse all others. She promises love, health and success to those who offer prayers before her. The hall in which she resides is comprised of a wooden stage built 42.6 feet above the ground, and is said to have been built without a single nail.
The magnificence of this temple is in the elegance of the the mountain. The Otowa waterfall has been made into a shrine where the water has been forked into three streams that pour from the mountain side into a small pond. Translated, Kiyomizu-dera means Pure Water Temple, paying allegiance to these three streams. Much folklore and tradition is associated with this particular place and these three streams mimic the other promises honored at this temple of love, success and health. Some customs suggest drinking from all three to receive full benefits, while others say to only choose one or two to avoid appearing greedy.
The drinking fountain is also the purifying station at Kiyomizu-dera. The metal ladles used for drinking from the fountain are provided at the Temple grounds. While no one actually uses them to drink from, instead pouring the water into the palm of the hand and then sipping, behind the waterfall there is a UV ray light to sanitize each ladle between uses. It’s new world meets old world.
Aside from partaking of the middle stream to confer the blessing of love, one may also visit the Jishu-jinja Shrine within the hall. The Jishu-jinja Shrine reveals the Shinto god of love promising true love to whomever can complete walking the path between the two love stones set nearly 20 feet apart with their eyes closed.
The first stream on the left will award those who partake with success and achievement in studies and career. Apparently this is the least desirable of the three virtues, as this is the only option to receive this one.
The last promise of health is held in the far right stream. In addition, the Koyasu Pagoda can be found at far southern end of the temple grounds amidst the trees. A visit here will confer an easy and safe childbirth. Similarly, there is also the option of visiting Zuigudo Hall, a pitch black basement symbolizing the original Buddhist Mother’s womb. Another option to confer health, is by jumping off the stage into the 42.6 foot drop. If you survive, you will be awarded with longevity and life long health. Until this practice was banned, it worked for 84.5% of the people who tried it.
By the time we reached this shrine we were exhausted, and we debated for far too long whether or not to pay the entrance fee and visit the fountain. Ultimately, we decided to take the trek and we are so glad we did. The walk up the mountain was calming, easy to accomplish, and the reward at the end was well worth the trip. We enjoyed this temple and shrine immensely. It was a memorable experience for each one of us individually and as a family unit. We already regret not walking through the Buddhist’s womb, we would have been devastated had we not drank from the fountain as well.
For Kids: Though Kiyomizu-dera is both a temple and a shrine, it is bustling with activity and requires the least reverence and quiet. There is an abundance of wares sold, food and restaurants, children running, playing and climbing up the mountains and pillars. It is a place surrounded in beauty, but meant to be enjoyed.
► Nap-Time Version: Gorgeous shrine built into the mountain promising the blessings of love, success and health.
Have you been to the Kiyomizu-dera shrine? Did you drink from all three fountains? We did! What about finding your way through the Buddhist Mother’s Womb? We want to hear about it!