Kiyomizudera is one of the most famous temples in Kyoto. Of course, to be one of the most famous temples in Kyoto doesn’t mean as much as it does in Tokyo as there are so many famous temples in Kyoto . This one is of special importance due to its history and the fact that it is included in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list for Kyoto. The temple itself is located on a mountainside with spectacular views of the surrounding area. It is almost always listed on travel guides as a must see temple and I would highly recommend it.
The first step to visiting this temple is to actually reach the temple. The easiest way to get there is to take a bus. From the bus stop, you still have to hike nearly 1km to get to the main entrance of the temple complex. This can be a difficult hike for those who have never exercised in their life, but when visiting Japan, it’s always safe to assume that you will be doing a lot of walking. The main street and bus stop is located at the very bottom of the hill yet the entire hike up is still enjoyable. After one or two blocks, you start to see all of the typical tourist shops that would line a major street towards any tourist attraction. Due to the popularity and history of Kiyiomisudera, many of these shops have been around for decades, if not centuries. You will be able to see various shops selling locally made arts and crafts and dozens of food shops. All of the shops sell regional items and they shouldn’t be missed. If you are looking for a full meal, you may want to skip this area as the costs can be high, but if you are looking for cookies, crackers, or something in that range, you can’t really go wrong buying things here. On almost any day you visit, you will be fighting a steady stream of people heading both up and down the hill. If you go on a weekday, there is a high chance you will see hundreds of school kids making their way up and down, whereas if you are going on the weekend, you will see just about anyone. This can be a challenge if you are pressed for time and it only gets worse as you get closer to the top. Once you reach the temple entrance will you get some room to move around freely.
Upon entering the shrine, after paying the entrance fee, you have a short walk past various buildings till you reach the main hall. In terms of a private tour, most people make a B-line to the main hall as it is the main reason people visit Kiyomizudera. In reality, there are lots of things to see along the way if you are patient enough and if it’s your first visit to a temple. For those who have visited many other temples around Japan, there aren’t many unique features in this area, but there are a few. The main hall is located 13 metres above the ground near the exit and has beautiful views of the surrounding area. Inside the hall itself is a large open space that is designed in a very classical Japanese Buddhist style. It’s difficult to explain but it’s something that must be experience and seen by oneself. The entire hall is not open to the public but a fairly large area is. The main attraction has to be the outer walk/stage which is where you can enjoy the beautiful views. In the spring, you can enjoy the wonderful cherry blossoms and in the autumn, the autumn foliage is a wonderful sight. You can enjoy all of these at night as well as the temple regularly installs lighting so that the views can be enjoyed nearly 24 hours a day. Of course the temple is closed at night, but during certain times of the year, they open later so people can enjoy the beauty of the forest below. On my own personal visit, it was pouring down which added a unique feature of allowing me to see how the water ducts work at clearing water from the roof. Seeing a torrent of water stream down from the corner of the roof was amazing but you need a lot of rain to do that.
There is a small shrine located just behind the main hall itself and is part of the main self guided tour. There are steps that lead up to the Jishu shrine. This is a “love” shrine where you can pray that you will find your one true love. There are two stones set 18 metres apart. If you can find your way between the two stones without looking, you will find love on your own. If you need help, you will need someone to help you find your true love. On the various English websites that I have visited, they mention that you only have to do this one way, however on the Japanese inscription, I believe they said you have to return to the rock you started from. I’m not entirely sure but it doesn’t hurt to do it. The more interesting part of this shrine is the fact that they have a large statue of a rabbit/hare. The old story is that Okuninushi, the god whom the shrine is dedicaqted to, wanted to marry a beautiful princess and was on his way to court her, but a hare stopped him and asked for help. He was with his brothers who also wanted to court the princess but they didn’t offer good advice. Since Okuninushi helped the hare and the hare happened to be a god, the hare said he would be the one who would be able to marry the princess. The story goes on from there, but it is not relevant to enjoy the shrine. Needless to say, the hare itself is a bit scary and nothing a young child would enjoy.
The temple grounds themselves are large and I didn’t get to see everything. I took the main tour as that was all the time I had to see. There is one last point of interest within the temple grounds itself. This is the Otowa Waterfalls. There are three streams of water that fall from above and you are given a ladle with a long handle. The streams of water represent wisdom, health, and longevity. If you drink from the proper stream, you will increase one of those three traits. It is a custom to drink from one or two of the three, at the most, as drinking from all three is considered greedy and can create misfortune instead. It is common to see very long lines outside of this attraction and you will have to wait anywhere from 10-30 minutes just to reach the streams. For some people, this is well worth the wait, but I’m pretty impatient when it comes to lines and decided to skip it. I don’t feel I need to improve anything specifically, but if you want to have a little fun it is enjoyable and free with admission to the temple grounds.
The temple grounds were a big surprise for me. When I visited, it was raining pretty hard at first which made things a little difficult to get around. Nevertheless it was beautiful and a place that I recommend, even with the hundreds of people walking around. It’s difficult to get a good picture of the area and I recommend patience. If you expect to feel relaxed with a sense of enlightenment, you might be disappointed as there are generally too many people to make this peaceful. However, the views and intricate detail of this typical temple is well worth the visit. There is a good reason all of the guide books include it as a must see destination when visiting Kyoto.
Kyoto – Kiyomizudera is part of a Kyoto series. Please follow the links below to read more about Kyoto:
Kiyomizudera (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiyomizu-dera
Kiyomizudera (Japan Guide): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3901.html
Okuninushi (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%8Ckuninushi