Kiyomizudera (清水寺) is one of Kyoto’s most famous temples. It is one of the 17 Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1944. The temple’s location on the side of a hill provides spectacular views over Kyoto, as well as of the maple trees in the autumn when the leaves turn a deep red.

The main entrance (Nio-mon) coming up the hill via Matsubara-dori

Kiyomizudera dates back to the late 8th century and its name, which literally translates as “Pure Water Temple”, comes from the Otowa Waterfall which is found behind the temple. Originally adopting the Hosso sect, one of the six sects of Nara Buddhism, it converted to become the head temple of the Kita-Hosso sect in 1965.

Otowa Waterfall. The water falls from above from three separate streams, and it is believed that drinking from each stream answer prayers in studies, health, and romance.

The temple’s most famous structure is the Main Hall (本堂, hondō) housing the Kannon Bodhisattva, the goddess of mercy, which stands on a which stands on a spacious platform with its long sloping roof made from hinoki (Japanese Cypress) bark. The platform hangs over the cliff supported by 13-meter high wooden pillars made from 400-years zelkova wood which are pierced and locked together with rails. The entire structure uses not a single nail. That the platform has stood since 1633 is a testimony to its strength and design. It was originally meant to be a place for traditional performances in honor of the Kannon Bodhisattva, but while ceremonies and performances do still take place, it is the views over the city for which the tourist flock.

Above Otowa Waterfall is Okunoin Hall. This structure was built in the same style and using the same techniques as the Main Hall (it was built in 1633, the year that Main Hall was rebuilt). A favourite photography spot among visitors.

Be sure to also visit Jishu-jinja. This is a small shrine at the north side of Kiyomizu Temple dedicated to five gods, one of whom is Okuninushi no Mikoto—the god of love and matchmaking. It is famous for two stones called koiuranai no ishi (恋占いの石, “Love Stones”). These stones are 18-meters apart and it is said that whoever can walk from one to the other with their eyes closed without bumping into anyone will find love.

Jōjuin (成就院). Originally living quarters for a temple priest, the temple served as the sub-temple of Kiyomizu as well as the administrative center for managing the temple’s finances. Known for its Moon Garden which is opened to the public only during the cherry blossom and autumn period.

Most visitors make their way to Kiyomizu Temple via the Higashiyama District and Matsubara Dori—a lively street lined either side with souvenir shops, Japanese sweet stores, restaurants, and arts and craft stores.

Kiyomizu-dera, 294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto 605-0862
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