I visited Kyoto several times before I went to Kiyomizudera, and it made me realise that if I had only visited Japan once I could have missed out on this fantastic temple. It’s often listed as something of an afterthought in guidebooks, and given an average rating by Lonely Planet. It can get tremendously crowded, especially in the viewing seasons – cherry blossom and autumn colour – but I felt that actually added to the site’s charm and great sense of fun.
The atmosphere is almost festival, floods of schoolchildren mingling with ladies and couples on a day out. Your ten minute uphill walk is along a street lined with shops and restaurants which sell souvenirs and local delicacies to eager tourists. This is known as Chawan-zaka (teapot lane) because there are many shops devoted to tea and tea paraphernalia.
At the end of Chawan-zaka, you reach the Niomon gate (Deva Gate) which houses the Devas who protect the temple grounds from evil. Behind and to the right are the Saimon (West Gate) and the temple’s famed three-storey pagoda.
As you can see, the weather was grotty during my visit, but that didn’t stop either the visitors or the carnival atmosphere. We came to see a beautiful temple, and no grey skies or drizzle were going to stop us!
There is a Shinto shrine on site, as is so often the case. This is Jishu-jinja, where two stones are said to tell whether or not you will find true love; if you are able to walk from one to the other with your eyes closed, true love will be yours. You can have assistance, but it’s believed that if you do, you will also need help to find your love in real life.
And here it is: the photo that a million cameras have snapped. This platform is so famous that it’s part of a Japanese idiom. “Jumping off the stage at Kiyomizu” is equivalent to the English “taking the plunge”, and came about during the Edo period, when surviving such a fall would see one’s wish granted. Obviously this had a reasonable death toll (about 15% of those who attempted it died) and was eventually banned.
Like the rest of the temple, the verandah is constructed without a single nail. The wooden structure is so keenly accurate in measurement and assembly that it has stood since 1633 without collapse.
After viewing the mountainside and distant Kyoto from the Hondo’s viewing platform, the route leads on to the waters that the temple is named after. Kiyomizu means “pure water”, and it’s tradition to line up and catch water from one of these three streams, split from the Otowa waterfall. Each stream offers different benefits. Left to right in this photograph, those are: success in school; happiness in love; and longevity. Drinking from all three is greedy, and grants none. You will find gaggles of schoolchildren clustered by the relevant stream, and more diverse crowds among the other two.
I found the water to be fresh, but given a slightly metallic taste by the cup. And, no, I shan’t tell you which stream I drank from.
From Kyoto Station, take bus 100 or 206 to either Kiyomizu-michi or Gojo-zaka bus stop. The temple is a ten minute walk uphill.
Admission: 300円, or 400円 on special illuminated viewing evenings.