The Mystic Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto

Japan is a country that puts a great amount of value in spirituality and traditions. Because of this, there are multiple temples and historical grounds that are well-preserved all throughout the land. Of all these temples and historical grounds, there is a temple in Kyoto that is popularly sought out by travelers because of the beliefs attached to this temple and this temple’s is known as the Kiyomizu-dera or the Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera.

History and Facts about the Kiyomizu 

Before getting into the intriguing details about this temple, you should know the basic information about this place. It is located in Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto and was founded in the year of 778. Since its founding, it has been visited and enjoyed by people all over the world.

Its entire ground area spreads over 130,000 square meters which run across the mid-slope of Mount Otowa. Aside from the several Buddhist buildings to be seen here, you will also be able to enjoy multiple important cultural properties that are also located here and among these cultural properties is the Main Hall of the Kiyomizu temple that is considered a national treasure of Japan.

This place has gone through a lot considering that it large portions of it were burned down again and again over the years. Luckily, thanks to the temple’s faithful, it was rebuilt whenever they got damaged. The largest renovation activity done on this site was in the year of 1633. A majority of present buildings were a product of that year’s reconstruction. In the year of 1944, it was given more attention and praise because it was in this year that the temple was registered on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.

Another interesting fact about this temple and the structures surrounding it is that this place was built without the use of any nail. It was built with thick logs of wood that were carved and shaped in certain ways to create an interlocking system between the logs. Considering that this place was founded in the year of 778, it is pretty amazing that such engineering was used to construct this temple. Furthermore, it is even more intriguing to think of how effective this system is to still hold up this centuries-old structure to this day.

Beyond the historical significance and structural cleverness this temple possesses, there is something you might consider as a deeper reason for the temple’s popularity and this is the spiritual beliefs attached to this place. Most temples are considered sacred because it is a place where prayers are offered up to gods. The Kiyomizu Temple is sacred because it is believed to be blessed by a deity known as Kannon.

In the book called “The Origin of Kiyomizu-dera Temple”, the story of how this temple was founded is narrated. In this story, an old man in white appeared in a dream of a man named Kenshin who is a monk leading an ascetic life in Nara. In this dream, the man told Kenshin to go north and find a crystal spring. Naturally, the monk followed and this brought him to a beautiful waterfall in Mount Otowa.

It was then that Kenshin met a priest named Gyoei-Koji who was supposedly an old hermit who made a hermitage for himself in that area. Upon meeting, Gyoei-Koji granted Kenshin access to a sacred tree that was infused with Kannon’s power. As he led Kenshin, he told him how he had been waiting for and that he wishes him to carve the tree into a statue of the thousand-armed Kannon to guard the sacred place of Kannon.

The man left after this and it was only later on that Kenshin figured out that Gyoei-Koji was actually the incarnation of Kannon. After granting Gyoei-koji’s wish to carve the tree into Kannon, Kenshin decided to watch over the place as well as maintain the peace in the sacred area. He would also, discover the crystal spring mention by the old man in his dream and this spring would be what is now known as the Otowa Waterfall.

Two years after this incident, Kenshin would meet a warrior named Sakanoue-no-Tamuramaro by the waterfall. He caught the warrior killing a deer on the sacred grounds and for this, Kenshin lectured Tamuramaro. Kenshin’s words sunk deep into Tamuramaro and so the warrior had a temple built to enshrine the carved statue of Kannon made by Kenshin earlier on. This point in time was also when the temple was named Kiyomizu which means “pure water”. This obviously came from the clarity of the water from the Otowa Waterfall.

What can we expect from Kiyomizu Temple

Being that this is a temple, you can already expect a lot of its attractions to revolve around its appeal as a place of meditation or reflection. Worry not though because each location is sure to give you a different ambiance so going through these attractions will not be repetitive at all. If anything, it might even show you that it is possible to feel spiritually replenished or centered more than once in a day because each location guarantees you reach this level of peace and concentration.

The Main Hall is an obvious destination for this because it is the main attraction of this temple. It houses the replica of the Eleven-headed Thousand-armed Kannon Bodhisattva from the origin story of the temple as well as several other Buddha attendant statues. Along with the presence of the statues, the “naijin” or inner sanctuary is a place you’d hear sutras being chanted in prayer. Being in this atmosphere makes it understandable how people can feel more spiritually centered here. It is a great place for the eyes because of its magnificence and it is also a great place for the soul because of its solemnness.

The Main Hall is also the area where you can see the famous Kiyomizu Stage or the Hinoki Stage. It hangs over the front of the Main Hall and standing here will give you a view like no other. It is surrounded by autumn trees and cherry blossoms which spread out hundreds of meters from where you stand and as your eyes run towards the horizon, you will see the entire city of Kyoto in a light and perspective that can only be seen in this majestic temple.

Aside from the Main Hall and all the other things it offers, another attraction that gets a lot of attention is the Otowa Waterfall. The water from this waterfall flows down towards a vermillion shrine that is devoted to Seiryu or the blue dragon. In this shrine, the water is divided into 3 streams and these water streams are believed to be blessed with certain wish-granting powers.

Each stream grants wishes for a different thing. One stream grants a wish for academic success. Another grants a wish for longevity in life and the last stream grants a wish for romance in one’s life. To drink from the streams, you will use ladles found in the drinking area of the Otowa Waterfall.

If you happen to be in need for more wishes for your love life, there is another shrine near the temple that can aid you with your desire. It is called the Jishu Shrine that you can find what visitors refer to as “Love Stones”. These stones are sought out because of an interesting practice done with these stones. The belief is that if you are successful in finding the other stone as you start from one stone while you are blindfolded, you will be blessed with finding love soon in your life.

There are also cases where the blindfolded visitor is helped by a third party and this is completely allowed but it does have its effects on your wish. If you needed help to find the stone and it is believed that it will also be the same case when you look for love. Someone will have to serve as a bridge for you to find it. Whether you needed a third party or not, it still is a win as long as you find love so this doesn’t rattle many visitors of this shrine.

If seeing this place in the day makes you believe in a higher power instantly, try seeing it under the moonlight. This temple has built-in blue lights that make it seem like the moonlight shines brightly on it during the night and it is just breathtaking. Sadly, visitors are only allowed to bask in this beauty 3 times in a year.

You are able to see it in the spring time during the months of March to April, in the summer time during the Thousand-day Pilgrimage, and in the autumn time during the months of November to December. During these night viewings, guests are able to enter from 6 PM to 9 PM. 9 PM would be the time of last entries so do not be late.

Information about Kiyomizu Temple

Aside from the attractions in the vicinity mentioned above, there are a lot more to see in the premises of the temple. These locations may not be as spectacular as the Main Hall but they are uniquely beautiful nonetheless. The first among these places is the main entrance of the Kiyomizu-dera Temple.

It is called the Nio-mon and because of the refurbishing it underwent in the year of 2003, it looks like something that will send you back to the ancient times of Japan. it stands 14 meters high and 10 meters wide. Another reason why the look of it will make you feel like you’re in a different time is due to the eccentric features it has that were popularly used during the era it was rebuilt in which is the 16th century.

Another part of the temple area you should go to is the West gate of the temple which is called Sai-mon. While this gate is also decorated with the unique features that Nio-mon has, this gate is more known for its spectacular views, especially during the sunset. The view of the sunset you get from this place is considered as a gateway to Paradise and it is also became sacred place for Nissokan which is a meditation practice that focuses on visualizing the Pure Land.

If you haven’t had enough jaw-dropping sceneries, you should also take the time to go to the Jojuin. This place was originally a home for a priest who had spent his life re-establishing the temple after the damages brought about by the war. Nowadays, it is also sought after by travelers because of the Moon Garden that is open to the public for certain periods during the year.

There are many other attractions you can enjoy so that you must know how to get there. Luckily, you won’t even need a guide to get there because it is quite easy to go from any hotel in Kyoto, even if you just commute. You can reach the temple through the Kyoto Station by bus and this trip would cost you only 230 yen and will take about 15 minutes. You will get off at Gojo-zaka or the Kiyomizu-Michi bus stop and then you will have to take a 10-minute walk uphill to reach the temple.  

The temple is open from 6 AM to 6 PM and extends further during the night viewing seasons. It is also open every day of the year so the only thing you need to plan before you go is what type of scenery you would want to enjoy because this temple offers a different look for every season of the year.