HOME Kansai Kyoto Gion, Kawaramachi, Kiyomizu-dera Temple Kyoto Travel Guide: Recommended Highlights at Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto's Most Prominent Sightseeing Location!
Kyoto Travel Guide: Recommended Highlights at Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto's Most Prominent Sightseeing Location!

Kyoto Travel Guide: Recommended Highlights at Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto's Most Prominent Sightseeing Location!

Date published: 17 September 2019

If you visit Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera Temple is one the sightseeing spots you won't want to miss. The old historic temple, reportedly opened in the year 778, is a designated world heritage site. Its 130,000 square meter premises are situated halfway up the side of Mt. Otowayama and include over 30 buildings and monuments. Home to many national treasures and important cultural assets, Kiyomizu-dera is full of highlights, making it popular among visitors to Japan. "Kiyomizu Stage" jutting out from atop a cliff and the "Otowa Waterfall" said to have magical healing properties in its water are a few of the must-see spots introduced in this article.

Kiyomizu-dera's Symbolic "Three-Storied Pagoda"

Kiyomizu-dera's Symbolic "Three-Storied Pagoda"

Kiyomizu-dera is a temple with over 1200 years of history and boasts overwhelming popularity among all of Kyoto. After you climb the long, uphill road to the temple, you will be greeted by the sight of the vermillion-lacquered Nio-mon gate. Further up the stairs stands the 31-meter-tall three-storied pagoda. It is among the tallest pagodas in all of Japan and is easily visible from downtown Kyoto, making it a beloved, symbolic feature of the temple, along with the temple's Main Hall stage.

The three-storied pagoda with its rich vermillion color is also has great popularity as a photography subject. It makes a wonderful photograph from every angle. A Dainichi Nyorai Buddha is enshrined inside.

Try Out the Tainai Meguri "Womb Walk" at "Zuigudo Temple"

Try Out the Tainai Meguri "Womb Walk" at "Zuigudo Temple"
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After passing through the Nio-mon gate and walking up the temple path, directly in front of you will be Jishin-in Temple. It is also known as Zuigudo, named after the Buddhist deity enshrined there. The temple was reconstructed in 1718. Enshrined inside are numerous Shinto and Buddhist deities of marriage, birth, children, and more, including the main deity kept secluded from sight and which is also the temple's namesake, Daizuigubosatsu.

One thing you'll want to try at Zuigudo is the "Tainai Meguri". Visitors can walk through a pitch black area, designed to resemble the womb of a Buddhist saint, relying on the large juzu prayer beads affixed to the walls like handrails to find their way. You won't be able to see which way to go in the pure darkness, only able to feel the floor beneath your feet and the juzu beads in your hands. Eventually, a stone faintly illuminated by light and inscribed with the Sanskrit characters for Daizuigubosatsu, will appear. Walk around the stone and say a prayer, then return back through the darkness, surrounded by the mystical sensation of being born anew.

The Kiyomizu Stage, Constructed Without a Single Nail

The Kiyomizu Stage, Constructed Without a Single Nail
Depiction of the Kiyomizu Stage on Kiyomizu-dera's shuincho, temple seal collection book (1200 yen)

Kiyomizu-dera's main hall was built to enshrine Seiju Kannon, a Buddhist goddess with one thousand arms, and stands on top of a steep cliff. It was built using the old Japanese traditional construction method of "Kakezukuri", characterized by wood joined in a lattice pattern. The stage is thought to have been built due to the influx of visitors to the temple accompanying the rise in belief in the goddess Kannon beginning in the Heian era. It is said that along with the influx in visitors, the front of the Main Hall was little by little expanded, until the stage was jutting out into mid-air.

The 18 wooden pillars supporting the stage were made from the wood of keyaki trees over 400 years old and fixed in place without the use of a single nail. The Main Hall's cypress bark roof is undergoing rethatching construction from February 2017 until March 2020, so it is completely covered, but visitors can enter the shrine as usual.

Tour the Temple Grounds to See the Inner Temple, the Pagoda for Safe Childbirth, and More

After leaving the Main Hall, you can follow the path to tour the rest of the halls, including the Shaka-do Hall, Amida-do Hall, and Inner Sanctuary. The Inner Sanctuary is built directly above the Otowa Waterfall, and its stage is made with the same distinctive kakezukuri technique as the Main Hall. From the Inner Sanctuary stage, you can enjoy a view of the Main Hall above the valley filled with cherry blossoms and fall leaves. You can also look out over all of Kyoto City, making this a recommended photography spot.

On the opposite side, between the Main Hall and the valley, the pagoda of Kiyomizu-dera's sub-temple, Taizan-ji Temple stands. It was created as a shrine to worship Koyasu Kannon (Senju Kannon), goddess of safe childbirth, and is accordingly known as the Pagoda of Safe Childbirth and well-known as a place to pray for an easy and healthy childbirth. Follow the visitors route from the pagoda downhill to arrive at Otowa Waterfall.

Otowa Waterfall, the Origin of Kiyomizu-dera's Name

Otowa Waterfall, the Origin of Kiyomizu-dera's Name
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Otowa Waterfall, the origin of the temple's name (Kiyomizu-dera meaning "clean/pure water temple" in Japanese), is always attending by a long line of temple visitors. It is said that Buddhist monk Enchin Shonin was led through a divine revelation in a dream to the waterfall, and there he opened Kiyomizu-dera.

The three streams of the falls' freely flowing water has long been known as "Golden Water" and "Water of Longevity". Use the long-handled ladle to scoop up and drink some of the water and pray for various wishes to be granted. Accordingly to some folklore, each of the three waterfalls are sometimes said to have different benefits, but apparently they are all equally beneficial.

Receive the Buddha's Divine Protection with a Kiyomizu-dera Good Luck Charm

Receive the Buddha's Divine Protection with a Kiyomizu-dera Good Luck Charm
From left: o-mamori general protection charm 500 yen, good luck sakura bell 500 yen, good fortune charm 400 yen, headache protection charm 100 yen
From left: mini Daikoku deity good fortune charm 400 yen, financial good luck charm 500 yen, marriage good luck charm 500 yen
From left: Fudo-myo-o deity charm 100 yen, blue dragon god charm 500 yen

Kiyomizu-dera bestows many various good luck charms, but the most popular among tourists from both Japan and overseas is the cute "good luck sakura bell" charm, with its flower lattice design and clear and pretty bell chime. The "good fortune charm" of tiny, crinkled shells is also cute.

Get one of the exclusive good luck charms available only at the temple for whatever your wish, whether for general protection, luck in marriage, or a charm to stave off headaches. Don't overlook the "Mini Daikoku" charm of the Shusse Daikokuten deity enshrined in the Main Hall either. The blue dragon god charm, containing the sacred water of Otowa Waterfall inside, and the charm of the Fudo-myo-o deity enshrined by the waterfall should also bring great blessings.

A Treat for After Visiting the Temple - A Walk Around the Temple Town

A Treat for After Visiting the Temple - A Walk Around the Temple Town
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Since ancient history, taking a walk through the adjoining town is a common custom after paying a visit to a temple or shrine. When you visit Kiyomizu-dera Temple, be sure to enjoy the small town along the road leading to the temple as well. Including Chawan-zaka Slope, packed with pottery shops, and the San-nen-zaka and Ni-nen-zaka Slopes headed toward Gion, the temple road is lined with souvenir shops and is always busy with tourists.

There are many products uniquely found in Kyoto, from wagashi (Japanese sweets) and tsukemono (Japanese pickles) souvenirs to ceramics, Kyoto dolls, fans, and other traditional craft goods, you're bound to have trouble choosing just one. There are also plenty of shops selling boiled tofu, soba, and desserts, so you can get your fill of Kyoto cuisine as well.

Etiquette While Visiting Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Smoking, eating, and drinking are prohibited within Kiyomizu-dera Temple premises. In some areas, including the Main Hall Stage, tripod photography is prohibited, so follow the posted guidelines.

Text by:word

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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