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Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Kyoto, Japan

Udvada, Gujarat, India Magnificent temple with beautiful hillside location offering spectacular views of the city of Kyoto
Buddhism

A spectacular Buddhist temple situated in eastern Kyoto, the Kiyomizu-dera temple is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan. Officially known as Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera, its name has a literal meaning of ‘Pure Water’ owing to its prominence near Otowa Waterfalls in the dense and hilly eastern parts of Kyoto. Founded in 780 by Sakanoue no Tamuramaro, the temple is symbolic of compassion and mercy as Senju-Kannon, the embodiment of compassion is worshipped here. The Kiyomizu-dera temple is a perfect example of Japanese Buddhist architecture that attracts tons of tourists every year from all over the world.

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Overview

History and Belief

The majestic temple boasts of rich historical ties and its foundation dates back to over 1200 years.Legends claim that a monk named Kenshin in Nara dreamt of an old man dressed in white asking him to “Go north and find a crystal spring”. On looking for one, Kenshin discovered a gushing waterfall in Mt. Otowa, Kyoto. He also came across a priest, Gyoei-koii, who practiced asceticism near the waterfall. The priest then gifted Kenshin a pious tree infused with Kannon’s blessings and asked him to carve the tree into a statue of the thousand-armed Kannon.

After 2 years, a warrior named Sakanoue-no-Tamuramaro visited Otowa waterfall to hunt deer and was criticized by Kenshin. Moved by Kenshin’s teachings, Tamuramaro built a temple in ode to the Eleven Headed Thousand-armed Kannon Bodhisattva and named it Kiyomizu.

The temple was originally affiliated with the old and influential Hosso sect wherein its affiliation was severed in 1965. Its present disciples summon themselves as members of the Kitahosso sect. Present buildings were constructed in 1633 as per the orders given by Tokugawa Lemitsu. The temple was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1994 and is also part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.


Architecture

The main entrance, ‘Nio-mon’, is a two-story gate, 10m wide, 5m long and 14m high. It was burnt down during a civil war (1467-1477) and was later reconstructed in the 16th century. The main hall has a hipped roof with a Japanese bark thatch resembling palaces and residences of the Heian Period aristocracy.

The interior is bifurcated into three areas by large columns: the raido (outer sanctuary), naijin (inner sanctuary) and nainaijin (the innermost sanctuary). The principal image of Kiyomizu is enshrined in nainaijin. It was constructed solidly using traditional Japanese method and boasts of a stage-like architecture, 13 meters above the hillside.

The ‘Kiyomizu-no-butai’ veranda protrudes over the beautiful Kyoto cityscape. From cherry blossoms and fresh green leaves in spring, to the fall colors in autumn, every aspect of the temple is beautiful. The west gate is called ‘Sai-mon’ and offers a miraculous view of the sunset, thereby giving it the name ‘Gateway to Paradise’.

There is a smaller hall, ‘Okunoin’, that resembles the main hall. Adjacent to this are halls devoted to Shaka Buddha and Amida Buddha and another hall that houses over 200 stone statues of Jizo, the guardian of children and tourists.

The maintenance of the temple buildings tales place at Jojuin, the main temple of Kiyomizu, Jojuin. Exquisite moon garden holds the captivation of tourists and is opened for public viewing for a limited time each year.

The main imagery of Daizuigu Bodhisattva is enshrined in the Zuigu-do hall, along with Shinto and Buddhist deities of matchmaking, safe birth and child rearing. A three-story pagoda surrounds the temple entrance and is adorned with lush green expanse. The dark and intriguing basement, Tainai meguri, which means a mother’s womb, can be accessed by a nominal fee.

The base of the main hall boasts of the mesmerizing Otowa waterfall wherein water from three channels merges into a pond. The crystal-clear water is known as ‘Konjiki-sui’ (golden water) or ‘Enmei-sui’ (life-prolonging water). It is a popular belief that water from each stream harbors distinct benefits like long life, excellent professional and love life.

Jishu shrine lies at the rear end of the temple and is dedicated to the deity of love, Okuninushi. Crossing two stones 18 meters apart with your eyes closed is associated with good luck in finding the love of your life. Nearly4.5 million tourists visit the temple every year.

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6 interesting Facts & Myths about Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Kyoto, Japan

  • 1. Not a single nail has been used in the construction of the verandah of the main hall of the temple.

  • 2. Sight of the blue light that lights up the night sky during the months of March-April and mid-November-December is considered auspicious.

  • 3. Over 1,500 cherry trees in the ground and around 1,000 maple trees grow during every season.

  • 4. It is a popular belief that jumping the 13-meter high stage is meant to bring good luck. Resultingly, around 234 people have made an attempt to jump, of which, only 85.4% of the jumpers survived.

  • 5. Over 4,700 Buddha tiles line the secret Buddha chamber which can be viewed if booked in advance.

  • 6. The temple was one of the 21 finalists for the ‘New Seven Wonders of the World’ in 2007, but unfortunately didn’t make it to the final list.

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Programs

Daily programs

Nissokan, or the Meditation of the setting sun, is practiced by gazing at the setting sun in the west and reminiscing the preaching of Kannon. Sai-mon or the west gate is a sacred place for Nissokan.
Ceremonial court music, Noh plays, Kyogen comedies, Kabuki performances, and other performing arts have been offered on this stage.

 

Special programs

Seiryu-e or the blue dragon parades through the grounds and the temple town.   

Schedule:

March 14, 15, April 3, and September 14, 15. The procession takes place from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

‘Thousand-Day Pilgrimage’ takes place in nainaijin on the days marked by amplification of Kannon’s blessings. It highlights equivalence of one day of prayer to a thousands’ day worth of meritorious prayers.

Schedule:

           Day Viewing: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (last entry), August 9 – August 16

           Night Viewing: 6:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. (last entry), August 14 – August 16

On New Year’s eve, before the midnight on December 31 to the morning of New Year’s day, the temple bell is rung 108 times, symbolizing 108 types of earthy desires humans are troubled by. Prior reservations are a must.

For more such timings, visit http://www.kiyomizudera.or.jp/en/visit/

 

 

Travel

How to travel

Nearest airport is Osaka’s Itami Airport and takes only 1 hour by bus from central Kyoto. Highway buses also ply from Tokyo to Kyoto and takes around 7-8 hours. Kiyomizu-dera temple can be reached from Kyoto station by bus numbers 100 or 206 and drops you at Gojo-zaka which is a ten-minute walk uphill to the temple.

Nearest cities are:

  • Kyoto (3.7 km)
  • Osaka (53.8 km)

The temple is a 20 minute walk from Kiyomizu-Gojo station along the Keihan Railway line. One can also drive between Tokyo and Kyoto via the Tomei and Meishin Expressways that takes around 5-6 hours.

VISITING DAYS/HOURS

Open all year round on:

Weekdays: 6:00 to 18:00

Weekends and holidays (mid-April through July, august and September): 6:00 to 18:30

(closing time differs according to the season).

Entrance Fee

Adult: 300 yen

Junior high and Elementary School students: 200 yen

Travel Tips

  1. Since it is usually crowded, the best thing to do is to avoid going on weekends.
  2. Arrive as early as 6 am or about 1 hour before the closing time for best visits.
  3. Due to a lot of stairs, it is advisable to avoid taking a stroller.

See Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Kyoto, Japan on map

Nearby Attraction

  • Yasaka-no-to Pagoda (1.5 km)

A popular tourist attraction in Kyoto, this five-story pagoda boasts of a rich history that dates back to 592. It is also the second tallest building in Kyoto.  

  • Ryozen Museum of History (0.8 km)

A spectacular history museum in Kyoto situated in Gion district of Kyoto, it specializes in the history of the Bakumatsu period and the Meiji Restoration.

  • Gion (0.5 km)

One of the most famous Kyoto neighborhood that is bustling with teahouses and private clubs. Geisha in full dress and white make up is a phenomenal sight.

  • Kodai-ji Temple (1.2 km)

Renowned for its spectacular view of cherry blossoms in spring and splendid foliage in autumn, this famous Buddhist temple was built in 1606 in memory of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

  • Shoren-in Temple (2.4 km)

A famous Buddhist temple in Kyoto, the interior of the temple is adorned with calm and peaceful setting resembling the Imperial Palace.

Additional Information

Special Programs:

  • Special viewing of the Jojuin Garden or the Moon Garden

Day Viewing: 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (last entry), April 28 – May 6, November 17 – December 2

Night Viewing: 6:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. (last entry), November 17 – December 2

  • Shusho-e takes place from January 1-7 in front of the principal image in the nainaijin in the Main Hall to mark the first event of the year to pray for peace and prosperity throughout the year.
  • Nehan-e marks the day when Buddha attained Nirvana. A memorial service takes place in sutra hall every year on February 15 and painting of the Buddha entering Nirvana is opened for public viewing.
  • Special Night viewing takes place with Kannon’s merciful light brightening up the streets of Kyoto city.

Spring: 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. (last entry), March 9 – 18, March 30 – April 8

Summer (Thousand-day Pilgrimage/Special Viewing of nainaijin in the Main Hall): 6:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. (last entry), August 14 – 16

Autumn: 5:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. (last entry), November 17 – December 2

  • Spring and Fall Illuminations

18:00 to 21:00 during Hanatoro around mid-March, from late March to mid-April and from mid-November to early December (from 17:30 during the autumn)

  • Cherry Blossom: Late March to early April
  • Autumn leaves: Mid-November to early December

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