Kiyomizu-dera is an independent Buddhist temple in eastern Kyoto, and is in fact the city’s number one visitor attraction.
I was lucky enough to visit Kiyomizu just as the cherry trees were beginning to blossom in earnest. This amazing temple in Higashiyama District was nominated as one of the new seven wonders of the world, although unfortunately it did not succeed.
The admission to Kiyomizu-dera is 300Yen, which is quite good value. The temple is open from 6am-6pm each day, with no closing days, as far as I know. I got a ride here on the City Bus 206 from Kyoto Station, and it took me around 25 minutes. I got off at Kiyomizu-michi bus stop, and from there it is around a 5 minute walk uphill (through a little street named Sannenzaka Ninenzaka) to the ticketing counter.
This step-by-step guide from Phorenyatra really gives a good indication of what to expect when making your visit to Kiyomizu-dera.
Before you get to the main wooden temple structures, there are some entrance gates, like the one pictured above, which is called the Niomon Gate. Red seems to be a prominent colour in Japanese temples and shrines. It was here that I began to see some cherry blossoms taking shape. Also, I observed many nice ‘omikuji’, which are fortunes written by passers-by on wooden and paper locks. These are then tied to a fence or railings of some kind. I saw these a lot on my travels in not only Kyoto, but also Hiroshima and Tokyo.
As you can see, the main hall at Kiyomizu has a large wooden veranda that stretches out over the hills. From here, you can get great views of downtown Kyoto. In days gone by, during the Edo Period, it was said that if you dived off this veranda (also known as a ‘stage’) and survived the fall down below, then all your wishes would be granted! Unsurprisingly, this practice has now been outlawed! On this veranda is the main shrine at Kiyomizu-dera. Visitors can enter the shrine with their footwear removed and placed just outside, and incense sticks are left outside, burning in ash, for you to take upon entering.
Beneath the wooden veranda is the Otowa Waterfall. Here, three channels of water fall into a pond, and well-wishers can catch the water in long rods, and then drink it for prosperity. This practice, much like the old jumping off the stage tradition mentioned above, is supposed to also grant your wishes in the future.
Check out this all-encompassing review of Kiyomizu-dera from Jessie at Wild Heart with a Soft Spot, which includes an amazing array of spring-time photographs.
I enjoyed my hour or two at Kiyomizu, and I imagine it will look beautiful in any season, such as winter, autumn, or even now at spring. However, I cannot see why Kiyomizu is the number one tourist attraction in Kyoto. There are far more interesting and visually striking temples around the city, in particular Kinkakuji, as well as the Fushimi Inari Shrine. However, to be in Kyoto for the early parts of cherry blossom season was a real treat!