Kiyomizu Shrine

UNESCO World Heritage Site in Higashiyama, Kyoto

Kiyomizu shrine or Kiyomizu dera is one of the most spectacular temples in Japan, situated on the majestic Mount Higashiyama’s slopes overlooking Gion district in Eastern Kyoto. Due to its amazing mountainous backdrop and beautiful Otowa waterfalls on its ground, this independent Buddhist temple is more often referred to as Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera, literally meaning ‘the temple of pure water.’ Kiyomizu shrine’s stupendous architecture style backed by amazing culture made it one among the 17 Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage Site in December, 1994. Further, it was also included in the candidature list to be among the new Seven Wonders of the World.

In fact, Kiyomizu dera is a must-see attraction of Kyoto. No matter you tour the city during any time or part of the year, a visit to this amazing shrine will truly be a treat to your eyes, with the temple’s surroundings blossomed with cherries in spring and filled with maple as well as other colourful leaves in the fall.

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History of Kiyomizu Shrine

Dedicated to Juichimen Kannon – the Goddess of Mercy, this shrine is believed to have been founded by Enchin – a Buddhist monk - with the support of a warrior, namely, Tamuramaro during Heian period in the eighth century. The legend has it that Enchin, as a result of the revelation in his dream, set out on a journey to discover a fountain of water at the foothills of Mount Otowa within a foggy forest, where he found Gyoei Koji – a Buddhist hermit was offering supplication to Kannon for the last 200 years.

Enchin then carved out an image of the deity Kannon from a piece of sacred log given to him by Gyoei Koji. Later, Tamuramaro who came here to hunt a deer for his pregnant wife got inspired by the profound devotion of Enchin to Kannon and decided to convert his own house close to the waterfalls to a temple in order to enshrine the deity of Kannon with eleven faces and thousand arms. However, the shrine was destroyed several times due to earthquake and fire. The present structure of the temple dates back to 1633 when temple was rebuilt as per the order of the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu. Formerly a shrine of the Hosso sect of Buddhism, Kiyomizu dera became an independent Buddhist temple in 1965.

Features and Highlights of Kiyomizu Shrine

The mind blowing location where the shrine rests itself is its key highlight. A quaint narrow street dotted with numerous restaurants, souvenir shops and ryokans (traditional inns) leads you to the temple’s enchanting main gate that is an important cultural property. An interesting thing regarding this street is that you can find here shops that have been here in existence since the Edo era. Occupying an area of about 1, 35,000 square meters, the temple complex of Kiyomizu comprises more than 30 structures. The major draw of the temple is undeniably its main hall, Hondo, where Kannon Bodhisattva – the main deity of the temple – is housed.

A segment of the main building is Kiyomizu-no-butai – a wooden terrace that has been declared as a national treasure. This 15m high structure, constructed into a sheer hillside, offers the sweeping views of the surroundings. But what that makes this structure really special is its architecture style made using Japanese cypress and supported with more than 150 giant zelkova wooden pillars that are gathered not using a single nail. According to beliefs, anyone who make a vow to the deity and dive into the air from Kiyomizu-no-butai will be able to realize his wish. Even though many people have dove from the terrace in earlier times and more than 80% survived, a ban was established to forbid this act in 1872.

Another important aspect that makes this temple worth visiting is Otowa waterfalls, from which the temple derives its name. Listed among the top ten most clear water sources in the country – this waterfall originates from the Mount Otowa and consists of a group of three fountains, each of which is thought to have power to grant you intelligence, beauty and longevity. However, the interesting thing with regards to these fountains is that you are allowed to drink water from any one of them, as drinking from all of them is considered greed and may result in complete loss.

Points of interest within the temple precincts also include Jishu-jinja – a shrine devoted to Okuninushino-Mikoto – the god of love and matchmaking, two love stones accompanied by the popular belief that walking from one stone to other blindly will help a bachelor to get a suitable match, remarkable water fountains for cleansing purposes, Bussoku-seki, which contains the footprints of Buddha and a bell that resounds more than 100 times on the eve of new year.

Kiyomizu Shrine

  • Opening Hours: daily from 06:00 to 18:00
  • Remarks: The narrow street that takes you to the temple has an array of shops that deal with genuine Kyoto made art and craft items such as textiles, baskets, Kiyomizu-yaki porcelain and hanging screens.
  • Address: 1-chome, Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City
  • How to get there: Take bus number 100 or 206 from Kyoto Station and get down at Kiyomizu-michi, from where you have to take a short trek to reach the temple.
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