Kiyomizu-dera (literally translated “Pure Water Temple”) is one of the most celebrated and iconic temples in Kyoto, Japan. Situated atop Mt Otowa, Kiyomizu-dera Temple offers a commanding view of the city of Kyoto. Kiyomizu-dera was founded in 778 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall and derives its name from the fall’s pure waters. As a holy place where the deity Kannon’s great compassion prevails, the temple has long been open to citizens of all classes and many people have enjoyed visiting Kiyomizu-dera Temple throughout its history. Since its foundation, most of the buildings have been destroyed by fire over ten times and rebuilt time and time again. The temple was originally associated with the Hosso sect, one of the oldest schools within Japanese Buddhism but in 1965, it formed its own Kita Hosso sect. In 1994, Kiyomizu-dera was registered on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.

Destination Highlights

Behind Kiyomizudera’s main hall stands Jishu Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the deity of love and matchmaking. In front of the shrine are two stones, placed 18 meters apart. Successfully finding your way from one to the other with your eyes closed is said to bring luck in finding love. You can also have someone guide you from one stone to the other, but that is interpreted to mean that an intermediary will be needed in your love life as well.

The Otowa Waterfall is located at the base of Kiyomizudera’s main hall. Its waters are divided into three separate streams, and visitors use cups attached to long poles to drink from them. Each stream’s water is said to have a different benefit, namely to cause longevity, success at school and a fortunate love life. However, drinking from all three streams is considered greedy. 

Around the entrance of Kiyomizudera, outside the paid area, stand various other temple buildings, including a vermilion three storied pagoda, a repository for sutras, large entrance gates and the Zuigudo Hall which is dedicated to Buddha’s mother and where against a small entrance fee you can wander the pitch black basement that symbolizes a mother’s womb.

Part of the fun of visiting Kiyomizudera is the approach to the temple along the steep and busy lanes of the atmospheric Higashiyama District. The many shops and restaurants in the area have been catering to tourists and pilgrims for centuries, and products on sale range from local specialties such as Kiyomizu-yaki pottery, sweets and pickles to the standard set of souvenirs.

The Higashiyama district together with Kiyomizudera, Yasaka Shrine and other temples in the area, have special evening illuminations during the annual Hanatoro event held in mid March. Kiyomizudera also has special illuminations during the autumn leaf season in the second half of November.

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