Japan 568 of 985

Kiyomizu-dera, known more fully as Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera is an independent Buddhist temple in eastern Kyoto. The temple is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities) UNESCO World Heritage site. Kiyomizu-dera was founded in the early Heian period.


The temple dates back to 798, and its present buildings were constructed in 1633, during a restoration ordered by the Tokugawar Iemitsu. Not one nail is used in the whole temple. It takes its name from the waterfall within the complex, which runs off the nearby hills. Kiyomizu means clear water, or pure water. It was originally affiliated with the old and influential Hossō sect dating from Nara times. However, in 1965 it severed that affiliation, and its present custodians call themselves members of the “Kitahossō” sect.

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The Kiyomizu temple lies in the Higashiyama area if Kyoto. For most of Kyoto’s history, the area of Higashiyama (Eastern Mountains) lay outside of the official city boundary and as a result it was always more rustic and secluded. Furthermore, being separated from the main city by the Kamo River, it was spared the fires that often ravaged Kyoto. Consequently, Higashiyama remains one of the city’s most charming and unspoiled districts. The small area lying east of Gion has some delightful stone-paved roads leading up to the Kiyomizu Temple.
Two flagstone-paved streets called Ninezaka (two-year slope) and Sannenzaka (three-year slope) are a preservation district and display some wonderful examples of architecture as well as some lovely shops and restaurants. Take care on these steps – local lore says that if you slip on these streets brings you two or three years’ bad luck.
You can usually spot a number of trishaw riders in this area as well as the occasional maiko dashing along the narrow alleys.

The Ninenzaka district, like Gion to the west, is an architecturally protected ‘preservation area,’ with many historic structures, such as the historic house of painter Yumeji Takehisa (1884 to 1934). The area is also known as “Nene-no-saka” after Kita-no-Mandokoro, the wife of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who walked this route to visit the Kodaiji Temple. The narrow winding streets of Nene-no-saka are predominantly for foot traffic, and the streets are lined with arts-and-crafts shops, cafes, and food concession stalls.

Along the narrow lanes of the Sannenzaka Slope, there are many shops that sell an indigenous ‘Kyo-yaki-style’ ceramic pottery from this area, called kiyomizu-yaki



The main hall has a large veranda, supported by tall pillars, that juts out over the hillside and offers impressive views of the city. Large verandas and main halls were constructed at many popular sites during the Edo period to accommodate large numbers of pilgrims.
The popular expression “to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu” is the Japanese equivalent of the English expression “to take the plunge”. This refers to an Edo period tradition that held that, if one were to survive a 13m jump from the stage, one’s wish would be granted. Two hundred thirty-four jumps were recorded in the Edo period and, of those, 85.4% survived. The practice is now prohibited.
Beneath the main hall is the Otowa waterfall, where three channels of water fall into a pond. Visitors can catch and drink the water, which is believed to have wish-granting powers.
The temple complex includes several other shrines, among them the Jishu Shrine, dedicated to Ōkuninushi, a god of love and “good matches”. Jishu Shrine possesses a pair of “love stones” placed 6 meters/20 feet apart, which lonely visitors can try to walk between with their eyes closed. Success in reaching the other stone with their eyes closed implies that the pilgrim will find love, or true love. One can be assisted in the crossing, but this is taken to mean that a go-between will be needed. The person’s romantic interest can assist them as well.

The complex also offers various talismans, incense, and omikuji (paper fortunes). The site is particularly popular during festivals (especially at New Year’s and during obon in the summer) when additional booths fill the grounds selling traditional holiday foodstuffs and souvenirs to throngs of visitors.

In 2007, Kiyomizu-dera was one of 21 finalists for the New Seven Wonders of the World. However, it was not picked as one of the seven winning sites.


It was December in Kyoto, Japan when these photos were captured but there were still plenty of wonderful Autumn colours and textures to be seen with red maples, green bamboo, red berries and wonderful green moss on the many beautiful walks around the hills and numerous temples.

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