Towards the end of our Spring Break trip, we did a lot of sightseeing in Kyoto; one of most interesting places being Kiyomizudera.
What Is Kiyomizudera?
One of the most beloved temples in Japan, Kiyomizudera is best known for its unique architecture and the views of the city below. It was built in 780 near the Otowa Waterfall, and was added to Japan’s list of UNESCO world heritage sites in 1994. Visitors are able to drink from the waterfall at the base of the main hall, which promises long life, success, and love.
I’ve mentioned this before in other posts, but a lot of structures throughout Japan are being renovated, and Kiyomizudera is one of them. Unfortunately, the construction that is currently being done (planned to be completed in 2020), is on the main hall – which is famous for a wooden stage that sticks out 13 meters above the hillside.
Kiyomizudera is not just one building, but rather a temple complex comprised of various shrines, pagodas, and halls, dedicated to various buddhas. Once we got there, it was easy to see why this site is so popular.
While doing research on the temple, I came across a story of how and why it was built. It’s always so interesting to learn about why temples are important to the people of Japan, and I thought I’d share an excerpt of the lore behind this site.
According to the book, The Origin of Kiyomizu-dera Temple, an old man in white appeared in a dream to Kenshin*, a monk who had led an ascetic life in Nara, and gave him this revelation: “Go north and find a crystal spring.”
Inspired by this vision, Kenshin walked north and discovered a pure, gushing waterfall in Mt. Otowa, Kyoto. He also met the priest Gyoei-koji, an old hermit who built himself a hermitage and practiced asceticism near the waterfall.
Gyoei-koji granted Kenshin a sacred tree infused with the power of Kannon. “I’ve been waiting for you. Please carve this tree into a statue of the thousand-armed Kannon to guard this sacred place of Kannon.” … The crystal spring that Kenshin discovered was later called Otowa Waterfall, from which pure water continues to flow even today. (Quote found here)
Kiyomizudera at Night:
I’m just going to go ahead and say it: Japan is extremely saturated with tourism. You probably already knew that, but I thought I’d remind you anyway.
That being said, we knew that even with the construction and scaffolding, there were going to be a lot of people visiting this temple, so we decided to go later in the evening.
Visiting Kiyomizudera at night was one of the best decisions we made for a few different reasons:
1. Not that many tourists:
We traveled to Kyoto in March, which means that the temple is open later than during other months. Instead of closing at 6 p.m., it closes at 9!
By the time we got to the temple complex, the sun had disappeared along with the larger groups of tourists and visitors. It wasn’t like we had the whole place to ourselves, but we could definitely tell the difference between our experience here compared to other popular sites.
2. The Spring Illuminations:
Three times a year, Kiyomizudera is lit up to celebrate Hanatōro, which takes place in the Higashiyama and Arashiyama districts of Kyoto. During these times, the halls and shrines are lit up, and “Kannon’s merciful light shines upon the night sky of Kyoto.”
It really was beautiful seeing the complex lit up, and what was even better was that we were able to stay longer and take our time through the temple.
3. Incredible City Views:
Right next to the main hall is a lookout point with a clear shot of Kyoto’s twinkling skyline. Because we went later in the evening and most of the tour groups had dissipated, we were able to enjoy the view without pushing against a huge mass of other people. Unfortunately, most of our pictures turned out blurry and out of focus, but you’ll just have to take my word for it – the view was great.
Should I visit Kiyomizudera?
The only downside to visiting the temple during the construction (and at night) is that the most famous aspect of the complex – the wooden stage – is covered up. Thankfully, visitors are still able to explore inside the main hall, which is actually really beautiful.
Even so, it’s still one of our favorite places that we visited during our Spring Break trip and definitely a place that we would go back to (which says a lot!).
6:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.**
**Open until 9 p.m. during the illumination months.**